Day one of Grand Prix Florence is over!
The imposing walls of the Fortezza Da Basso suggest that any force foolish enough to assault it would struggle to make it inside, and so it has proven for our Grand Prix competitors. Over a thousand players had been thrown back in disarray and only an elite group had managed to slip past the defenses into Day Two. Three players have unbeaten records - Shuuhei Nakamura is on a 9-0 charge, while Mario Pascoli and Giuseppe Reale head up the Italian defenses. Behind that leading group is a pack of players that contains some proven Grand Prix competitors such as Sebastien Thaler, Robert Jurkovic and two-time champion Arjan Van-Leeuwen. And still alive in there? That's right it's Martin Juza - surely he can't make it a fourth Top8 on the bounce. Can he?
For the lucky few survivors tomorrow begins early with the first draft beginning at 8:00am, while of course the casualties of the first day would return for the sealed PTQ and attempt to qualify for Pro Tour Paris next year, or for the assorted fun and frolics of the dozens of side events that would be run.
Rejoin us tomorrow morning as we pick up the story and follow it all the way through to the point where we crown the final Grand Prix champion of 2010!
Until then… "Ciao!"
by Tobi HenkeSaturday, 10:35 p.m:The Round of Eight 8-0s
by Rich HagonPodcast:Superfast Day One Round Up
by David SutcliffeFeature Match Round 8:Mario Pascoli vs. Robert Jurkovic
by Rich HagonPodcast:It Comes Round Quicker than you Think
by David SutcliffeAnnouncement:Player Disqualified Without Prize
by Tobi HenkeFeature Match Round 7:Sebastian Thaler vs. Mark Dictus
by David SutcliffeSaturday, 5:47 p.m.:From Manchester to Florence in Five Cards
by Rich HagonPodcast:An Audience With Martin Juza
by David SutcliffeFeature Match Round 6: By His FingernailsYuuya Watanabe vs. Philippe Chassot
by David SutcliffeSaturday, 6:00 p.m. - Three Contenders:On the edge with Yuuya Watanabe
by Rich HagonPodcastEasy Peasy Japanesy?
by Tobi HenkeSaturday, 4:44 p.m.Ogrenized Crime and More
by Tobi HenkeThree Rounds, Three Contenders - Round 4Martin Juza
by Rich HagonPodcastBecause I Couldn't Resist
by Tobi HenkeSaturday, 2:14 p.m.History of Premier Events in Italy
by David SutcliffeSaturday: 1:47pmBeauty and the Quest
by Rich HagonPodcastBye Time
by Tobi HenkeSaturday, 11:55 a.m.Three Contenders: Sealed Deck with Martin Juza
by Rich HagonPodcastFun in Florence
by David SutcliffeSaturday, 10:00 a.m.Italian Coverage
- Saturday, 10:00 a.m. – Italian Coverage
by David Sutcliffe
While your usual Grand Prix coverage folk will be bringing you all the best action from Grand Prix Florence in English - myself and Tobi Henke bringing you the written word, and the incomparable Rich Hagon podcasting madly from the floor - we can't possibly catch every story that will occur over the weekend, particularly those of the local Italian players.
Italian writer Andrea Mengucci will be updating throughout the weekend on the Magic Friends website, focussing on his countrymen as they attempt to defend their Grand Prix from the a few hundred raiding players from around the world. In Italian, by Italians, for Italians and even about Italians... it's the Italian Grand Prix Coverage!
- Podcast - Fun in Florence
by Rich Hagon
For the final time in 2010, it's full-on MTG action on the Grand Prix circuit, and the venue for the last hurrah is looking particularly fine. An ancient fortress, the Fortezza di Basso now hosts almost 1,300 Magic players, who will battle through nine rounds of Scars of Mirrodin Sealed deck action on day one. To get the ball rolling, we check out the runners and riders for the grand finale to the Grand Prix season, and talk with a host of big names, including Shuhei Nakamura!
- Saturday, 11:55 a.m. – Three Contenders: Sealed Deck with Martin Juza
by Tobi Henke
Current frontrunner in the player of the year race Brad Nelson didn't make the trip to Italy this weekend, and Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa is missing too. Currently in third place, Tomoharu Saito came all the way from Japan, as did Yuuya Watanabe, two former players of the year, respectively in 2007 and 2009. Both are still technically in contention for the title of player of the year 2010. And Czech super pro Martin Juza (currently in fourth place) still has a shot as well. What better way to start the weekend than by focusing a little on these three. Let's start with Juza.
His pool today really gave him a hard time. That his deck would end up being centered on artifacts was pretty clear from the get-go. Also, red would certainly make an appearance, at least as a splash for three removal spells, and possibly a main color. Likewise, white offered two removals. Paired with one each of Gold Myr and Iron Myr, this was the easy part.
The big question mark was attached to blue. Two Volition Reins were definitely enticing. Unfortunately, blue dried up almost immediately afterwards. Juza revealed two Dissipation Fields and made a sad face. Additionally, his blue included two Trinket Mages, which almost always find something worthwile to tutor up. Usually. This time, however, his pool didn't comply. With one Accorder's Shield and one off-color Horizon Spellbomb only, Juza quickly relegated them to the sidelines, although at one point one of the Mages was switching in and out of his blue build.
In the end, and it really was the very end of the deck construction period, Juza scrapped blue altogether, settling on red-white instead. "I figured, I'd rather play a solid deck," Juza said, adding, "at least for the first couple of rounds. Later on in the tournament, I might still switch two blue to fight my opponents' bombs."
"Overall, the deck is fine. I have a decent number of artifacts and removal, a good curve and some rares," he said about his chances with the deck. "And wow, this really was a very interesting pool to build."
Although I'll not yet spoil all the contents of his final deck, I'm sure you would agree. We'll check back later in the day to see how he's doing with it.
- Podcast - Bye Time
by Rich Hagon
Having three Byes is about more than resting and putting nine points in the bank. It's also a chance to check out your build with some of the best players in the world. We drop in on the Japanese heavyweights as they work out where it all went right.
- Saturday: 1:47pm – Beauty and the Quest
by David Sutcliffe
The Mana Girls are in Florence! The brainchild of a couple of local Magic players - Yuka and Silvia - Mana Girls are a new all-girl Magic team who are bringing some fun and glamour to the Grand Prix. The team began life at the Italian National Championships in Rimini earlier this year, when there was only the two founding members but they have been recruiting ever since and are up to five members - one for each Magic color!
The Mana Girls: Silvia, Yuka, Sara, Vittoria and Diana
It might be tempting to see the Mana Girls in their matching outfits (each with a tie for their color) and dismiss them, but it only takes a few seconds of talking with them to realise that there's far more to them than meets the eye. The girls are serious about their love for Magic and what they are aiming to achieve - they're on a quest to get more girls to come and play tournaments!
"We used to see all the girlfriends at Magic events just sitting around waiting for their boyfriends, and it made us want to create a team so that we can get out and show girls that they can play and have fun!" said Yuka, one of the two founders of the team. Yuka was born in Japan but moved to Italy and now owns the local games store in Florence, Strategemma. Two of the other Mana Girls are local - Silvia and Sara are from Florence, while Vittoria is from Calabria and Diana has flown up from Sicily to join her team at the Grand Prix.
"We really want to convince girls that they can come to a tournament, even a big one like a Grand Prix, and they can play and have fun, and that these events are really exciting!", Yuka continued, "We are always looking to add new Mana Girls, and even if they don't play Magic yet we will teach them to play - we are already teaching a few other girls to play. When they're ready we will make them fully fledged Mana Girls".
Black Mana Girl plays hard...
"No boys though!", added Diana, the white Mana Girl, "we always have boys asking if they can join the team, saying they can be the artifact Mana Girl. But there are already lots of boys at a Grand Prix - we just want to add girls and make the numbers more even. I think a lot of girls are scared to come and play in tournaments. There are so many boys here, they think it's really competitive and serious and they won't like it - but instead it's really fun! If we can convince more girls of that, then Mana Girls will have succeeded".
"That's right," said Yuka, "we are expanding quickly - at Italian Nationals there was only two of us, but already there is five with more we are teaching to play. At the moment we are all from Italy, but I'm Japanese so we are already international and it would be nice to get Mana Girls together from other countries as well. We want to get them all to come along to the Grand Prix and play with us!"
"We aren't all playing in the Grand Prix this weekend - there is more Magic to play this weekend than just the Grand Prix and we are trying to get a Mana Girl into every event", Yuka explained, "Sara is playing in the Grand Prix, Vittoria is going to draft and play Two-Headed Giant with her boyfriend, Diana has brought her Legacy deck with her, Silvia has her Birds deck for Type-II, and I'm going to draft then play my Chaos Red deck later."
...White Mana Girl plays nice!
On a parting note, what are the girls' favourite cards? Of course, they had to choose a card from their chosen colors... Yuka claimed Chandra Ablaze ("there's a great Japanese manga of her!"), and Vittoria took the green Planeswalker Garruk Wildspeaker. For the black Mana Girl one card is special, and it's Liliana's Caress ("I love it in a combo with Burning Inquiry"), Diana loves her Serra Avenger ("Bella!") and that left Sylvia, who showed amazing good taste in choosing Counterspell as her favorite blue card (a girl after my own heart).
We hope to see more of the Mana Girls at European Grand Prix, and if any girls are out there reading this and want to join them they have a Facebook group. Although their group is in Italian at the moment they plan on adding to it in English in the near future, so if you're a girl and you love Magic then join the Mana Girls - I'm sure they'd be glad to have you! The only rule is…
- Saturday, 2:14 p.m. – History of Premier Events in Italy
by Tobi Henke
Italy has a long and proud tradition of playing host to Magic's top-level events. The very first Grand Prix took place in Como in 1997, so far back that most information is now lost. Format, number of players ... the truth is, we simply can't tell you. However, Michael Debard clinched the trophy then.
In 1998, the big show came to Italy, when Rome hosted the Pro Tour for the first time. Once again, the archive doesn't provide a lot of facts, but who could ever forget Tommi Hovi's win which made him the first repeat PT champion and put the Finnish player into the Hall of Fame as soon as the Hall was constituted in 2005. The format back then was Extended, during a period known as "combo winter", and Hovi's tool was the infamous Tolarian Academy deck.
Can you gues how many players attended a Grand Prix—Milan back in 1999? Well, 466 is the answer, quite small compared to the numbers today's events unfailingly draw. Among these 466, Ziga Fritz from Slovenia claimed the title. Interesting side fact: in the semi finals he beat a young William Cavaglieri who would go on to become an Italian National champion as well as making, more recently, Top 8 at the World Championships.
The 2000-2001 season saw two Grand Prix take place in Italy, one in Turin where the American team of Dan Clegg, Brock Parker, and Peter Szigeti triumphed over international powerhouse AlphaBetaUnlimited in the team-limited Sealed and Draft. And there was Grand Prix—Florence 2000. The format being Extended, the powerful combo of Illusions of Grandeur/Donate paired with Necropotence allowed Austria's Benedikt Klauser to snatch victory from none other than Bram Snepvangers.
Next up, Pierre Malherbaud won the 2002 Grand Prix in Naples, in a Top 8 that included Jelger Wiegersma, Kai Budde, Olivier Ruel, and Raphael Levy. That's right, half of the Top 8 back then are now members of the Hall of Fame. Wow. Really.
Pro Tour—Venice 2003 is famous for two things. It was the first Constructed Pro Tour whose Top 8 decks didn't include a single blue card. Onslaught Block Constructed without Scourge did that. Secondly (but certainly not least) the finals was between eventual champ Osyp Lebedowicz and Tomi Walamies which made for fun conversation and great entertainment.
Osyp Lebedowicz, Pro Tour-Venice 2003 champion
And it was once again Onslaught Block Constructed, this time with the full block (and blue cards), when Magic returned to Italy with 2003's Grand Prix—Genova. Reinhard Blech of Germany walked away a winner, after handing Italy's Stefano Fiore his first and only loss in the semi finals. This time it was close, but so far Italy yet had to keep a big title in its country.
The first player who managed to do so was Domingo Ottati at Grand Prix—Rimini 2004. It was Affiniy season in the world of Mirrodin, but he navigated his very own blue-green control build all the way to the top. Grand Prix—Bologna in 2005 was Sealed/Draft with the full Kamigawa block. At the time, Olivier Ruel was on fire and got his second GP win of the season.
656 players entered Grand Prix—Torino in 2006 and the Switzerland's Nico Bohny won the whole thing, beating Antoine Ruel in the finals. The event is also notable for the first Top 8 appearance of a back then little-known player called Guillaume Wafo-Tapa.
GP—Florence 2007 was the first Italian tournament to crack the 1000-player mark. In the same beautiful medieval fortress which also hosts the current Grand Prix, Masami Kaneko beat Andre Coimbra (of Worlds fame) to become history's second Florentine champion.
In 2008, the Grand Prix circuit returned to Rimini. Apparently, Rimini is a very good place for Italian players. 17-year old Emanuele Giusti prevented Shuhei Nakamura from taking the trophy out of the country. (He would later become the first Italian player to win two Grand Prix.)
Runner-up Shuhei Nakamura, champion Emanuele Giusti
Last year, Italy missed out on Grand Prix for the first time in history. However, the Italian community was not exactly short-changed; they got the World Championships instead! In Rome, Portugal's Andre Coimbra defeated David Reitbauer of Austria, while William Cavaglieri made his aforementioned Top 8.
And this brings us to the end of the story, to present-day Italy. Twelve months later, Italy plays host to the penultimate event of the season. Grand Prix—Florence #3 is the last chance for players to get some points in before Worlds that take place two weeks from now. Stay tuned as we find a new champion and follow some of the best players of the world on their way to the ultimate showdown in Chiba.
- Podcast - Because I Couldn't Resist
by Rich Hagon
Sometimes it's hard to find decent matchups, featuring name players with compelling storylines. Not this time. Matthias Kunzler v Sebastian Thaler, double GP champion Emanuele Giusti faces Tobias Grafensteiner, Lucas Florent of France starts against Emanuele Estratti. And then there's Martin Juza, pursuing Player of the Year against Italy's Lorrenzo Lerro. Bonus round four action, because I couldn't resist.
- Three Rounds, Three Contenders - Round 4: Martin Juza
by Tobi Henke
After sitting out his three byes, Martin Juza was now facing off against Lorenzo Lerro in his first round of actual play. He lost the die-roll and was forced to play first. Without the bonus card he had been hoping for, his mulligan decision took some time. His hand only held two lands, but in the end he decided to keep. He got off to a fine start with Iron Myr, made his third land and Myr Galvanizer.
Meanwhile his opponent had cast Necropede and Embersmith. Juza was stuck on three lands, but was able to cast Chrome Steed nevertheless. Lerro had no fourth land either, summoned Vulshok Replica and seemed to be safe thanks to his Necropede. That was, until Juza exiled the little speedbump with Revoke Existence. Suddenly, all of Lerro's defense came crashing down. Chrome Steed strode into combat, and Juza cast Trigon of Rage to apply even more perssure.
Lerro shook his head as he missed another land drop and settled for Kemba's Skyguard, while Juza summoned the veritable bomb that is Golem Artisan. Lerro added another Skyguard to his team and passed the turn.
Juza attacked with Chrome Steed, Myr Galvanizer (which Lerro blocked with Embersmith), and Golem Artisan (which Lerro blocked with Kemba's Skyguard and Vulshok Replica). Juza led his Galvanizer trade and die, and pumped his Artisan up to 6/6, enough to kill its two blockers and live. Fallen way too far behind by now, Lerro only went through the motions one more turn. When the Artisan ate his last two chump-blockers, he shuffled it up for Game 2.
Martin Juza 1, Lorenzo Lerro 0
Lorenzo Lerro is not impressed
Lerro chose to draw first again, and this time Juza's start was far less impressive: Panic Spellbomb was sacrificed but didn't cough up a land. With nothing on the battlefield but two Mountains, Juza could only watch in dismay as Lerro cast Iron Myr and his own Golem Artisan.
Finally, a Plains for Juza! Too late? Possibly. At least, his Myr Propagator and Glint Hawk Idol did awfully little to stop the bleeding. Lerro's Golem Artisan attacked and was joined by Sunspear Shikari, complete with Sylvok Lifestaff ready to go. Juza summoned Chrome Steed, and Lerro made it disappear for the time being via Glimmerpoint Stag. Juza fell to 6, but was still hanging in there. His Steed returned, he cast Trigon of Rage and things started to look better for him, as Lerro was a little low on artifact creatures to take full advantage of his Artisan: besides the 3/3 itself there was only one Iron Myr on his team.
The Trigon of Rage might have complicated things, if it wasn't for the Accorder's Shield Lerro topdecked next and attached to his Artisan. With base stats of 3/6 in addition to his pumping ability, there was no way for Juza to stop it.
Martin Juza 1, Lorenzo Lerro 1
Martin Juza is hard-pressed for an answer
For the decider Juza chose to draw first, which probably played a part in Lerro's mulligan decision. He didn't actually mulligan, but took a long time to not do so. Understandably, as his seven consisted of Iron Myr, Necropede ... and lands. He opened with Iron Myr, followed by Rust Tick and Kemba's Skyguard from the top of his deck. Juza, meanwhile, had Auriok Sunchaser, and both a Rust Tick and a Kemba's Skyguard of his own. Rust Tick kept Rust Tick tapped, and the two Skyguards traded.
Juza summoned Myr Propagator, which provided a new more worthwile target for Lerro's Rust Tick. Juza lost his own Tick to Turn to Slag, and then Lerro started to build up an offense: Sunspear Shikari, Glimmerpoint Stag, Origin Spellbomb, Razor Hippogriff, and another Kemba's Skyguard. Ironically, it was Juza who was drawing too much land and too few spells. Lerro had not drawn a single land after the five from his opening hand. In fact, he had so many spells, he never even had the time to cast his Necropede! Juza on the other hand was up to seven lands (to go along with nine spells), and in serious trouble.
The trouble turned deadly when Lerro ripped yet another strong creature from the top of his very obliging deck ...
Games won by Martin Juza: 1
Games won by Lorenzo Lerro: 2
Games won in large part by Golem Artisan: 3
- Saturday, 4:44 p.m. - Ogrenized Crime and More
by Tobi Henke
Every new Magic environment has its own little quirks, certain combinations of cards that work in unexpected and often mysterious ways. Thankfully, Grand Prix events are well attended by some of the world's finest judges, eager to answer any rules question and help untangle even the most intricate game-play situations. Here are some of the more interesting questions the judges had to face so far today. Would you've been able to answer them all?
Player A controlled Grafted Exoskeleton, equipped to his Leaden Myr, while player B had Ogre Geargrabber. As you might imagine, the Ogre attacked, and since its ability is not optional it took over the opponent's Grafted Exoskeleton. Now, is the Leaden Myr sacrificed due to the Exoskeleton's own triggered ability?
Answer: No, it's not. By the time the equipment becomes unattached from Leaden Myr, it's already under player B's control. So it's also player B who controls Grafted Exoskeleton's triggered ability. Player B, however, is not allowed to sacrifice his opponent's creature. In fact, you can always only sacrifice what you control (even if you make the choice; check the wording on Mercy Killing for example). In this case, the Exoskeleton's ability simply does nothing.
But of course there's more. At end of turn, the equipment was returned to its rightful owner, player A, and became unattached from Ogre Geargrabber. Does that result in the Ogre's sacrifice?
Answer: Once again no, and for pretty much the same reason. This time, player A controls the ability to sacrifice player B's creature. Which cannot be done, and isn't.
Meanwhile, player C had just summoned Argent Sphinx, but didn't have three artifacts. So he was forced to watch in dismay as his opponent, player D, cast Volition Reins and gained control of the Sphinx. Later in the game, however, player D himself did assemble metalcraft and activated the Sphinx's ability. When it returns to the battlefield at end of turn, on whose side?
Answer: Player D retains control of the 4/3. When it was exiled, Volition Reins fell off and the control-changing effect ended. But the Sphinx comes with something of a "control-determining" effect of its own. That is, it specifies under whose control it re-enters the battlefield. Whoever activated the ability keeps the Sphinx, no matter who owns or even controls it at the moment of the ability's resolution.
Wait a second. So would it be possible, in the above scenario, for player D to activate the ability and then respond by casting Disperse on his Volition Reins? Would he still get the Sphinx back at end of turn?
Answer: Yes, indeed! And he'd also have the Volition Reins back in hand to steal something else. If you ever get the opportunity, this sequence of plays is highly recommended.
One round later, player E and player F each controlled one Mimic Vat. Two creatures died in combat and triggered both Vats. Who gets to imprint what?
Answer: Well, it depends. First of all, when abilities on both sides are triggered simultaneously, the active player (i.e. whose turn it currently is) puts all of his abilities on the stack, then his opponent does. So the non-active player's abilities are on top and resolve first. Now, with Mimic Vat he may choose to either imprint the recently deceased creature or not. He may even choose to imprint one and then the other, returning the first to its owner's graveyard. This way, he could actually prevent his opponent from getting any creature imprinted at all. Generally speaking, if both you and your opponent control Mimic Vat, it's a bad thing when a creature is put into a graveyard during your turn.
Thanks to level-four judge Frank Wareman for his help with these questions!
- Podcast - Easy Peasy Japanesy?
by Rich Hagon
Like many a satisfying deck built from scratch, a common theme works wonders. Can you spot the theme for round five feature match action? First, Marco Monetto of Italy faces the unknown Kazuya Mitamura of Japan. Then, fellow Italian Pierluigi Aceto faces newcomer Shuhei Nakamura. From Switzerland, Marcel Schuler faces feature match debutant Tomaharu Saito of Japan. And then his fellow Swiss Florian Comte has what should be an easy matchup against Yuuya Watanabe of Japan. You see the theme? That's right - Monetto, Aceto, Schuler, and Comte, all have less than twelve syllables in their names. Ah, symmetry.
Saturday, 6:00 p.m. - Three Contenders: On the edge with Yuuya Watanabeby David Sutcliffe
Yuuya Watanabe was not a happy man.
The current Player of the Year had kept his hopes of retaining his title alive by bringing home three Pro Points from Grand Prix Nashville last week, but to stand a realistic chance of overtaking the runaway leader, Brad Nelson, he needed to bank more points here in Florence. The gods of randomized sealed pools had not been kind to him.
Watching the Japanese pro build, it was clear that he wasn't certain of what his best deck would be. The core of his deck was set - as with many Scars of Mirrodin sealed decks it featured a core of artifacts that would go in any color combination - Myrs, Rust Ticks, Snapsail Gliders, Tumble Magnet, Lifestaffs and Trigons. He also had a couple of powerful white cards that pretty much ensured he would be needing Plains - a Sunblast Angel and an Arrest. But the final five or six cards were proving a problem.
...Watching Watanabe build, it was clear that he wasn't certain...
Starting out with red, Watanabe would get to play his other great rare, Kuldotha Phoenix, and he also had a Shatter but then the red cards rapidly tailed away. There was no Galvanic Blast or Turn to Slag, just Vulshok Replicas and a Flameborn Hellion. It wasn't a compelling argument.
Replacing the red with blue didn't seem to help much - Watanabe tried it, but replacing Vulshok Replica with a Riddlesmith didn't seem likely to make up for his Kuldotha Phoenix turning into a Darkslick Drake. The blue was no better.
Turning to black, then, Watanabe added a pair of Grasp of Darkness to his deck. Two Grasps was excellent news... but in fact they were the sum total of good black cards available to the Player of the Year. A Moriok Replica looked up at him accusingly... he was no replacement for Kuldotha Phoenix either. Watanabe replaced the red spells into his deck and looked at it again... it didn't seem good enough, but was perhaps the best he could do. With a shrug, a grimace, and a final look to see if he could possibly make a better mono-white deck, Watanabe finally settled for his red.
"This card pool was very bad," he confided in me, after the build "and my deck is not good. I had nothing in black except the two Grasp of Darkness" he added, fanning out a pair of Relic Putressence and a smattering of small Infect creatures. "Even though my red cards aren't great I have to play them - I have to have the Angel and the Phoenix - those are the cards that will win games for me."
"I didn't even look at the green cards," he continued, "they were so bad. I'm not happy, and I won't do well. I just have to hope I can go 4-2 with it and make it into Day Two."
With the spotlight falling first on the other two contenders - Martin Juza and Tomoharo Saitou - we would catch up with Watanabe in Round Six.
Feature Match Round 6 – By His Fingernails: Yuuya Watanabe vs. Philippe Chassotby David Sutcliffe
Yuuya's pessimistic view of his chances seemed to have been correct, as the Player of the Year had lost his first two rounds of Grand Prix Florence and dropped to a 3-2 record. Qualification for day two, and Pro points, would require a 7-2 record so there could be no more mistakes.
As Watanabe took his seat the realisation struck the coverage team that this feature match could represent a historic moment in the 2010 Player of the Year race. Having played to an 0-2 record after his three byes the reigning Player of the Year, Yuuya Watanabe of Japan, faced an early elimination from Grand Prix Florence. Should he lose, this would mark the moment where the Player of the Year crown fell from Watanabe's grasp. Defeat would leave him so far behind the current leader Brad Nelson that nothing short of Watanabe winning the World Championship would mean the Japanese legend retained the title, and even then he would need Nelson to finish outside the Top-200 at Worlds.
Whatever bad fortune had befallen Watanabe before the round it all seemed forgotten in the first game, and the (still, just) Player of the Year tore into an early lead with a a ton of damage from a Kuldotha Phoenix that found itself enraged by Watanabe's Trigon of Rage and Sylvok Lifestaff. The man trying to end Watanabe's reign was the Swiss player Philippe Chassot, and he was determined to be no walkover. Chassot threw a Hoardsmelter Dragon down as a defense, but Watanabe dropped a Tumble Magnet to take the fearsome flyer out of the equation, and his Phoenix swept home to take a brutally swift lead.
Watanabe 1 - 0 Chassot
Chassot came out swinging in the second game - or at least his Myr did. He handed a Darksteel Axe to a Copper Myr, gave it some help from a Myr Galvaniser, and went on the attack. A Galvanic Blast and a Shatter took care of the Watanabe's first two blockers and put the Japanese pro on the back foot. Watanabe could no longer afford to wait for Metalcraft and let his Ghalma's Warden trade with the axe-wielding Myr. An Arrest held back Chassot's Galvaniser, and a Tumble Magnet ensured the Darksteel Axe wouldn't hit him for the next few turns but it still seemed as though Watanabe was backpedalling, and a Vulshok Replica was not likely to prove much of a defensive barrier either.
A Necropede was more help to the defensive pro, but when Chassot untapped and played his Hoard-Smelter Dragon again it looked like it could prove a devastating blow. Tumble Magnet held the Dragon back for a turn, and Watanabe's plan was revealed - he had Sunblast Angel in hand but only five land... top decking a land now could change the match. The Player of the Year drew his card, but it wasn't a land and Watanabe scooped up his cards to get into Game 3.
Watanabe 1 - 1 Chassot
Chassot made it three Dragons in three games early in the deciding game of the match - a pair of Myr accelerating his Hoard-Smelter onto the battlefield as early as turn 4. Watanabe winced and took the hit, but this time he drew his sixth land and threw down the Sunblast Angel.
The game swung on that moment - Chassot swore in frustration and could find no other plays after he put all his creatures into the graveyard, while Watanabe followed his Angel up with a Flameborn Hellion and tore across the board. Two turns later it was all over - Chassot's all-in play with the Dragon had meant he walked right into Watanabe's Sunblast Angel a game and six turns after the Japanese pro had failed to draw a sixth land in the second game.
Watanabe 2 - 1 Chassot
Watanabe staggered on further into Grand Prix Florence. His reign as Player of the Year was hanging by a thread, but the wily pro was determined not to let go of his title while there was still an ounce of fight left in him!
Podcast – An Audience With Martin Juzaby Rich Hagon
It shouldn't take you long to figure out the subject of this show. After a slow start to the year, Martin has become the hottest man in Magic, winning Grand Prix in Portland and Bochum, reaching the top 8 yet again in Nashville last week, and he's now poised to take the Player of the Year Race deep into Worlds. Hear his thoughts on fun, sightseeing, keeping the faith, and what it means to be one of the best in the world.
Saturday, 5:47 p.m. – From Manchester to Florence in Five Cardsby David Sutcliffe
The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft aglay
- Robert Burns, 1785
One of the potential pitfalls of the global Magic marathon that is the Pro Tour and Grand Prix schedules is all the travelling that it inevitably entails. Every flight, every train, every connection, every piece of luggage is a potential disaster waiting to happen. Of course most of the time nothing goes wrong - thousands of Magic players travel the globe every year, and pretty much all of them get where they are supposed to be when they are supposed to be there. But even the most well-laid plans can go wrong - if you roll enough dice enough times you're certain to roll Snake Eyes eventually. When that happens, and everything goes wrong, it's all about how you react.
For myself, coverage mogul Rich Hagon, and Dutch super-judge Frank Wareman our luck ended in the bitter cold of yesterday. Europe has been experiencing it's earliest coldest winter for nearly twenty years and as we drove to the airport in England I could feel my spidey-sense tingling - our flight to Florence had a connection in Frankfurt that was very tight, and any delay to our flight out of Manchester would surely meant we missed it.
"Oh sure, but the worst that can happen is they will put us onto the next flight", Rich replied, "we'll still get there in plenty of time".
As it turned out Rich was right. But only half right. We WOULD be on the next flight, but we wouldn't be there in anything like 'plenty of time'.
Bands With Other Players
Inevitably our flight from Manchester was delayed in taking off, and although the flight to Florence was also late in leaving Frankfurt by the time we had battled our way from one end of the airport to another we were too late. The later flight, due to leave a couple of hours later at 16:30, was fully booked but we were placed on Standby for it, and with so many other flights arriving in Frankfurt late the chances that seats on the next one would open up were pretty good.
As we were leaving the gate, Frank Wareman passed us heading the other way to find out what we had just found out. - he had missed his flight to Florence. This highlighted one of the first rules in the Magic Travel Survival Guide (available from all good bookshops): stick together. It's one of the joys of Magic travel - the closer you get to your destination the greater the average density of Magic players is. By the time you're in the departure lounge of the flight to the Grand Prix destination it's actually odd if there ISN'T another Magic player around you.
So let's make it clear. You like Magic. They like Magic. You're both going to the same place. For the same reason. So don't just sit there and look at them - make friends! A journey shared is better than one taken alone, and that's goes double for arduous waits for delayed or cancelled flights. Magic is a big family of likeminded players, so don't be afraid to say 'Hi'!
Don't Get Mad, Get Sleevin'
Our one hour delay in the morning had turned into three hour delay when we missed our transfer in Frankfurt. Now that the next flight was also delayed we were looking at being five hours behind! None of it was our fault, and we could easily have chosen to sit around feeling frustrated, tired, angry and bored. I had now missed playing in the Friday Night Magic, Rich's Magic Game Show (such a hit in Bochum that he was taking it on the road) would not happen, and Frank was missing the crucial judge's briefing.
Did we get angry? No. Did we get bored? No. Did we dig out some decks and start playing? Hell yeah!
Magic players really are among the chosen few, because we almost always have some heavy duty anti-boredom technology on us. Once the playmat was down and the cards were shuffled - with three chairs and a table between us - the greatest danger we faced was being so engrossed in our game that we would miss the next flight leaving! Before we knew it the extra hours had flown past, and it was time to check up on our flight.
It didn't exist.
Haste Isn't Always A Good Thing
The aircraft that had been due to arrive from Austria and be our plane down to Florence had been so badly delayed by the snow that the airline had been forced to simply cancel the 16:30 Florence flight entirely, and use that plane to send out the 21:00 Florence flight on time. Directed upstairs to join a long queue to the Service Desk it began to look increasingly like a flight out would have to wait until the morning. A helpful Lufthansa lady came to collect everyone on our flight and have them follow her over to a shorter queue at another desk on the other side of the airport. What followed was a wonderful social study, and an excellent lesson for travellers in a jam - do what you're told.
When somebody says "follow me" what they want you to do is follow them. But for about thirty or forty of the passengers who had been delayed along with us "follow me" meant "race ahead of me to where you think the service desk is to make sure you're at the front of the queue". As the hasty passengers reached a fork in the corridor ahead of us one of them instinctively chose to head left, and like a school of fish or flock of birds the entire group of them swerved at once down the left-hand corridor. The Lufthansa lady turned right at the fork and those of us who had taken 'follow me' to mean 'follow me' we were led right to the front of a new queue, and (with a little smug satisfaction) we watched the hasty group rather sheepishly join the back of our queue a few minutes later.
Doing what we were told had made all the difference - incredibly we found ourselves squeezed onto the last few seats of the 21:00 flight. We were hit by a further delay in waiting for co-pilot to arrive on another flight and only finally took to the air around 22:30. But what we do as we sat on the tarmac and waited for the pilot? You're damn right - we busted out the decks again, on the little airline tables!
In the end our three hour flight to arrive in Florence at lunchtime saw us get to our Hotel a little after 1am, but seasoned travellers that we are we had kept calm and found ways to pass the time. Travel can't always go right, but handling it well when it goes wrong is a skillset it's well worth learning.
Quote of the trip: "Sorry your flight got cancelled, here's some gold".
Feature Match Round 7 – Sebastian Thaler vs. Mark Dictusby Tobi Henke
It's been a weak season for Sebastian Thaler so far, but that's only compared to the German's previous successes: multiple Pro Tour Top 8s, a Rookie of the Year title, a Grand Prix win, you name it. His opponent from Belgium, Mark Dictus, has a fair shair of accomplishments to his name as well, including a Grand Prix Top 8 and making it all the way to level four in the Pro Players Club.
Dictus won the die-roll and chose to play first. He opened with Gold Myr followed by Sylvok Replica, but couldn't really capitalize on the advantage of playing first as, by turn three, Thaler had already cast Riddlesmith, Grand Architect, and Palladium Myr. Down came Molder Beast for Dictus, a potential 7/3 due to its interaction with Sylvok Replica. But Thaler now had up to 10 mana available and made good use of it with a turn-four Carnifex Demon! Riddlsmith attacked for 3, Molder Beast attacked for 5, and with no play from Dictus it was back to Thaler.
He made Neurok Replica, then attacked with the Demon and Riddlesmith. More damage coming in. On his next turn, Dictus drew, quickly considered his options (apparently not too much to consider here), shrugged and conceded.
Sebastian Thaler 1, Mark Dictus 0
This time around, Thaler's deck didn't equip him with anything as blisteringly fast as before. Nevertheless, Contagion Clasp for Dictus's Gold Myr and Grasp of Darkness for his Darkslick Drake seemed quite reasonable. Quite good, actually. In any case, Dictus's Asceticism seemed to be a little late to the party. Now the enchantment was only able to protect his Perilous Myr. And when Thaler summoned Carnifex Demon, even that wasn't true anymore.
Dictus had Slice in Twain for Contagion Clasp to prevent possible Carnifex Demon/proliferate shenanigans, but what he really needed was a flyer to stop the incoming Carnifex Demon. Instead he got Arrest, which would have been fine as well, if it had not been for Thaler's Neurok Replica. The Demon was bounced and returned to the battlefield.
Meanwhile, Dictus had assembled seven lands and now he cast Genesis Wave! Two more lands, Sky-Eel School, Horizon Spellbomb, and a second Arrest all entered play, the Arrest obviously attached to his opponent's Demon. What a turnaround!
Thaler tried to squeeze in the last points of damage with Heavy Arbalest, switching the equipment between his Gold Myr and Darkslick Drake. Dictus put an end to that with Sylvok Replica, but by then he was already on precariously low 3 life. Thaler summoned Sky-Eel School and on the next turn attacked with both his flyers. He lost his School to Dictus's Asceticism-improved School and put his opponent at 1.
Completely out of the blue, Dictus attacked on his turn and stole the game with one giant Untamed Might.
Sebstian Thaler 1, Mark Dictus 1
Still, the German rebounded astonishingly well. Palladium Myr allowed for Golem Artisan and suddenly he was back in the game. Dictus had Rust Tick to deny Thaler mana by tapping down his Palladium Myr, but the Darkslick Drake beatdown wasn't exactly fast. Dictus tried to improve on that with Sky-Eel School, but now Thaler finally drew into lands and turned Neurok Replica into a makeshift blocker thanks to Golem Artisan's continuing influence.
However, things went awry when Dictus cast Slice in Twain on the Artisan. Thaler had no more answers to the five power worth of flyers coming his way and quickly succumbed.
Sebastian Thaler 1, Mark Dictus 2
Announcement - Player Disqualified Without Prizeby David Sutcliffe
We are never pleased to have to pass on bad news, so we are sad that we have to announce that Japan's Tomaharo Saitou has been disqualified without prize from Grand Prix Florence following his sixth round match.
Head Judge, Level-4 Nick Sephton, explained why the disqualification occurred:
"We disqualified this player for Stalling, after it was observed that his play speed seemed to change based on his observation of the clock. It was observed by a high-level judge that twice in the round he appeared to change his play speed based on considerations that were outside the game. Consulting among the senior judges we decided that, on the basis of what we had observed, we had no choice but to disqualify the player."
Nick continued with advice for players wanting to avoid falling foul of this rule themselves:
"Players should be able to play at a reasonable pace throughout a round. Judges recognise that a player's speed of play can change during a game - Magic is a complicated game and produces difficult situations for players - but it's important that players are still able to play at a speed that allows games to be completed. It's a valid play skill to be able to make difficult decisions quickly."
Podcast – It Comes Round Quicker than you Thinkby Rich Hagon
We've grown used to ten round here on the European Grand Prix scene, so a 'mere' nine rounds seems like a rare luxury. That means a round like round eight carries extra importance, as we've already reached the penultimate round of Sealed action. Apart from the lucky few at the head of the standings, everyone still needs wins to secure a slot for day two, and six more rounds of Scars of Mirrodin drafting. Here it is then, the penultimate round. And it's not even 8pm. Weird.
Feature Match Round 8 – Mario Pascoli vs. Robert Jurkovicby David Sutcliffe
Italian pro Mario Pascoli was leading the charge of the Italian players towards the tail end of Day One in Florence, charging to an unbeaten record. With qualification for the second day assured, it was down to the meaningful work of ensuring a strong position for the final sprint to a Top8 berth tomorrow. Running neck and neck with the Italian was the Slovakian star Robert Jurkovic - equally at home in online or cardboard Magic and would be representing his country at the World Championships next month.
Pascoli's opening offensive was pretty unspectacular - a Snapsail Glider bumping repeatedly across the red zone while an Auriok Replica stayed home. Jurkovic deployed a few creatures of own in response before Pascoli added a Mimic Vat to the table. Jurkovic hit back with a Soliton, then a Cerebral Eruption. At the first attempt the red sorcery failed to deal damage, but a turn later it hit a Grasp of Darkness and cleared away Pascoli's forces.
Jurkovic was now the only player with a creature - his Soliton - but it couldn't attack beyond the Mimic Vat's copies that Pascoli could create, and then the Italian played his Grasp of Darkness to kill the Soliton, and upgrade his Mimic Vat. Neurok Replica and Furnace Celebration was a potentially useful one-two combination for Jurkovic, but Pascoli could do better… Carnifex Demon!
Jurkovic was now in the business of buying time - Neurok Replica returned the Carnifex to hand, and Furnace Celebration dealt two damage to Pascoli. But that Carnifex would be coming back next turn - could Jurkovic hold it off any longer?
The answer was yes, and the Slovakian player threw another TWO Neurok Replicas onto the board!
Bounce the Carnifiex… shoot you for two.
Bounce the Carnifex,…shoot you for two. Pascoli was seemingly stuck in Groundhog Day, waiting for Jurkovic to run out of Neurok Replicas - it had to happen eventually!
For all his struggles Jurkovic was still backed into a corner, and as Pascoli added a Precursor Golem to the battlefiend alongside his Carnifex Demon the Slovakian pro collected his cards. Quadruple Neurok Replica was interesting, but it was no match for the power of Pascoli's rares.
Pascoli 1 - 0 Jurkovic
Although the first game hadn't been a complete whitewash, Robert Jurkovic had done little to suggest he was in any danger of actually winning the game - only succeeding in stalling Pascoli a while. In the second game he would be looking for more, but as he opened his comeback with a Neurok Replica it seemed unlikely he would be looking for the quick win.
Pascoli took to the air with a pair of Snapsail Gliders, while a Tumble Magnet sat on standby in case of emergency. Across the board, Jurkovic began building a controlling board position with a Riddlesmith and a Heavy Arbalest, although Pascoli had a Grasp of Darkness handy for the Soliton that followed. There would be no Soliton/Arbalest shenanigans in this game!
But Jurkovic was happy to see the Grasp of Darkness go past - that left the way open for him to play his Hoard-Smelter Dragon. The Dragon hit play but was immediately Arrested, and Jurkovic groaned. Still, he had an answer and simply returned his Dragon to hand with the Neurok Replica and replayed it. Take that!
But Pascoli had a second Arrest! The Dragon was re-shackled and Jurkovic was down to 6 life as Pascoli's little flyers nipped past again. Still, Jurkovic had plenty of mana on hand and had been able to destroy most of Pascoli's board with the Dragon in response… the two players were even.
Pascoli found some more small flyers, but Jurkovic was now able to control them with his Heavy Arbalest - even without a Soliton he now had so much mana that he could afford to use his hefty crossbow the hard way. The Slovakian player finally drew another of his many Neurok Replicas, and the Hoard-Smelter Dragon returned to play without Arrest. Did Pascoli have a third answer to it? No, he didn't, and with a look skyward Pascoli had to concede defeat.
Pascoli 1 - 1 Jurkovic
That second game must have given Pascoli food for thought. If he got into a long game he couldn't rely on his Arrests to answer Jurkovic's threats. That meant two things - that his Grasp of Darkness should probably be aimed at the Hoard-Smelter Dragon, and also that he probably needed to win quickly.
Mario Pascoli began the right way, with a Sylvok Lifestaff and Glint Hawk beginning an aerial assault - but that was all the Italian could muster, as he stalled briefly on two lands. That hiccup could prove crucial, but what the Italian couldn't know what that Jurkovic's lands had malfunctioned even more catastrophically - the Slovak player had a Riddlesmith and Trinket Mage in play, but the six cards that the he was shuffling around in his hand were all basic land!
Pascoli added a Skinrender to his assault, taking care of the Riddlesmith, and with a pair of Tumble Magnets ensuring Jurkovic couldn't spin the game out any further the Italian player sealed the win against the defenseless Jurkovic.
Pascoli 2 - 1 Jurkovic
Podcast – Superfast Day One Round Upby Rich Hagon
It's about day one. It's a round up of what happened. It's very, very quick. And tells you about people like Shuhei Nakamura, Mario Pascoli, and Giuseppe Reale, who did a LOT of winning.
Saturday, 10:35 p.m. – The Round of Eight 8-0sby Tobi Henke
For the last round, eight undefeated players sat down in the feature match area. Let's take a quick look at the matches and their results.
Duncan Schermer vs. Guiseppe Reale
The first match to finish was Italian Guiseppe Reale vs. Duncan Schermer from Spain. In the first game, Reale overwhelmed his opponent with a smoother mana curve ... and Chimeric Mass. In the second, he once again had the momentum all on his side, applying beats with Kemba's Skyguard and Glint Hawk Idol, while Schermer's two Perilous Myr could neither stop nor race them. A crucial Arrest on Schermer's Barrage Ogre sealed the deal.
Emmanuele Chieregato vs. Shuhei Nakamura
Meanwhile, Italy's Emmanuele Chieregato faced off against Shuhei Nakamura. The Japanese player was color-screwed in the first game, accumulating not only one but two Ezuri's Brigades and Ezuri, Renegade Leader in hand while stuck with six Plains on the battlefield. Obviously, when his Forests showed up just in time, Nakamura crushed Chieregato with ease. The second game was a much shorter affair. Nakamura summoned Golem Artisan and Wurmcoil Engine, and you can probably figure out how that one ended.
_Mario Pascoli vs. Francesco Hugony
Over in the blue bracket, the pace was much more ... sedate. Francesco Hugony fought a long and hard war of attrition against Mario Pascoli, and he was actually doing quite good until Pascoli's Carnifex Demon showed up and disturbed Hugony's carefully-crafted combat calculations. The second game all came down to Pascoli's Mimic Vat. First, it provided an endless stream of short-lived Auriok Replica's, and when Pascoli killed Hugony's Razor Hippogriff and upgraded his Mimic Vat accordingly, things turned ugly.
Guido Citino vs. Andrew Buchanan
And then there was just one match left. Englishman Andrew Buchanan proved that Darksteel Juggernaut can be quite the beating, especially when paired with Precursor Golem. In the second game, however, it was Guido Citino's turn to cast Precursor Golem. A weird standoff developed, where each turn Buchanan would attack with Darksteel Sentinel and a 2/2 Darksteel Juggernaut, while Citino had to hold back with his remaining two 3/3s and his Rusted Relic. That went on for ages. Then Citino drew Trigon of Corruption to gradually change the status quo. This process, once again, went on for ages. With five minutes left on the clock, the final game began. There, Citino never drew a second Mountain to cast Koth of the Hammer, which was about the only thing that could finish the game in time.
Guiseppe Reale [ITA] 2 - 0 Duncan Schermer [ESP]
Emmanuele Chieregato [ITA] 0 - 2 Shuhei Nakamura [JPN]
Francesco Hugony [ITA] 0-2 Mario Pascoli [ITA]
Andrew Buchanan [ENG] 1-1 Guido Citino [ITA]