Leading the field before the sun rises was Miguel Angel Romero Caro, the lone player to finish the first day 9-0. Four players were nipping at Caro's heels with records of 8-0-1—Michael Parraga, Cristian Valdivia, Gustavo Iannizzotto and Luis Gutierrez—but with six rounds still to go, it's anyone's game. That includes No. 7 ranked Willy Edel and Hall of Famer Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa at 7-2, as well as Chilean National Champion Felipe Tapia Becerra at 8-1.
The story of the tournament so far has been the rise and dominance of mono-colored decks. There are a bevy of Devotion-based decks, yes, but quick, aggressive Mono Red Decks have re-emerged this weekend as a metagame force as well. Taking down popular Esper Control and Mono Black opponents left and right, if Chandra's Phoenix and company keep this up, it could be a quick Top 8 indeed.
Follow along right here as we bring you coverage of Day 2, all the way up to crowning a new Grand Prix Santiago Champion.
by Marc CalderaroSunday, 2:00 p.m.Alejo Zagalsky and Argentine Magic
by Blake RasmussenRound 13 Feature MatchNicolas De Nicola vs. Luis Gutierrez
by Marc CalderaroRound 12 Feature MatchJose Velarde vs. Willy Edel
by Blake RasmussenSunday, 11:00 a.m.Deck Tech: Rakdos Aggro with Luis Navas
by Blake RasmussenRound 11 Feature MatchLuis Navas vs. Gonzalo Dominguez
by Marc CalderaroRound 10 Feature MatchPaulo Vitor Damo da Rosa (Esper) vs. Enzo Real (Azorius Master)
by Blake RasmussenSunday, 9:00 a.m.Day 2 Full Metagame Breakdown
by Marc CalderaroDay 1 Undefeated Decklists
by Event Coverage StaffDay 1 Blog
by Event Coverage StaffInfo: Fact Sheet
Day 1 Undefeated Decklists
Sunday, 9:00 a.m. – Day 2 Full Metagame Breakdown
Whenever I draft, I like to bring my own basic lands. Specifically, full-art Zendikar basic lands. I bring them every draft, and newer players even compliment the lands. They're gorgeous, and it has gotten to the point where I (irrationally) feel bad playing with any other basic lands.
I only bring this up because those Zendikar lands are getting a real workout with new Standard, and Grand Prix Santiago is showcasing the power of the basic land.
Of the 94 decks to make Day 2, 51 have some kind of Devotion theme, and if you throw in Mono Red and Mono White aggro variants, a full 62 decks—nearly 2/3 of the field—are relying heavily on one specific type of basic land.
Granted, that's finessing the numbers a bit, as many of the devotion decks and even some of the aggressive decks are dipping into a second color. Many of those decks are dipping very lightly, however.
(Note: any time going forward I mention a deck, the dominant color will be listed first and capitalized, while the splash will be second and lower case.)
The Black/green Devotion decks, for example, are typically only playing Abrupt Decay as a maindeck Green card. The White/red aggressive strategies typically only sport Boros Charm while the Red/white decks are typically only splashing for Chained to the Rocks.
In each of these cases, the small splashes are there to shore up a weakness. Abrupt Decay fights Underworld Connections and an early Pack Rat in the mirror. Boros Charm fights Supreme Verdict. Chained to the Rocks gives Red decks a way to deal with Master of Waves. And so on, and so forth.
Additionally, some of the Devotion strategies are a little less devoted than others. The Blue/white Devotion deck is more or less a UW Control deck with Master of Waves and occasionally Thassa, God of the Sea, with the Devotion primarily used for Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and powered by Jace, Architect of Thought and Detention Sphere. The Green-based Devotion decks are, for the most part, playing Red to engage with powerful planeswalkers or Blue to summon Prime Speaker Zegana and fuel overloaded Cyclonic Rifts.
And while not all of the Mono Red decks are taking advantage of Devotion to power Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx or power up Purphoros, most are using Fanatic of Mogis. Not everyone is using the powerful four-drop, however. No. 7 ranked Willy Edel, for example, purposefully avoided the four-drop to keep his curve even lower.
But less devoted strategies are finding success as well. Esper Control is the third-most popular Day 2 deck, though there's no telling if that's a function of how many players were playing it on Day 1 (hint: a lot) or if it really is well positioned. It's likely a bit of both.
A few notes to parse the chart below. All of the "other" decks had exactly one copy on Day 2, and those included Brad Nelson's Naya Control deck, a UWR Control list, a Black Devotion deck that splashed White for Orzhov Charm and Cartel Aristocrat, Maze's End Control, Junk, Mono Green Devotion, and even Jund. Because Jund is always viable.
|Mono Black Devotion||16|
|Mono Blue Devotion||12|
|Mono Red Aggro||5|
Round 10 Feature Match - Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa (Esper) vs. Enzo Real (Azorius Master)
In the feature match are two top Brazilian players facing off. Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa has been an ambassador of Brazilian Magic for years. With five Pro Tour Top 8s, and four World Championship Top 8s to boot, Damo da Rosa dominated Brazilian Magic and showed the world just what the South American powerhouse country could do. Lately, however, other Brazilian players have been taking his lead and are trying to make names for themselves on the international stage. Enzo Real is one of those players.
Real debuted in 2010 with a Top 8 finish at the Brazilian National Championship, and was on the Brazilian World Magic Cup team in 2013. He was hoping he could go over the top with his Azorius Master deck, a hybridized control deck playing all the blue and white hits—with the added devotion superstars of Master of Waves and Thassa, God of the Sea. However, he was about to run headlong into the Esper truck that was Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa's deck. Real admitted that Esper is his worst matchup, and both his losses yesterday came from the white-blue-black deck. For the most part, Esper's best matchups are other control decks that don't play Thoughtseize, and Azorius Master fits that bill perfectly.
The first game played out with Real trying to apply pressure as fast as his deck could, which is too say, not that fast. Damo da Rosa had two immediate Detention Sphere's for two Thassa, God of the Sea, and used a Thoughtseize to strip one of two Nightveil Specters from Real. Damo da Rosa left Real with a Sphere of his own, knowing that if Real used it to removing one of his own enchantments, it would remove the other. This would return both Thassas, causing a legend's-rule fiasco. Two Thassa in play was not really better than one Thassa—and neither would have enough devotion to be creatures anyway.
Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa
After this early interplay, Real became stuck on four land. He went on the aggressive again with a Master of Waves and one horse Elemental buddy, but Damo da Rosa's first Sphinx's revelation resolved, so he kept his life total high. It was 17-18 in Damo da Rosa's favor when he resolved a Jace, Architect of Thought.
Real pressed what little attack he could, but as usual with Esper, the first Sphinx's Revelation begat the second, larger revelation, undoing all the damage Real was doing. Real tried to play catch-up, but everything he did just seemed a worse version of what Damo da Rosa did. Instead of casting two Sphinx's Revelations for three cards, then five cards, he cast them for one card, then two. Instead of using a Jace to find an Elspeth, Sun's Champion, Real used his Jace to find more land.
In control-on-control matches, a good indicator of the person in the lead is the amount of lands. Damo da Rosa had yet to miss a land drop and was sitting pretty with eleven. Real had just laid his seventh. Damo da Rosa—now with a big, fat, white Planeswalker—knew it was time to strike.
The Elspeth, Sun's Champion came down and the Soldiers began to flow. Though Real was able to wipe the board once or twice, stemming the tide, it wasn't going to work forever. Real eventually removed the Planeswalker with great difficulty, and by the time he finally did, Damo da Rosa had already resolved an Ætherling . And plenty of mana to use it. Real drew for a few more turns, then resigned.
The first game was all about land. Real needed them; Damo da Rosa had them. The second game showcased the another important resource in control-on-control: cards.
Again Real went on the offensive, trying to resolve early spells, stopping Esper's stellar late-game from ever appearing. But unlike truly fast decks like Mono-Red, or Selesnya Aggro, Azorius Master just can't bring the beats fast enough. Casting a turn-three Nightveil Specter into a turn-four Thassa is quite easy for Esper to stop. Damo da Rosa let loose a Hero's Downfall, a Detention Sphere, and Thoughtseize to take away a Gainsay from Real's hand. After that, Real's offensive was blunted to a nub.
His last gambit was tapping down to one land to resolve an Ætherling . If Damo da Rosa had only one way to remove the Shapeshifter on his next turn, Real would untap a gripful of mana and go for the gold. He had Negate and Gainsay in his hand, and would be able to protect the blue win condition; he just hoped he could untap with the Ætherling in lpay.
But even though both Negate and Gainsay were good, they were the only two cards Real had. Though both powerful cards, Damo da Rosa had seven powerful cards. Spending his turn drawing cards with Sphinx's Revelation and Jace, Architect of Thought offered Damo da Rosa answer after answer. Not only did he have two ways to deal with Real's Ætherling that turn, he had at least four.
Damo da Rosa saved his Hero's Downfall and Detention Sphere for Planeswalker threats to come later, using a Supreme Verdict and a Devour Flesh to remove to nigh-unkillable monster. After that, the game was all-but locked up. Damo da Rosa had so many options, Real had no choice but to throw out the winner then and just hope his opponent had drawn poorly. But it's very hard for Esper to draw that poorly.
After an Elspeth from Real was answered by a Hero's Downfall, Real was out of cards. He was playing from the top of his deck. Damo da Rosa's kill of choice this game was two Nightveil Specter. Removing important cards like Gainsay and Thassa, Damo da Rosa used Real's own deck against him. Real tried to abuse the scry mechanic from his lands and Omenspeaker to give Damo da Rosa worse cards, but cards were still cards. And eventually, Damo da Rosa was able to take a Thassa to increase the speed of his clock, and even nab Gainsay to back that clock up.
Afterwards, Damo da Rosa said how good this matchup is for him. "He has to kill me with creatures," which is a big disadvantage in these control-ish mirrors. He continue that for these two decks in particular, "We are basically the same deck, but he's playing with twenty 'bad' cards." Real shook his head and agreed. If you can avoid playing against Esper, Azorius Master is a great deck to play. But as Real has found out, if you run into Esper three times, you will likely have at least three losses.
Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa beat the upstart Enzo Real in two convincing games. Damo da Rosa goes to 8-2, while Real sinks to 7-3.
Round 11 Feature Match - Luis Navas vs. Gonzalo Dominguez
We have something pretty cool for you this round. Luis Navas, a local Chilean player, just picked up Magic a year ago after finishing university. Upon doing so, he almost immediately Top 8ed a World Magic Cup Qualifier with a Rakdos Aggro deck featuring last year's hard hitters in Thundermaw Hellkite and Falkenrath Aristocrat. This weekend, he's gone Black and Red again, but with a lower curve and some far less likely hits.
We'll have a deck tech coming up, so I won't get into details, but suffice to say Mogis's Marauder is involved. Heavily. Read the card again if you must.
Across from him for Round 11 is exactly the kind of matchup Navas wants to see: Gonzalo Dominguez with Esper Control. Navas built his deck to prey on the slow control deck, meaning Dominguez will have to have a lot go right to take the match. And with both players at 9-1, every match is precious if they want to make a final run at the Top 8.
Navas would have a running start every game. The only question was if Dominguez could catch up.
Tormented Hero plus a Madcap Skills put Dominguez to 14 before he even played his third land, and it looked like the Esper player would be faced with a dizzying array of aggressive Black Red spells that, occasionally, he had to read.
Such as Mogis's Marauder, the draft special that helped drop Dominguez to just 8 life on turn four.
Yup, turn four.
Dominguez looked to stem the bleeding with Blood Baron of Vizkopa, but a second Madcap Skills made Blood Baron unable to block and dropped the Esper player to a precarious three life before forcing him to Supreme Verdict away what looked like his trump card, but not before gaining four life.
Navas kept the pressure ratcheted up, playing Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch—Navas said it was one of, if not the, best cards in his deck—and attacking Dominguez down to three. A second Supreme Verdict had to clean up that particular mess, but Dominguez fell to one life and had to burn a Sphinx's Revelation for two just to stay alive.
Navas could have actually won that turn with a Madcap Skills, but faced with playing around Sphinx's Revelation and removal, Navas chose to play around removal. That gave Dominguez the turn he needed to draw two cards and stabilize, tenuously, at one life.
It took nearly every resource Gonzalo Dominguez had, but he somehow managed to stabilize at exactly one life in the first game.
But that one life was enough to hold off Navas' attack for a few turns. Jace, Architect of Thought found the third Detention Sphere right on time to take out Xathrid Necromancer, and then found a Dissolve to give him some measure of protection.
Navas had another difficult decision that backfired a few turns later when, aware of the one Dissolve, he baited it out with a Xathrid Necromancer before firing off a lethal Lightning Strike. That too, was met with Dissolve.
All with Dominguez sill on exactly one life.
Navas' hand wasn't nearly as explosive as his first, but it did contain both Thoughtseize and Burning Earth, a potentially lethal combination against an opponent with a lot of nonbasics and few ways to remove an enchantment. With only Mogis's Marauders to start attacking, he would be leaning heavily on the punishing four-mana spell.
The Thoughtseize, unfortunately, revealed a number of ways to deal with Burning Earth, including both Dissolve and two Detention Spheres. Instead of fighting over the spells, Navas elected to remove Blood Baron from the equation before it had a chance to do any damage—or gain any life.
Instead he started attacking with a few 2/2s he had drawn over his first few turns, even as Dominguez declined to use removal on the creatures. Eventually he had to pull the trigger on the first Detention Sphere and, unfortunately for him, the second. Navas had expertly drawn out all of Dominguez's answers for Burning Earth.
The Burning Earth that inevitably followed made Dominguez squirm as he fell to just two life to cast an Elspeth. With access to only two basic lands, Elspeth was likely all he would be doing for the foreseeable future.
Fully aware of this, Navas played Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch fully leashed in order for it not to die to Elspeth. The decision paid off when, on the last turn before Elspeth tokens would kill him, a Mogis's Marauders showed up to give both Exava and the Marauders itself Intimidate, letting him swing past the token defense Dominguez to force a third game.
Thoughtseize revealed Dominguez's mana-hungry deck was light on lands, with just two to go with a bevy of expensive cards and two cheap removal spells. Yet, despite the presence of Azorius Charm and Devour Flesh, Navas still took Blood Baron out of Dominguez's hand. That's how good the 4/4 lifelink, protection from Black creature was against him.
Fortunatly for Dominguez, Azorius Charm was able to find him his third land. Unfortunately, it did so at the cost of his turn while a 3/1 haste creature beat him down and a second Thoughtseize ripped Dissolve from his hand. He would certainly be facing an uphill battle at this point as Navas continued to add to his board.
Luis Navas might seem like he's just attacking with Rakdos' affiliated creatures, but there's a method behind his madness, and a 10-1 record to show for it.
Once again, Navas expertly got Dominguez to tap down on his turn by forcing him to use sorcery-speed removal, clearing the way for Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch to storm in unimpeded. And when Dominguez dealt with the first Exava, Navas had a second waiting for more than lethal damage.
Navas said much of his advantage came from the fact that, unlike Mono Red, his deck doesn't just fold to a Supreme Verdict, especially with Xathrid Necromancer and a number of Humans in his deck. As he showed time and time again, his unique combination of haste and lethally fast creatures can dodge all the removal you can throw at it.
Navas 2 – Dominguez 1
Sunday, 11:00 a.m. – Deck Tech: Rakdos Aggro with Luis Navas
A year ago, Chilean Luis Navas had just started playing Magic. This weekend, at his first Grand Prix, he's a serious contender for the Top 8.
All thanks to Mogis's Marauders.
That may be overstating the case, but if it is, it's not by much, especially not after I watched a Mogis Marauders lead Navas' troops past a slew of Soldier tokens in a key game to help Navas move to 10-1 on the weekend.
Because I know you're already scrolling down for the deck list, let's get that out of the way up front.
The elegance of so many 4-ofs appeals not only to the coverage reporter in me who has to type up deck lists, but also the old-school player in me who is still getting over the era where four was always correct.
Four is almost certainly correct for all of Navas's choices, including the Mogis's Marauders. The deck is fast, streamlined, and unforgiving to opponents who stumble. Exactly what Navas was looking for.
The deck, Navas said, came from a desire to do well against Mono Black Devotion and Esper Control. He wanted something fast and resilient that didn't lose to sweepers or Doom Blades. The answer he came to was a base-Black deck that plays a heck of a lot like a Red deck.
Navas has as many, or even more, haste creatures as Mono Red while still getting to dip into disruption (Thoughtseize) and ways to kill Master of Waves, a constant worry for Red mages everywhere. The Mogis's Marauders were merely the icing on the cake that let him swing past hordes of blockers out of Mono Blue and Makihito Mihara's Green/red Devotion deck.
Marauders and Thoughtseize are two of Navas's primary advantages over playing Mono Red, a deck that's similarly positioned. He also gains a significantly better matchup against Mono Blue (aka, Master of Waves) and more resilience to sweepers, thanks in large part to Xathrid Necromancers.
Navas also pointed out a curiosity with the deck: many of his creatures are Human, making Xathrid Necromancer especially potent. It's not something you expect out of a Black/Red deck, but Necromancer makes control decks make some very, very hard decisions.
The other advantage is that all of his creatures are Black, meaning Doom Blade is an ineffective counter to his creature horde.
What he loses with the deck, however, are points against Mono Red, where he says he's the underdog.
"The aggressive, fast mono Red. Sometimes it's just too much. They play Rakdos Cackler and Burning-Tree Emissary into Firefist Striker, and you just can't win. It's a race, and they're better racing."
Beyond that, Navas likes his matchups across the board. He particularly pointed out Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch as an underplayed card that basically makes his deck.
"I play four at the end of the curve. It sometimes combos with Rakdos Cackler and Thrill-Kill Assassin," he said. "In fact, sometimes the deck can play something like combo with Exava or Marauders letting you attack for a ton of damage."
Mogis's Marauders, Madcap Skills, and Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch have fueled Luis Navas's run to the top of the standings this weekend.
"That one damage counts."
Out of the sideboard, Navas has two Erebos, God of the Dead to turn off the lifegain for both Mono Black and Esper, since the main ways he loses those matches are either Blood Baron of Vizkopa or Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Burning Earth and a full complement of Thoughtseize also helps fight Esper. Mizzium Mortars is there almost exclusively to tackle the Blood Baron problem.
On the flip side, he has two Whip of Erebos to combat other aggressive decks and let him race more effectively.
And with Esper, Mono Black Devotion, and Mono Blue Devotion dominating the Day 2 metagame, giving Navas good matchups up and down the standings, don't be surprised if the Chilean's first Grand Prix is also his first Top 8.
Round 12 Feature Match - Jose Velarde vs. Willy Edel
Willy Edel, Brazilian superstar was unsurprisingly running the tables here at Grand Prix Santiago. He's been on an amazing streak since his Pro Tour Return to Ravnica Top 8. And though he was not voted in to the Hall of Fame this year, he is adding more to his resume seemingly every month. Edel has been a bastion for South American Magic, running his own tournaments when no other stores were around, lending money to players for flights, and playtesting with PTQ winners, helping them ready for international competition. "I have never practice with a foreign team before, because I am always teaching." To Edel, teaching is his playtesting.
Though he has been playing almost exclusively midrange decks for the last year, he brought a straightforward Mono-Red Aggro, and has been smashing face. Repeatedly. Edel said he thinks the deck is well-positioned in the current metagame. Though it was terrible at Pro Tour Theros because of all the Selesnya Aggro decks, it has a strong game against both Mono-Black Devotion and Esper which have appeared in spades today.
His next opponent was Jose Velarde, part of the gigantic Team Peru, is on the RWU control deck, which better positioned against Mono-Red Aggro than Esper. Velarde, along with over 20 other Peruvians, took the big flight to come down here, and he had performed amazingly so far, navigating the various pitfalls that Grand Prix events have lying in wait. However, this round, he missed one of the most overlooked, dangerous pitfalls out there; it's overlooked because it doesn't come from your opponent. But that didn't happen until the third game.
In the first game, Velarde effortlessly blunted everything that Edel could muster. Starting with Syncopate on a second-turn Burning-Tree Emissary, Velarde had an answer every turn for every two-powered threat. Edel was barely able to take away anything from his Peruvian opponent's 20-point total throughout the entire game.
The saddest turn was once Edel drew his third Shock and placed it alongside the other two in his hand. Staring down a Jace, Architect of Thought at five loyalty, he knew the Planeswalker would take over the attack step. So Edel cast each Shock in succession, taking two counters off the Jace each time. But on the last one, with Jace at only one remaining loyalty, Velarde cast Dissolve. And when Edel tried to attack Jace to death, Velarde had the Azorius Charm for that as well.
That turn Edel used his whole hand and saw basically nothing for his efforts, just a Dissolve and Azorius Charm in Velarde's graveyard. Edel sat back in his chair, and lethargically drew one card each turn. He knew he was drawing dead. Velarde's hand, and board position grew until Edel finally said enough. The Brazilian scooped up his cards and went to the next game.
Jose Velarde 1 – 0 Willy Edel
The second game saw two Foundry Street Denizen, a Gorehouse Chainwalker, and a Mutavault as Edel's opening salvo. Velarde was able to wipe them all away with a Supreme Verdict, but not before sinking to 11 life.
Chandra's Phoenix followed up the board sweeper, and Edel still had three cards in his hand. Removing the creature would be a gamble for Velarde. If Edel could simply return it, the removal would be completely wasted. And precious cards like Turn & Burn aren't easy to come by. Velarde used an Azorius Charm to get it out of the red, and Edel's followed with a Chainwalker.
Velarde then decided the best defense was a good offense. He cast Stormbreath Dragon and activated monstrosity soon after. But Edel already had his opponent to 7, thanks a Burning-Tree Emissary, Chandra's Phoenix, Gorehouse Chainwalker, Firedrinker Satyr, and an activated Mutavault ready to assault. He then took his opponent to one by pumping the Satyr and the Gorehouse unleashed counter blunting the Turn side of Turn & Burn.
Things seemed to go Velarde's way for a few turns. He began singing to himself out of frustration, but he bought a turn off Azorius Charm giving his giant Dragon lifelink, bringing him to 2 life. Then, a suicidal Jace activation found the Supreme Verdict he was looking for. He immediately straightened up from hunching over the table and a big smile came on his face.
He was confident that without burn from Edel, he could swat away whatever the Brazilian could throw. Then the lands came. Both players proceeded to draw land after land. After land after land. The two could only smirk at each other as they continued, both unable to make board position any better.
Finally, the insane stalemate broke as Edel was able to draw something, anything, that tied the series up at one.
Jose Velarde 1 – 1 Willy Edel
It was in the third game that Velarde learned of the most nefarious of all pitfalls—the one you avoid as much as you can because its consequences are so dire. I'm talking of course about the judges.
The last game started with more early assault form Edel. Velarde's turn-two Frostburn Weird was whisked to the graveyard with a Mizzium Mortars and the Peruvian was quickly into single digits. It was quickly 9-20 in Edel's favor.
The turn-four Supreme Verdict was a good start, but Mutavault still brought beats in. Another Firedrinker Satyr and Firefist Striker continued sucking up the one-for-one removal. Azorius Charm and Detention Sphere stemmed the bleeding. Jace, Architect of Thought helped too, but that first damage was hard to overcome. Edel merely had to plink one or two damage per turn to cause Velarde fits.
At his opponent at two life, Edel, afraid of a Sphinx's Revelation, tried a winning Lightning Strike into one open mana, but Velarde did have the Dispel and untapped into a Sphinx's Revelation to go to four life. It was 4-20. And that's when the problems started.
Velarde activated the +1 on his Jace and passed the turn to Edel. Edel turned on his Mutavault and swung with it and a Foundry Street Denizen. Velarde cast Last Breath on the changeling, then wrote down one damage to go to three. A spectator lamented Velarde missing the Jace trigger and Velarde quickly tried to correct the mistake. Edel called a judge to reconcile Velarde's life total: Edel said 3; Velarde said 4.
The judge eventually ruled it as a missed trigger, and said was Velarde at 3. But there was a lot of confusion on all sides. And Velarde ended up with 4 on his life pad. A fairly heated, five-minute judge conference, things were a little confusing, but they were about to get more so.
A few turns later, with the totals the same, Velarde saw it safe enough to tap down for a Sphinx's Revelation. Edel took the opportunity to Skullcrack. Velarde changed his life total to 1, and Edel immediately corrected him. Edel said Velarde was dead.
And so we were in for the second round of judges, now talking about the situation after the last judge call. The judges deliberated for a long time. They called in Velarde and tried to suss out the situation. Head Judge Carlos, after about ten minutes of deliberation, came down with the final review. Jose Velarde would be disqualified.
He had this to say, "It is my belief that the mistake [Velarde] made was honest," but the investigation revealed enough to convince the judges to disqualify him. Velarde had fallen into a classic Grand Prix pitfall: Always be 100% honest with a judge, especially if you did nothing in bad faith.
Velarde returned to the table and shook Willy Edel's hand, wishing him good luck in the rest of the tournament.
Willy Edel 2 – 1 Jose Velarde
Round 13 Feature Match - Nicolas De Nicola vs. Luis Gutierrez
At 9-2-1, Nicolas De Nicola and Luis Gutierrez had absolutely zero room for error. Win out and there was a good shot they could make the Top 8. Stumble just once and they could tumble all the way down the standings.
But neither player would have it easy this round. De Nicola was playing Esper Control while Gutierrez had opted for its cousin, UW Control. The matchup usually favored Esper decks with access to better disruption, but Gutierrez had adeptly piloted his deck through a field rife with Esper so far, so doing it again wasn't out of the question.
De Nicola certainly has the edge in experience. The Argentinian was his country's national champion in both 2011 and 2012, representing his country at both the World Championships and World Magic Cup in those years. He has played—and succeeded—at a high level for several years and would love nothing more than to take this weekend's trophy back to Argentina.
The early game consisted of a predictable smattering of cantrips and land drops as multiple Azorius Charms were cycled to keep the goods flowing.
That allowed the Esper player to resolve a Jace, Architect of Thought, which lasted only as long as it took Gutierrez to decide to fire off a Ratchet Bomb. De Nicola continued his parade of Planeswalkers with Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver, but it, too, fell to Ratchet Bomb in due time.
Eventually, Gutierrez started hitting his land drops again and began to keep pace with De Nicola, even able to leverage his Mutavaults—one of his few advantages in this matchup—to keep Jace, Architect of Thought off the board.
The mana base is supposed to be one of UW Control's strengths, but Luis Gutierrez floundered on land early in the matchup.
You could tell it was a control matchup as the two asked the same question over and over again. How many cards in hand?
(That's seven, for the non-Spanish speaking crowd)
Eventually, the pair started throwing haymakers. Gutierrez, with no other real action, started with an Elspeth, but that just allowed De Nicola to fire right back with a Sphinx's Revelation for five followed by an Ætherling. Resolving the first Ætherling is key to winning the control mirror, so De Nicola clearly got the better of that exchange.
Faced with a losing board position, Gutierrez got aggressive. Or, at least his deck's version of aggressive. He animated two Mutavaults and attacked with both, as well as his three Soldier tokens, directly into Ætherling. It was, however, a futile gesture, as Ætherling killed Elspeth and, the very next turn, forced the concession.
Once again, Gutierrez found himself stuck on lands. This time, however, De Nicola was right there with him. Neither player had more than three lands in play by about turn five, until De Nicola finally hit his fourth.
Nicolas De Nicola. Not pictured, the Ætherling that's doing all of the real work.
Eventually, that Mutavault attacked into an Azorius Charm, setting Gutierrez back and costing him, when he scryed it away with Dissolve, that very same Mutavault. He then attempted an Elspeth, despite De Nicola's open mana and no way to protect it, and was summarily punished by Ætherling.
At this point, De Nicola held a large lead in the number of lands, with nine to Gutierrez's six—only two of which made blue mana. Trapped between an Ætherling and a hard place, there was little Gutierrez could do to chase away the virtually unkillable Shapeshifter. There were some more spells played and some land management over the next few turns, but De Nicola was careful to protect his Ætherling and play around any potential surprises.
With an Ætherling in tow and a song in his heart, De Nicola took the match—and an important 10th match win to stay alive for the Top 8.
Sunday, 2:00 p.m. – Alejo Zagalsky and Argentine Magic
Alejo Zagalsky placed some tokens on the coverage table and motioned for me to check them out. This former Argentine National Champion is a member of the old guard of Magic players in Argentina. He runs a web site (since 1999), along with two Argentine judge cohorts, Alejandro Raggio and Adrian Estoup, TMT (themagictutor.com) and most of the Argentine players today have been sporting these cute little guys made to promote the website, illustrated by Azul Piñeiro.
Though Zagalsky admits getting the idea from ChannelFireball and StarCityGames, we both agreed that his tokens were far cuter. Just look at that Satyr! After looking over tokens, we bega discussing Argentine Magic—where it's come from and where it's going. "I'm just one of the old guys still having fun," Zagalsky laughed. He said for the most part the tournaments his group runs are casual—Commander and Cube. But he still comes out to all the Grand Prixes and he remembers fondly his two trips to Worlds. As most good South American players have discovered, unlike Grand Prix trips for the weekend that Europeans and Americans can take, it's best for South Americans to parlay all Magic flights into a vacation. "Me and my girlfriend at the time to a holiday in Rome; it was amazing."
He remembers getting a TMT bus together in 2008 to travel to the Grand Prix with a whole bunch of people. These are the sort of decisions that can grow a scene, creating ridiculously fun times, even if you get your face smashed in at the actual tournament. Zagalsky talks fondly about the old days, and it's clear he's been impacting Argentine Magic for a long time. The Tournament Organizer, judges, and various players all come up to him to say hello. Some have gone so far as to call him a "legend" in Argentine Magic. He was even given the nickname, Goleador ("scorer" in soccer) by the community because of his consistent winning results. He is quick to downplay that honor, however. He thinks the better the players get, the less they will think of his results. Zagalsky, though just an "old guy having fun" is still looking to improve and what his countrymen to do the same. No matter how "old" you get, that urge to compete never really dies, does it?
He sees the opportunity for growth and improvement in the scene thanks to the MTGmulligan.net open series. Another major Argentine Magic site, MTGmulligan.net has been offering consistent tournaments with good prize support, garnering more and more followers and getting more and more players to play the game competitively.
But Zagalsky still has his worries. "Players can't be getting better," he explained, "because I can still catch up to them and beat them." He says he doesn't play often enough to be able to beat them. "I am not good. You should beat me," he insists.
When I tell him that being two-time competitor at Worlds doesn't exactly prove he's not good, he admits at least a little skill. "Yes, but these people who play a lot, they can be like robots, always making decisions without thinking. I have to think about every one. It's work." This sort of practice can help lead to more consistent results, which are important if Argentines want to show up more often on the world stage. Because it takes that more effort to go to the large-dollar events, Zagalsky wants Argentines to be up in the top rankings each time, ensuring that they can appear at the next.
The Argentines are sending some groups of players to compete in North American Grand Prixes that happen back-to-back, so they can save on costs and also have an excuse to vacation. Zagalsky wants to see some results.
Even though Argentina has three different major teams, when it comes to competing abroad, they all band together strongly. "Yes we like Chile to do well; we like Brazil to do well; but we really root for Argentina." Zagalsky smiled.
With many of his cohorts doing well today (while sporting the TMT sleeves no less), I don't think Zagalsky has too much to worry about. It's clear that Argentine Magic is improving, despite his subjective moving-goalpost idea of "if I can beat you, we're not good yet." It's people like Zagalsky and national tournaments like MTGmulligan.net's open series that get more people becoming players, more players becoming competitors, and more competitors becoming better.
Zagalsky let me keep the tokens, which will be used to great effect, and will remind me of the benchmark he set for Argentina. Once Zagalsky starts losing, then his country is getting better.