Day one of the Grand Prix Barcelona is at an end!
With 1,495 players, Barcelona has hosted the largest constructed Magic tournament of all time, and we've had a wild ride. Standard is the hot format of the moment, with PTQs and Nationals qualifiers making it important to players of every level. Coming into the weekend, Black White tokens was the most hotly tipped deck of the moment. While it was certainly well represented, one of the interesting stories of day one was how few pros seemed to have taken to the deck. A whole variety of decks started the day, and it look like this is something that has carried through to Sunday.
Sitting on maximum points after day 1 are just 4 players, including Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa, who didn't seem phased by having travelled so far to be here. His Cascade Swans deck proved a match for the field in day one in spite of the fact that it perhaps wasn't as big a surprise as he had hoped. Gerry Thompson and Luis Scott-Vargas also snuck in with a different build of the deck, which has proven popular in the feature match area with the crowds. The Player of the Year race is on here in Spain, as Gabriel Nassif has only picked up 2 draws to keep him off a perfect record, and Tomoharu Saito is also day 2. If you have a favourite archetype in the format, chances are there's a Pro here running it. Even combo elves, in the hands of Kenny Oberg has made it to Sunday.
Sunday is the day of deck tech. While today we have refrained from posting deck-lists so as not to disadvantage players going into day 2, all gloves come off tomorrow. If you are looking for new tech, this will be the place to be. For now though, Hanno Terbuyken, Dave Sutcliffe and myself, Tim Willoughby are signing off. Tune in tomorrow as we narrow down the field to find our champion!
by Hanno TerbuykenBlog - Saturday, 10:31 p.m.Between all chairs
by David SutcliffeFeature Match - Round 9Kenny Oberg (SWE) vs Massimo Tolazzi (ITA)
by Tim WilloughbyFeature Match - Round 9A Game of Two Halves: George Paraskeupoulos vs Olivier Ruel
by Tim WilloughbyFeature - Metagame Madness
by Hanno TerbuykenFeature Match - Round 8Raphael Levy (FRA) vs Tomoharu Saito (JAP)
by Hanno TerbuykenBlog - Saturday, 7:57 p.m.The Judge of Judges
by David SutcliffeBlog - Saturday, 7:22 p.m.Mes Que Un GP
by David SutcliffeFeature Match - Round 7Tomaharu Saitou (JPN) vs Guillaime Wafo-Tapa
by Tim WilloughbyFeature Match - Round 6The Race is On: Luis Scott-Vargas vs Gabriel Nassif
by Tim WilloughbyBlog - Saturday, 5:33 p.m.Less than Standard Standard
by Hanno TerbuykenFeature Match - Round 6Patrick Chapin (USA) vs Yuuya Watanabe (JAP)
by David SutclifFeature Match - Round 5Gabriel Nassif (FRA) vs Corlos Pinto (ESP)
by Hanno TerbuykenFeature Match - Round 4Sergio Losada Lopez (ESP) vs Shuuhei Nakamura (JAP)
by Tim WilloughbyFeature Match - Round 4P.V. Peavey? Not so much: Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa vs Antonio Martos
by David SutcliffeFeature Match - Round 3Cedric Phillips (USA) vs Petr Nahodil (CZE)
by Tim WilloughbyFeature Match - Round 3: Fire and SteelMarcel Bauche (DEU) vs Frederico Costa (PRT)
by Hanno TerbuykenBlog - Saturday, 2:43 p.m.Faeries – still good?
by David SutcliffeBlog - Saturday, 12:00 p.m.Putting the T into TCG
by Hanno TerbuykenBlog - Saturday, 11:49 a.m.Something green, something blue
by Tim WilloughbyBlog - Saturday, 10:28 a.m.Catching up with the Innovator
by Event Coverage StaffInfo: Fact Sheet
Blog: Saturday, 10:28 a.m. – Catching up with the Innovator
Over the storied history of Magic the Gathering, there have been various players on the Pro Tour who are safe bets to go to when it came to getting the real information on a format, and ultimately a deck to play. They aren't necessarily the players who lift the trophy on Sunday, but are certainly among the best players in the game. John Ormerod and Zvi certainly hailed within that list, and in recent years there have been a few others who have become go-to guys when it comes to finding out what's what.
Patrick Chapin stands out as unusual amongst this already distinctive group of pro players. He is overwhelmingly looking to share his thoughts on the game, and help players not just at a Pro Tour level who come to him privately to solicit advice, but the wider Magic playing community.
Looking specifically at the colossal field here in Barcelona, he was feeling very upbeat about both the format, and Magic in general.
“I have been playing so much magic lately. It looks like everyone here is going to be having a lot of fun, and Alara Reborn seems to be firing up a lot of people.”
This is a format which finds a lot of players playing 80-20 decks. While the metagame seems clearly skewed toward decks sporting Windbrisk Heights, it is easy to start pointing a gun at tokens, and a lot of players have been doing just that, but sacrificing other matchups to do so. As an avid metagame predictor, Patrick was keen to make the most of what appears to be a fairly swingy metagame without losing out to any of the big matchups. Don't worry, you will see his deck this weekend, but for now I'll be leaving that as a surprise.
Chapin was quick to talk up choices like Faeries in Standard. Sam Black recently won a qualifier for the next Magic Cruise playing Faeries, and Chapin jumped on the deck as a good one to punish people for trying to be too clever.
“Faeries is just one of those decks that always falls in the 20% for 80-20 decks. Red decks also look great in the field right now, they can just ignore a proportion of the decks in the format, as they fall into that 20%, and focus on the rest.”
On a more general level, Patrick is very excited about Magic right now. Visibly so. With his attire alluding to various sponsorships he holds, he is currently supporting himself through various Magic-related endeavours. This is a goal that Patrick sees as realistic for various players in the game, and was keen to promote the ‘Pro Player' lifestyle as something that has a little more to it than the winning of tournaments.
“I see Magic in 10 years time as being a game that can support a large number of players. I want to see it legitimised as another pursuit worthy of the time and money investment that can be appreciated by a wide audience. Right now a lot of people know about Magic, but it is a fun enough, valuable enough pursuit that there is no reason it shouldn't become much bigger.”
In the intervening time, Patrick is keen to do everything he can to actually make that moment happen. Part of it comes down to having charismatic players putting a face on the game, and making it matter to those watching it, regardless of the level it is being played at. On top of that, advancing general understanding of the game at a core level among players can only promote its value further.
In addition to his regular articles, Patrick has taken another step to take players further in their game. His first book, an e-book named ‘Next Level Magic' is coming out imminently and with it, Chapin hopes to appeal to a broad base of players looking to advance their game.
“This book is the first of a whole host of Magic related publications that I have planned. It is a course designed to take players game up from where it currently resides, to enable them to achieve their higher goals. I have given a lot of players advice, decklists, information on how to do well at a particular point in time. This is a designed to be a book with more of a timeless quality. I envisage players reading it, applying what is in there, and then re-reading it to derive further insight given their own further experience.”
Keeping a book like this fresh when metagames are so fleeting is a challenge, and one that Chapin has carefully tried to address, in what will primarily be a work of principles and strategy.
“I draw from a lot of classic theory, and carefully reference the people and articles that have shaped my game. What Next Level Magic has though is an overarching continuity, and my own take on how the body of Magic strategy fits together, and can be applied for real results. While there are certainly references to current cards, I've been careful to bear in mind that 5 years from now it might not be obvious that Faeries was the deck to beat for a while in Standard.”
Chapin is an individual unusual in Magic inasmuch as individual wins don't necessarily mean the same thing to him as to many. While he clearly loves the game, and playing it at the highest level, he sees his own successes as secondary to the success of the game as a whole.
“I would say I'm more of a Kai than a Finkel” he remarked with a broad smile when asked about his method of preparing for an event. Chapin puts in a lot of legwork to get his head around a format, and tests a huge amount, being rewarded with results. This time investment not only means he is well prepared, but makes him feel more invested in his own success.
“I've started to think that when I give anyone Magic advice, I should charge them a dollar. Not particularly to make myself money, though I guess the money would be nice, but just because it would make people value and care about what they were doing that much more. I have sold decklists in the past and I have seen those people who have paid for this sort of leg up putting in better performances. It isn't that what I've sold is necessarily better than what I have given away at other times – it comes down to emotional investment.”
If there is one person in the room that is invested in his success at Magic it is Patrick Chapin, The Innovator.
Blog: Saturday, 11:49 a.m. - Something green, something blue
As you probably know, it is standard practice to seperate a GP with over 800 players into two halves, one blue and one green, to make the numbers more manageable. This time, the scorekeepers have ascertained a final number of 1,495 participants, so GP Barcelona has a green half with 752 players and and a blue half with 743.
1,495 players makes GP Barcelona the biggest Magic Grand Prix ever in a Constructed format. It is also the third-biggest tournament of all time, beaten only by GP Paris 2004 (1,592 players) and GP Paris 2008 (1,838 players). The previous record for a Constructed tournament was held by GP Kobe 2001 (1,350 players). The Japanese also had the record for the biggest Standard tournament, when 931 players showed up to the Japanese Open in Yokohama in 1999.
Barcelona beats that by more than 500 players.
Splitting a tournament also means that each half has its own metagame and – often more importantly – a different density of pros. Since all of them have three byes, one half gets a much bigger influx of high-caliber opponents in round four. That makes getting the 7-2 record necessary to make day two just a little bit harder.
So which pool of players has the higher density of sharks? Let's compare:
Damo Da Rosa, Paulo Vitor
Van Lamoen, Tom
The difference is not enourmous, but overall, I'd have to give the edge to green. Also, since Spain is the land of most repetitious names, both sides have 17 players by the name of Garcia.
blog: Saturday, 12:00 p.m. – Putting the T into TCG
Grand Prix Barcelona has already surprised a lot of people with it's sheer size, but while for the judges and DCI event organizers that has meant scrambling to find extra chairs and tables to fit another few hundred players onto, and another few hundred decklists to check over! But one man for whom a large Grand Prix comes as a very nice surprise is Nigel Rowledge of ‘Troll And Toad', the premiere European traders who have been supplying the cardboard habits of Grand Prix players for longer than I can remember.
At Constructed events the traders can be a great barometer for the direction in which the winds of the metagame are blowing – players may turn up with a few missing cards from their deck that they need to buy, but just as often they catch a glimpse of what other people are playing and begin to change cards or decks around at the last minute. All this means that the traders play a key role in the last hour or so before a Grand Prix, and as the players sit down for Round One perhaps the one man in the room with the best idea of what will be played is Nigel, so I popped by to get the inside scoop from him.
Nearly 1,500 players, you must be busy!
Ha! Yes it's been pretty good... pretty good indeed!
So what's the big seller. Maelstrom Pulse?
We've sold a lot of those, maybe 15 or so. But Anathemancer is the one that has been most popular, we've sold maybe 60 or 70 of them! It's not always the rares that people are after. We've also sold lots of Zealous Persecution, for instance - I think we've sold out of them in fact.
Completely sold out? Those are the hot Alara Reborn cards but what about older cards, do players have any love for those?
Oh yes, it's been great for us. Windbrisk Heights sold out very quickly, but then it was all the cards from the Turbofog deck. Cards like Howling Mine for instance. That's a card that has been around forever and which we usually can't even give away, but we completely sold out of them at about five times it's old price. Pretty much anything from the Turbofog deck we sold out of, like Font of Mythos – that one deck alone has sold so many cards. Pretty much any card which goes in that deck we've sold out of completely.
That makes it sound like there's going to be a lot of Fog around then.
I think so. I saw a lot of players coming up to me who had come here to play Kithkin, or Tokens, and they started buying up Faeries cards instead. Faeries beats the Fog deck, or so these players tell me, so I think a few players have changed deck at the last minute because of how much Fog they think will be here.
Trading in general has been good – I've sold a Beta Balance, and the judge foils have picked up again and I've sold a lot of those. It's always busy right before the Grand Prix then drops off once players have finalised their decks.
Overall, Alara Reborn sounds like it has been really good for you!
Oh definitely, not just the singles but the boosters have been selling well. In fact the whole of Alara block has sold very well. Usually when I set comes out I buy in enough stock at once to see me through, but I have had to go back and reorder extra stock of Alara block twice already – it's been very popular with players.
Blog: Saturday, 2:43 p.m. - Faeries – still good?
The deck that has held so many formats captive over the last two years is finally on the downswing. Many players have written Faeries off before this tournament, believing that between Volcanic Fallout and Zealous Persecution, the deck could finally be dragged down from its pedestal. However, Sam Black thinks different. He posted a 27th place finish at Pro Tour Kyoto playing Faeries and losing just a single match in the Standard portion. More recently, he snatched an invitation to the next Magic Cruise by winning one of the Boat Qualifiers – with Faeries, of course.
Even today, Black says, the deck is good. “It still plays the best cards in the format. The new cards printed now aren't really better.” Of course, some of the new cards do have left an imprint on Sam Black's favorite deck. Zealous Persecution is one of them. The matchup against the Black-White Token deck “got worse” just because of that card, and this is against the deck that defines the format in the eyes of the American! On the other hand, it is a giant opportunity. “Faeries is positioned extremely well,” he asserts. The reasoning is easy to see, and it is a classic example of metagaming.
With Black-White Token defining the format, it is the one deck that everybody aims to beat. The thinking goes: If you can't beat B/W Token, you don't have a good deck. Faeries, now, preys on that. People play “really weird anti-creature control decks,” says Sam. That leaves them open to the powerhouse that Faeries still is. “Black-White is the deck to beat, and Faeries beats the decks that are built to beat Black-White.” The Japanese Fog deck, Sanity Grinding, all those specialized answers: No problem for Faeries. It's just the red decks that worry the Faeries master. Those also have been on the rise recently, mostly due to one of the best cards from Alara Reborn: Anathemancer.
Anathemancer quickly proved a crucial weapon against the dominant, multicolored strategies to the point that those strategies play the 2/2 Zombie Wizard themselves – just ask Patrick Chapin. The Innovator published a 5-color Control decklist last week that had 4 Anathemancer itself! However, Sam Black seems to be not even slightly worried about Anathemancer. Faeries is a deck that is certainly capable of sporting enough basic lands to avoid a big loss of life: “It's a 2/2 that hits you for three.” In terms of effectiveness, that's not really better than Murderous Redcap. And that never made a Faeries player quiver, exactly.
So the deck is theoretically well positioned in the metagame, and the one factor that pushes it well into the realm of “still very playable” is, of course, the pilot. “I've been playing it forever,” said Sam as he watched his fellow three-bye players test their own decks. Listening in to his conversations about the deck, it is clear that he knows it inside out, citing the which, what, where, when and why about the deck. “It's hard to turn away from Faeries when you haven't lost with it.” It's a streak that he plans to continue today, adding yet another successful finish and, more importantly, a couple of pro points to his already impressive resume.
Feature Match: Round 3 - Fire and Steel: Marcel Bauche (DEU) vs Frederico Costa (PRT)
Let's talk about decks baby. Let's talk about blue and green. Let's talk about all the good cards and the bad cards at the GP. Let's talk about decks.
While there are a lot of tokens decks in the room, while perusing what was winning in round 2, I saw a different little deck from Marcel Bauche of Germany that I felt it warranted a little bit more attention. Rather than do a simple write up (which you will get as a little bonus afterward), I thought I'd cove it this round, to see it in action once again.
Costa won the roll, and elected to play, leading off aggressively with Mogg Fanatic and Goblin Outlander, safe in the knowledge that his spells would resolve against a start of Arcane Sanctum and Vivid Meadow from Bauche. A second Outlander soon joined team Portugal, and proceeded to work a number on Bauche's life total, who in the early game was content to simply play draw go. A Vivid Creek signalled that he was definitely not black/white tokens, but Costa had to be a little confused a to what deck the German was playing, when Kitchen Finks came down the next turn.
The concern wasn't going to be huge for Costa though, as he had a big game all ready, in an end of turn Flame Javelin, followed up by Flame Javelin #2 and a Mogg Fanatic ping to seal things, in what as a lightning fast first game.
Marcel Bauche 0 – 1 Frederico Costa
One player went to his sideboard with a great deal more purpose, but ultimately he needed to, as a game down, Bauche would have to do something pretty special to win his time back.
Game 2 began for Marcel much as the first had, with an Arcane Sanctum. This time though he didn't have a Mogg Fanatic to face from the very start, though there was still that Outlander, who was conveniently protected from Path to Exile. Wall of Reverence wouldn't block the goblin, but it would slow the clock a little, and potentially a lot more if Bauche could stick a big creature.
Costa didn't like this plan. He cast Everlasting Torment. While this card is clearly very potent against the fog deck that is gaining in popularity, it also proved fairly exciting in the face of Bauche's jumbo wall. On the defensive, Bauche cast Wrath of God just to kill the outlander, and a second the following turn to take down Siege-Gang Commander and his goblin friends.Frederico Costa
Bauche finally got an intrigued frown out of Costa when he cast Sphinx Summoner, fetching Sharuum the Hegemon. This was not your typical control deck. On 17 life, Bauche was doing much better in this game, and got to take his opponent down to the same total with just one swing of his flyer. Costa had seven lands out, and 4 cards in hand. He was either really flooded, or waiting for something. Nothing came from Costa at the end of turn. He only played a land and passed, taking the beats that came his way. Killing off Sphinx Summoner would effectively turn Sharuum into a bigger threat, by giving the legend something to return to play, and it looked like Costa had a different plan.
Bauche cast Runed Halo, and after looking at the sizeable amount of land in play on his opponent's side of the board named Banefire. A Volcanic Fallout withered Sphinx Summoner down to the size of a 1/1. Costa then followed up with Figure of Destiny and Boggart Ram-Gang, which cracked Bauche down to 12. The German attacked back and got Costa to 8 before playing his third Wrath of God. Now Sharuum would be more exciting. Costa cast Figure of Destiny and passed. He was unsurprised to see Sharuum coming on board and bringing back that Sphinx Summoner. Another one got fetched by Bauche, who would likely be facing an 8/8 flyer the following turn. The Figure got two steps along his three point journey to destiny at the end of Bauche's turn, and attacked into a Path to Exile the following turn. This Path to Exile left Bauche with just one land untapped, and Costa saw his opening. Anathemancer dealt 5 points of damage, and a pair of Flame Javelin could not be countered by the German.
Frederico Costa wins 2-0!
At the end of the match I couldn't help but feel that we hadn't seen all the tricks to come out of the Esper control deck, so I sat down with Bauche to find out a little more. The deck was actually a variation on the kind of Master Transmuter control/combo deck that was originally seen on Jacob van Lunen's column right here at magicthegathering.com. While the Transmuter's didn't make the cut, the various Spinx cards did, augmented by Sphinx of the Steel Wind, who does a fine job of finishing off the game, and winning back against surprising odds by virtue of the brutal combination of lifelink, first strike and vigilance.
The round before I had seen Esper control pulling back a very exciting game against black/white tokens, where that final lifegain put things well over the top, and allowed Magister Sphinx to set up a single swing to take the game.
Bauche seemed a little saddened by Everlasting Torment, which he hadn't expected to come in against him, but felt that in general his deck had the tools to compete in today's Standard. With a loss in round 3, he would be battling for much of the rest of the day, but felt confident that he had the right deck to do it with.
Feature Match: Round 3 - Cedric Phillips (USA) vs Petr Nahodil (CZE)
While he may not have walked away from Pro Tour Kyoto as the champion, there's no doubt who the biggest breakthrough star of that event was, and it was Cedric Phillips, who played, sounded, acted, and even looked the part of a pro player in his killer suit on Top-8 Sunday. There's no suit with him on this trip to Barcelona, but he's still looking pretty smart as he takes an early entry into the Grand Prix in round two. Even a Pro Tour Top-8 hasn't done quite enough to catapult Phillips into the heady world of three byes! But as introductions to the European Grand Prix circuit go, Phillips would be in for a sterner test than usual – his opponent none other than the two-time Czech national champion Petr Nahodil, also entering the tournament with two byes.
Phillips won the dice roll for initiative and wasted little time in throwing down the gauntlet to his opponent, with a Goldmeadow Stalwart followed by a Wizened Cenn and a pair of Figure of Destiny. Nahodil fired back with a Knight of Meadowgrain and a Spectral Procession on his third turn. Undaunted, Phillips swung his team, and Nahodil chose to block with only one of his Spectral Procession spirits. It was a fatal error, Phillips revealed a Mirrorweave from hand to turn his team into a party of Wizened Cenn! The three unblocked Kithkin thumped Nahodil for 15 and we were into Game 2 within a blink of an eye!
Cedric Phillips 1 – 0 Petr Nahodil
That had been a sickening blow for Petr Nahodil and he looked visibly rocked by the loss. Nahodil wouldn't have expected to be drawn against a fellow shark in the shallow waters of Round Three, and then to lose in such a swift manner was a double blow. Fate struck a third time, and Nahodil was forced to mulligan down to five cards in search of a hand, although Phillips wound up having to do the same.
“At least we'll have a fair game” said the famously good-natured American as he shuffled up to draw his five cards, “you got a good five?”
“Not a special one”
Both players had found a Windbrisk Heights in their limited hands, but despite going second Phillips managed to put himself on the offensive again in Game 2. His Knight of Meadowgrain was the first thing on the table, and when a Wizened Cenn joined it he was able to punch through the Spectral Procession Nahodil had invoked. Nahodil could only manage to call on a Goldmeadow Stalwart the hard way, paying the full 3W, while Phillips dropped another Wizened Cenn and hit back to widen his advantage.
Nahodil needed a foothold in the game desperately, and he found it on the next turn – he played a Figure of Destiny and used a Path to Exile to cut down one of Phillip's Cenn to prevent him from activating his Windbrisk Heights. But Nahodil was still 5-21 down on life after another beating from Phillip's Lifelinked forces!
Despite hitting back with three creatures of his own it seemed Nahodil's Windbrisk Heights hadn't hidden away any particular treasures and he declined to use it, growing his Figure of Destiny to a 4/4 instead. Another round of attacks brought the scores to 5-18 as Nahodil threw a spirit under the an attacking Knight of Meadowgrain and hit back hard, but Phillips followed up with a Stillmoon Cavalier and it's Protection From White seemed mighty good.
Cedric Phillips is using Kyoto as a launchpad Now Protection From White does a lot of things, but it doesn't do much about Zealous Persecution. Nahodil threw it down, the Cavalier went away, and Nahodil's men ate a large chunk out of Phillip's lifetotal. Now it was 5-12 and Nahodil continued to build up his forces with a Knight of Meadowgrain of his own, but as he attempted to attack for victory on the next turn Phillips played a Pollen Lullaby. They clashed but both players revealed land and Nahodil's men would be back for more.
What had become clear was that Phillip's draw had been short on gas. After that second Wizened Cenn had been hit by a Path to Exile he had yet to find another creature while Nahodil continued to stack his table with Knights and Stalwarts. Finally, the American pulled a Mutavault and would have three attackers he needed next turn to activate Windbrisk Heights - the threat of this was enough to put Nahodil on the back foot and he held back to block away Phillip's attackers, fearing another Mirrorweave defeat. Phillips three his three men into the fray and lost his army and Nahodil blocked them away but was able to replace it with a Cloudgoat Ranger off the Windbrisk Heights.
On his next turn Nahodil finally pulled a fifth land and – to knowing applause from Phillips – finally played his own Cloudgoat Ranger to add even more weight to his forces. Nahodil then again tried to seal the win with an all-out attack – Zealous Persecution took away the Soldiers that accompanied the American's Cloudgoat Ranger and his army flooded into the red zone. But again Phillips had the Pollen Lullaby, and they clashed again
“That's a winner!” exclaimed Phillips as he revealed Spectral Procession, and it certainly beat Nahodil's Caves of Koilos.
Nahodil's army went to sleep for a crucial turn and Phillips took that as his signal to attack - reducing the Czech player to 3, then playing Spectral Procession. It was Phillip's turn to strike for the win on the next turn, but Nahodil had a Path to Exile in hand – that removed one of the attacking tokens and the Nahodil pulled out on just 1 life! The Czech army woke up and now it was Phillips scrambling for defense. Even on 16 life he was an alpha strike away from defeat, and he found it in the handy form of a Stillmoon Cavalier – that was not only good defense, but would win the game next turn.
Nahodil knew this, and threw his all into an assault – 9 creatures hit Phillips, he blocked and took only 15 damage. Now it was 1 life apiece, but with Phillips on the swing and the Stillmoon Cavalier swept home untouched to win the match.
Nahodil revealed his hand... Path to Exile. Only a Stillmoon Cavalier would have done for Phillips, and it's what he pulled. Tight, but after that blowout first game The Force had clearly been with the American for the whole of the match.
Cedric Phillips (USA) 2 – 0 Petr Nahodil (CZE)
Feature Match: Round 4 - P.V. Peavey? Not so much: Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa vs Antonio Martos
The largest constructed Magic tournament ever has a surprisingly international flavour, due to a number of pros from the other side of the Atlantic managing to secure a good deal on flights to Barcelona. While many of them are American, there are also a few others, including Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa (henceforth referred to as PV, for the sake of this reporter's hands, which have a 1500 player tournament to get through).
PV was one of the originators of the cascade Seismic Swans list that hit the internet recently courtesy of it winning a recent Regionals event. As far as he was concerned, that was something of an awkward leak of information, but it wasn't going to stop him from playing the deck this weekend, as he still thinks it is plenty good enough.
PV lost the roll, but had the first play of the match, with a Seismic Assualt, in the face of some Vivid lands. On turn four he played a Bloodbraid Elf, and cascaded half his deck to find a second Seismic Assault. The elf itself was countered by Cryptic Command, and a Ghitu Encampment was bounced. Martos had a Bloodbraid Elf of his own, which hit an ineffectual Jund Charm. The elf itself was killed by Seismic Assualt and a land.
The very next turn, PV cast Swans of Bryn Argoll. He had not needed to cascade at all in the first game, and swiftly threw lands at his own swans until he drew into enough land to be able to deal 20 in one fell swoop by ditching a whopping 10 lands.
Yikes. For those that hadn't got the memo, this swans deck is ‘a real deck', and could be a definite player in this tournament.
PV 1 – 0 Antonio Martos
While Martos kept his seven card hand, PV had to send his back.
“Seven lands?” Martos was well aware of the whopping number of lands in Paulo's deck.
“Almost” remarked PV, with a small sigh. His six proved better.
A Putrid Leech was the first play from Martos, who got to crack in for a full 4 with it on turn 3 unopposed. A Countryside Crusher from PV soon stopped this though, and seemed likely to be a huge threat.
Martos was unafraid and swung in for another 4. PV only got to crack back for 3, and had a little think about what to play, given that he was facing down Cryptic Command mana. He went with Swans of Bryn Argoll, and saw that Command, which countered the flyer, and drew Martos a card.
Martos was full of gas in this second game, and had Thought Hemorrhage to take out Seismic Assualt, including a copy in PV's hand, to mean 3 damage, putting the Brazilian on 9. Swings put PV on just 5.
Countryside Crusher seemed adept at drawing spells and not lands, with another Swans of Bryn Argoll on the top of PV's deck. The swans came down, but so did another land which made Anathemancer lethal.
PV 1 – 1 Antonio Martos
Both players kept in the final game, and again the fight came down to Putrid Leech vs Countryside Crusher. The crusher drew Paulo a Bituminous Blast, and before he had a chance to play a land, Vendilion Clique came along. It revealed PV's hand to be Wickerbough Elder, two copies of Bituminous Blast, Seismic Assault and a pair of Graven Cairns. The Assualt naturally went, and PV cast Wickerbough Elder, which met a small chuckle from his opponent. PV couldn't afford to take chances against Pithing Needle or similar from his opponent, so the Elder was certainly not getting sided out by the Brazilian Pro.
Martos had a little think on his turn before attacks. He played a Maelstrom Pulse to kill off Countryside Crusher (the giant who had spectacularly failed to grow all match), and swung PV down to 9, putting himself at 16 in the process. It was time for PV to fight back. He played Bituminous Blast to kill of the Leech, and got himself a Bloodbraid Elf and a Seismic Assault tacked on for free. Attacks from PV put Martos to 10. This was now a tight race, as there was a land in PV's hand to kill off Vendilion Clique.
PV was down to two cards, and Martos knew one of them to be another Bituminous Blast. Cascade had put him very much on the ropes. After a little thought, the Spaniard passed. In PV's attack step, Cryptic Command tapped down his team, and drew him a card. Now only Ghitu Encampment could get stuck in.
A Bloodbraid Elf from Martos found Maelstrom Pulse to level things a little, killing off Wickerbough Elder, who was sure to be a threat. Paulo offed the elf with his Seismic Assault, and just kept cracking in, dropping Martos to 3. Virtually all of Paulo's draws now put Martos on being stone dead. A Bituminous Blast found a Thought Hemorrhage for Martos, but it was too little too late, as the Hemorrhage also revealed more land in PV's hand to finish things along with the next attack step.
Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa wins 2 – 1!Cheer up, big guy -- you won!
Feature Match: Round 4 - Sergio Losada Lopez (ESP) vs Shuuhei Nakamura (JAP)
Pros come through the door – round four! We have to thank ace podcaster Rich Hagon for that immortal line, and one of the pros that came through the door in this particular round four was reigning Player of the Year Shuuhei Nakamura, having a black-green Elf special in tow that he picked as his weapon of choice just this morning.Game 1
Shuuhei led with a Thoughtseize, seeing Bant Sureblade and Shorecrasher Mimic, dispatching the Mimic easily. Putrid Leech from Shuuhei served as a blocker for the Sureblade and as Bant Charm bait before Shuuhei brought Chameleon Colossus into play. Combined with Imperious Perfect and a Mutavault, that was enough to take down Sergio Lopez in a quick and quite one-sided Game 1.
Sergio Losada Lopez 0 – 1 Shuuhei Nakamura
Shuuhei NakamuraThe two players showcased quite a different level of comfort on the feature match table. Lopez, despite his 3-0 start in the tournament, seemed to be just a little intimidated by the calm, collected and thoroughly confident Player of the Year. The Japanese, on the other hand, did not press this as an advantage, but tried to make Sergio comfortable simply by being a good, friendly guy willing to put up with the enormous language gap between the two. He succeded: the local hit it off with more confidence in Game 2, certainly bolstered by a good opening.Game 2
Off a Birds of Paradise came Shorecrasher Mimic and Rhox War Monk, while all Shuuhei could offer was Murderous Redcap to doff the Mimic. Sergio tapped his lands, “blanco, blanco”, and presented Wilt-Leaf Liege. Dauntless Escort joined the team of three. Shuuhei was facing pressure without answers. His Snakeform on the Wilt-Leaf Liege fell prey to Bant Charm, and Rhox War Monk already had Lopez up to 28 and Shuuhei down to 6.
In defense mode, Shuuhei had to block with Treetop Village against a full frontal attack by Lopez' Liege-bolstered team, made worse by the fact that the Village was his fourth land. He blocked the Wilt-Leaf Liege, shrunk it with Snakeform and got to keep his vital mana. Lopez sacrificed Dauntless Escort to keep his Liege alive. At two life, the Japanese master was desperately going to need every blocker. Murderous Redcap and Llanowar Elves dearly bought him another turn. A second War Monk from Lopez left Shuuhei with even less options, and even Garruk Wildspeaker was not enough to hold the fort on his own against the Spanish onslaught.
Sergio Losada Lopez 1 – 1 Shuuhei NakamuraGame 3
Sergio Losada LopezLopez had to mulligan and led with Treetop Village, playing perfectly into Shuuhei's plan of attacking with Llanowar Elves for 1. A small crowd had gathered only to see Lopez' Shorecrasher Mimic die to Deathmark. Unfazed, the Spanish player put Rhox War Monk opposite Shuuhei's Wren's Run Vanquisher, only to promptly lose it to Snakeform. Lifegain: zero.
Four lands and Llanowar Elves enabled a double dose of Putrid Leech and Garruk Wildspeaker for Shuuhei, which Lopez' must have hated, as he held Garruk himself and would have dearly liked to profit at least a little from the planeswalker. This way, all he had was a four-mana removal spell and 3 life left after Shuuhei swung for 9. Dead on the board, Lopez could stave off his demise for another turn by blocking with Birds of Paradise and Treetop Village and an additional Condemn. But inevitability was on Shuuhei's side, and the next turn saw Lopez dead.
Sergio Losada Lopez 1 – 2 Shuuhei Nakamura
Feature Match: Round 5 - Gabriel Nassif (FRA) vs Corlos Pinto (ESP)
Corlos Pinto hit an early setbackIn the hotel last night I watched ‘27 Dresses' which is a pretty decent rom-com (or ‘chick flick', depending on your point of view) about a woman who has collected 27 bridesmaids dresses but hasn't ever got married herself, and it strikes me that it could well have been the story of Gabriel Nassif's career. For so long the bridesmaid, it was only in Kyoto at the start of 2009 that Nassif finally got be lift a singles Pro Tour trophy of his own. For a player who has played so long, at such a high level, with such consistency, it was an award that was a long time in coming, but one he immediately repeated at Grand Prix Chicago with another win. 2009 has been threatening to become the year of Nassif, and local player Corlos Pinto had his work cut out to put the brakes on the Nassif win train.
While Pinto raced onto the offensive with a pair of Mogg Fanatics and a Shambling Remains Nassif did little more than play out a variety of multicoloured lands, although on the fourth turn he played a Cryptic Command to tap down Pinto's attackers, then after Boggart Ram Gang had been added Nassif glady swept up all four of Pinto's creatures with a single Hallowed Burial to swiftly seize control of the first game.
The Spaniard struggled to find a second wind, pulling a Ghitu Encampment and aiming a Flame Javelin at Nassif's head to lower him to 11 life, but no more monsters were forthcoming. This gave Nassif plenty of opportunity to draw extra cards with Esper Charm and Mulldrifter, and play out a Broodmate Dragon to begin his own offensive. Pinto Terminated both the Broodmate and it's mate, but with Nassif sucking up even more cards from a Tidings it had become a one-sided battle
Hiding behind Runed Halos, Nassif took controlPinto flung a Hellspark Elemental into battle, dropping Nassif to 8, although the Frenchman played a Pithing Needles naming the troublesome Hellspark to ensure it wouldn't return. It didn't, but Pinto tried to make a second Hellspark anyway only to find it Cryptic Commanded. A turn later a Boggart Ram Gang met the same fate, and Nassif followed this Command with a Cruel Ultimatum! That helped Nassif's life total back to 13, and returned the Broodmate Dragon to hand, but as Pinto casually discarded a pair of Demigod of Revenge into his graveyard a new threat emerged. Pinto had been stuck on four land for a long time – should he draw a fifth and play a third Demigod, Nassif would be in trouble regardless of how many cards he had in hand!
Pinto still couldn't find that fifth land, though, and could only play a Shambling Remains on his next turn. Nassif answered by playing the Broodmate, then a turn later a Knucklavee returned Cruel Ultimatum and Cryptic Command to hand, the Ultimatium was immediately recast and sealed the win – stripping Pinto not only of the last of the cards in his hand, but the last of his life points as well.
Gabriel Nassif (FRA) 1 – 0 Corlos Pinto (ESP)
That seemed to have been a bad game for Pinto. Having overextended into the original Hallowed Burial he had drawn all the dead cards in the matchup, Game 2 would surely see him put more pressure onto the legendary Frenchman.
Pinto's opening pair of Mogg Fanatics were quickly neutered by a Runed Halo, and a second Halo shut out Pinto's follow-up Shambling Remains. That forced Corlos Pinto to turn to his Anathemancer early, it reduced Nassif to 16 when it entered play, then began to eat away at the French pro's life total. Nassif repaired the damage with a Primal Command that also set Pinto back on land, keeping him from reaching his Demigods, then Pyroclasm swept the Anathemancer away – still on 19 life it seemed that Gab Nassif intended on staying as healthy as possible by playing his removal early rather than waiting to catch more than one creature with it.
Gabriel Nassif sweeps home for another winPinto went for his Demigod on the next turn but his revenge ambitions were Broken Ambitions, Nassif revealing a Paladin En-Vec with the clash to add to Pinto's woes. Cannily, Nassif then played a Cryptic Command to return his own Runed Halo to hand and played it again, switching it from ‘Mogg Fanatic' to ‘Demigod of Revenge'. Paladin En-Vec then arrived to give Nassif an offensive option, but when he tried to stick down a Broodmate Dragon it was again double-Terminated.
That left Pinto with only one card in hand, and Nassif took the opportunity to hit his opponent with the discard option of Esper Charm during his draw step, cutting Pinto to zero cards in hand while Nassif had plenty. Another Cryptic Command reset a Runed Halo from ‘Shambling Remains' to ‘Anathemancer', effectively answering the only key threat Pinto had left, and the Spaniard looked resigned to his fate. He was able to bring three Demigods into play, but Runed Halo meant they existed only as blockers, and Cryptic Command tapped them down to mean they weren't even that. A second Broodmate Dragon ate into Pinto's health, then Knucklavee returned Cryptic Command to Nassif's hand for a repeat performance the next turn, and it was all over.
Gabriel Nassif (FRA) 2 – 0 Corlos Pinto (ESP)
Feature Match: Round 6 - Patrick Chapin (USA) vs Yuuya Watanabe (JAP)
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When life gives you a pina colada with a slice of pinapple and a paper umbrella, you take it, lean back and enjoy. This feature match is the Magic equivalent. Patrick Chapin, known as The Innovator, currently stands at the forefront of Magic writing and enjoyed tremendous success with his Worlds final appearance at Worlds 2007, and of course two more PT Sundays from back in the day. Former Rookie of the Year Yuuya Watanabe, on the other hand, was the runner-up at GP Kobe, and is one of the Japanese travellers making the rounds through the circuit.Game 1
The players kicked off their game in silence under the eyes of a watchful crowd, watching these two greats of the game go at it with halted breaths. Yuuya Chapin on the play gained early ground with the excellent Kitchen Finks against Watanabe's Putrid Leech. With three mana up, Watanabe tapped out to use Maelstrom Pulse on the Finks, gaining Chapin another two life but making the 3/2 less useful as a blocker. Chapin had Pulse of his own to kill the Leech. That gave Watanabe the opening for Chameleon Colossus, a sequence of creatures Shuuhei Nakamura had done in the exact same way earlier in the day.
Chapin's Finks did most of the work up to this point, taking Watanabe to 14 after refilling Chapin to a full 20. The Japanese considered in the face of Chapins's stare. Land, activate Treetop Village, activate Mutavault, then swing for nine was the play, taking Chapin down to 11. The American had six lands untapped, among them Vivid Creek and two Reflecting Pools, and declined to attack.
Watanabe showed a key Thoughtseize, to which Chapin responded with Jund Charm on his Finks, to get at least something out of the valuable spell. The Thoughtseize revealed Esper Charm, Kirnchen Finks and Pyroclasm. Watanabe took the Charm and had Profane Command as a follow-up, returning Putrid Leech and soaking two of Chapin's life points away. Chapin fell to 9, played Finks and immediately blocked with it and its colleague, as Watanabe came in with Treetop Villlage, Colossus and Putrid Leech. But the extra two life were futile, When Watanabe added Wren's Run Vanquisher to his already full board and Chapin had nothing more, the American knew he wouldn't stay alive.
Patrick Chapin 0 – 1 Yuuya Watanabe
Chapin strikes a regal pose under the lightsGame 2
Chapin opted to play first, both players kept their hands and off they were just like in the first game: Watanabe with Putrid Leech, Chapin with Kitchen Finks. The Japanese continued with Civic Wayfinder. Chapin had Finks #2 and Mulldrifter. That went away quickly, as Watanabe put more big men on the board in the form of Chameleon Colossus. Chapin, under pressure, picked up his pace and urged Watanabe to make his plays, as the Japanese took a good while to arrive at his decisions. Watanabe had Garruk Wildspeaker that made a 3/3 Beast and quickly proceeded to die to Chapins attack.
One decision Watanabe did not take long to make, though, was an alpha strike with all he had, beating Chapin for 7 down to 9. Wrath of God from the American cleared the board, but Watanbe rebuilt with Wren's Run Vanquisher and Llanowar Elf. Chapin finally played the signature card of his particular 5-color deck: Bloodbraid Elf. Cascade went off, Cryptic Command went to the bottom, but his third card down was Pithing Needle, shutting down Treetop Village. That was a significant chunk of Watanabe's offense, especially since Chapin had Maelstrom Pulse to kill the Vanquisher.
Watanabe had the answer, though. Not wanting Chapin to get back into the game in any way, shape or form, Profane Command for six took Chapin to one and returned a Putrid Leech. Llanowar Elves were just enough to kill The Innovator.
Patrick Chapin 0 – 2 Yuuya Watanabe
Blog: Saturday, 5:33 p.m. - Less than Standard Standard
With 1,495 players, it is understandable that there will be quite a large variety of cards being played here in Barcelona. Initial predictions of a sea of tokens seem to have been at least partially over the top. While there are quite a few token decks, of both the black/white variety and green/white, it has certainly not comprised the sort of proportions of the field to make setting feature matches super tough. In fact, one interesting turn up is that among the pro players in the room, these token decks have proven fairly unpopular. Everyone, it seems, wants to be David, rather than Goliath with a target on their forehead.
The choices that have come out are a truly mixed bag, but it seems that many players have approached the format looking to play the sort of decks that they themselves find to be the most fun. Shuhei Nakamura, for example, is playing those Elves that he loves so much, in spite of professing to have a shaky 40-60 matchup against tokens. Gabriel Nassif has been seen with an array of vivid lands in play, casting big spells just as he was in Kyoto.
There are definitely some new decks out there. Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa is one of a number of pros that have thrown their hat into the ring with the cascade version of Seismic Swans. Will it be a lame duck to various hate cards? This is the sort of high pressure event where we will find out.
More than entire new decks in the room though, this is a tournament about two things. Firstly, positioning oneself correctly against the room, and secondly small edges in tech. Sam Black is happy to position himself as the player to beat everyone trying to beat tokens, with a faerie deck that “still has Peppersmoke as the tech”. As to those individual cards, lets take a look at them.
This guy is not really tech as such, but he is on his own a big call in terms of the metagame. Looking around the room, there are very few decks that aren't going to be taking a lot of damage from this zombie wizard when he hits play. Even something like Elves runs a very low basic count these days, and there are a good number of decks naming Anathemancer before even something like Banefire with their Runed Halos, simply because they are likely to take more damage from the powerful 3 drop.
At least one pro is merrily fetching out Behemoth Sledge and Loxodon Warhammer with this guy, who never really shined when he first hit the scene. Untapping with this fellow in play tends to mean some huge life point swings, and when he double teams with Chameleon Colossus, he can end games in a hurry.
A powerful card from Lorwyn block, Primal Command is now doing a great deal more in terms of reshuffling in graveyards than ever before. Between the existence of Sanity Grinding and the Fog deck, there is a great deal of potential to need to recycle the graveyard all of a sudden. At least one Fog player was blown out already today by Primal Command in combination with Naya Charm – a slightly different way of setting up a functional Wheel of Sun and Moon effect. Primal Command also allows the Swans deck to make sure it doesn't run out of land with which to kill people through Seismic Assault. None too shabby!
Now this one hit me from right field. A sideboard card that I had to look up, Redeem the Lost saw a small amount of block play, but is now back, as a great way of protecting threats on the board for the Green White deck that many have dubbed ‘Small Child' due to its propensity to play lots of big dumb monsters. The best creature to protect in that deck is likely Gaddock Teeg, who really doesn't fit the moniker of either big or dumb. The little Lorwyn Legend does a good job of punking many of the best cards in the format, and Redeem the Lost can thwart more than one plan to off him, given a lucky clash or two.
Speaking of luck, cascade deserves more than a cursory mention in the list of big effects in the format. Pat Chapin describes the mechanic as bonkers – the most powerful keyword since dredge. Much like dredge, it is a lot of fun, and he boldly predicts that it will be even more fun in block. Chapin would venture to suggest that every single cascade spell will see some constructed success. For now, quite a few are being played, often in five colour decks that are proving tricky for those of us on coverage to classify. They play like control decks, but when running 3/2 hasty monsters, Putrid Leech and Anathemancer, it is hard not to slip into thinking of them as being pretty aggressive. The cascade decks tend to fall into the category of ‘If all my spells are good, I really don't matter what I hit', with the exception of the aforementioned Cascade Swans list. There, while things can be a little random, they aren't as random as all that, with so few spells to hit.
Stay tuned for more single card strategies here, as we scour the room for tech for the upcoming PTQ season.
Feature Match: Round 6 - The Race is On - Luis Scott-Vargas vs Gabriel Nassif
This could easily have been the final of GP Barcelona. I guess it still could be. Luis Scott-Vargas and Gabriel Nassif are currently the two players dominating the Player of the Year race, and now they find themselves paired up early in the weekend.
LSV, when he saw me this weekend, pointed at Gerry Thompson and declared ‘He tricked me!' Running the Cascade Swans deck, LSV has a singularly powerful win condition, and he is well used to flipping spells from the top of his deck to win, though in this case with a little more certainty than with Mind's Desire.
Somewhere in the middle, there's a Round 6 feature match!
The game started out slow with each player starting on 3 Vivid lands. The first actual spell of the game was Bloodbraid Elf.
“I wonder what you're going to get” remarked Nassif dryly.
Nassif knew that there really weren't that many spell that he needed to stop from Luis' deck, and playing five colour control he had a fair shot at nailing all of them. A Pyroclasm killed off Bloodbraid Elf, and Nassif passed with 3 mana up. Nassif's deck was a little unusual among five colour control decks for not playing heavily on cascade. He watched on a Swan's of Bryn Argoll got played, happy to cast Esper Charm to draw cards at the end of turn, then Hallowed Burial on it for his turn.
LSV was having trouble sticking threats, and played a Deny Reality to bounce Vivid Marsh and cascade into a second Swans of Bryn Argoll. Nassif cast Runed Halo naming Seismic Assault, passing with 4 mana up. If LSV landed Seismic Assault he cold still battle, as it would allow him to draw much of his deck, which did include an answer to the enchantment. What was concerning was if that answer could get there in time, and indeed resolve.
Luis played another Deny Reality, targeting a Vivid Creek. A substantial cascade found Seismic Assault. Now with two big spells on the stack, Nassif had a think. He let Seismic Assualt resolve, and went for an Esper Charm on it. LSV had a window of opportunity. He drew a lot of cards by pitching lands targeting his own Swans. Runed Halo would mean he wasn't killing anything, but he did have a lot more options. At the end of turn he discarded Swans of Bryn Argoll, Captured Sunlight and Bloodbraid Elf.
Nassif: ProNassif for his turn, played Pithing Needle naming Seismic Assault. Now LSV would need 2 answers before he could combo out. In the meantime, he was fairly happy to keep bashing with his swans, who had already taken Nassif to 13.
Another Deny Reality found Captured Sunlight, but there were no more copies of Seismic Assault in the American's deck, meaning that effectively he just revealed the contents of his deck and shuffled it. Nassif cast Broodmate Dragon.
LSV loaded the board with Swans of Bryn Argoll, and eventually another Seismic Assualt, but his deck was getting a little thin, and now Nassif had a lot of cards to work with, as he had resolved a Cruel Ultimatum.
Nassif didn't seem too sad about drawing 8 cards, even if he did lose his dragons. At 8 life, he was facing down a lethal attack, but especially after casting Esper Charm to draw two cards more, it seemed likely that he had an answer.
Luis Scott-Vargas 0 – 1 Gabriel Nassif
One of the things that Luis had said he particularly liked about this Swans deck was that it could profitably sideboard out lands if it needed to, to increase threat density if necessary. With the amount of hate that Gabriel had shown in Game 1, Scott-Vargas seemed sure to need to go pretty heavy-weight on his own answers.
For Game 2, LSV had a new plan. A turn 3 Fulminator Mage knocked out a Vivid land on Nassif's side of the board, and was followed by Countryside Crusher from LSV. The Crusher became a 4/4 and Luis had a Bloodbraid Elf that found a Rain of Tears to try to keep up the land destruction plan. A Negate said no to that, but regardless, Nassif went to 13.
Deny Reality was the next attack on the French players' land base, but it flipped an irrelevant Maelstrom Pulse. Nassif played a Glen-Elendra Archmage. The crowd roared as LSV played Deny Reality on the Archmage, finding a Bloodbraid Elf and Countryside Crusher. Now Nassif was at 4. He had to use Cryptic Command as a Fog, but this let Seismic Assault come down to finish things off in a game that was every bit as quick as Game 1 was slow.
Luis Scott-Vargas 1 – 1 Gabriel Nassif
Vargas: Also Pro“This plan is so much worse on the draw.” LSV's land destruction package had dominated game 2, but could it do the same when Nassif effectively started the Game 1 land up?
Game 3 had a typically vivid beginning, which led to the first threat of the game, in Countryside Crusher. By this point, the crowd in the match was 3 deep, bigger than many Grand Prix finals that I have covered. The Crusher got hit by Broken Ambitions, and Nassif tapped out on the very next turn for Glen-Elendra Archmage. This gave LSV a window of opportunity, which he used to cast Rain of Tears on Reflecting Pool.
On his next turn, LSV tried a Deny Reality on a Vivid Creek, and cascaded into Seismic Assault. Nassif responded by drawing two cards with Esper Charm, and then countered the enchantment with his Archmage.
There was yet another Deny Reality from Luis, with this one hitting both Bloodbraid Elf and Fulminator Mage. It seemed that Scott-Vargas was in good shape to pull things back, significantly hampering Nassif's mana base. All the spells resolved, and the Frenchman looked a little disconsolate as he was only able to use an Esper Charm to finish off LSV's hand.
Gabriel cast a Paladin en-Vec for his turn, which met a “Very nice” from LSV, who couldn't really attack with much apart from a Treetop Village. The Fulminator Mage was relegated to being a Stone Rain, destroying Reflecting Pool. Scott-Vargas didn't seem to mind how things were going. He had the faster clock with his man-land against a 1/1 Glen-Elendra Archmage. Nassif was building up lands though, and the big spells from the French deck had to be a concern.
LSV resolved a Countryside Crusher. He was now set on drawing spells for the rest of the game. At least that is what he thought. Firespout killed off none of Nassif's creatures, but both the giant and Bloodbraid Elf. Treetop Village then traded with Nassif's creatures. At this point there were 5 minutes left on the round. LSV tried a Primal Command, only to see a Cryptic Command from Nassif.
Swings from Glen-Elendra Archmage gradually knocked down LSV, but equally, he finally drew another man-land, in the form of Ghitu Encampment. Would this be close? Nassif was knocked down to 1, but didn't seem to look too concerned.
Gabriel Nassif wins 2 – 1!
Feature Match: Round 7 - Tomaharu Saitou (JPN) vs Guillaime Wafo-Tapa
Saitou wasted little time in going on the offensiveThis star-packed Grand Prix has already thrown up a host of all-star feature matches, and round seven was no exception as it pitted the quiet French genius, Guillaime Wafo-Tapa, against the great skills of Japanese pro Tomoharu Saitou. It was still early in the race for Player of the Year, but Saitou was one of the four players who had carved out a leading group away from the chasing pack, giving his performance at this Grand Prix an extra edge of importance. The last time I watched Saitou in a Standard GP was in Copenhagen last year and he was on top of his game there – losing very narrowly in the final - while Wafo-Tapa is most at home in any Standard tournament.
Like his countrymen, Saitou had brought the GB Elf deck, updating it with the hitting power of Putrid Leech and Maelstrom Pulse but keeping the core of it's green aggression and efficient cheap beatsticks untouched. Saitou attempted to play his draw as aggressively as he could, beginning with a Llanowar Elves and a Thoughtseize, then sending his Elf and Mutavault into the attack. Wafo-Tapa fought back with a pair of Maelstrom Pulses from his old-school 5-colour control deck, the first taking out the Llanowar Elves, and the second a Putrid Leech that had just arrived in play, but the Frenchman's attempt to shut down Saitou's Mutavaults with a Pithing Needle was just as quickly killed by a Maelstrom Pulse from Saitou.
Digging deep, quite literally, a pair of Sift got Wafo-Tapa to a Runed Halo, again shutting off the Mutavault threat, but Saitou simply switched his attack to a Treetop Village, bringing Wafo-Tapa down to just 5 life, then adding a Putrid Leech and a second Treetop Village. Unable to solve so many threats in a single turn, Wafo-Tapa was in trouble, although as always the impassive exterior of the Frenchman revealed nothing. But regardless, the sheer power of the animated lands the Elf deck contained had sidestepped much of Wafo-Tapa's defences, and a turn later Saitou powered home to take a quick lead in the match.
Tomoharu Saitou (JPN) 1 – 0 Guillaime Wafo-Tapa (FRA)
Wafa-Tapa had little to show in game twoBy my count that must be about the millionth game won by a Treetop Village since it was first printed 10 years ago. What a card!
The second game began very differently, with Saitou dealing the first damage to himself – a second turn Thoughtseize, taking away a Mulldrifter, being his first entry into the game, and he stayed behind when a Civic Wayfinder was countered by Broken Ambitions, although on the clash Saitou revealed he was about to draw a Puppeteer Clique, which Wafo-Tapa would need to find a way to play around. Unhurried, the Frenchman was content to wait it out, laying more lands and countering an Imperious Perfect with a Cryptic Command, then the Puppeteer Clique with a second Broken Ambitions. The clash this time revealed a Putrid Leech, which Saitou kept, and a Runed Halo, which Wafo-Tapa chose to send to the bottom of his deck.
It had been six turns now, and the Elf deck had no foothold in the game whatsoever - the only spell it had resolved remained that one Thoughtseize - and it was time for Wafo-Tapa to push for a weakness as he tapped out to play his Broodmate Dragon. Saitou's Putrid Leech seemed no match for the winged pair, but when Wafo-Tapa sent his pair of dragons into the red zone a Snakeform knocked the token out of the air, and the Leech sucked it dry. Even so – that only solved half the problem that Broodmage Dragon posed!
Putrid Leech simply couldn't race the Dragon alone, and Saitou threw down a Wren's Run Vanquisher and Civic Wayfinder, then – to loud groans from the crowd stood behind Wafo-Tapa – a Thoughtseize which stripped away the Frenchman's last card... Cruel Ultimatum!
That turn had transformed the game. Who's the beatdown? It's often the critical question in Magic, and the answer had just been flipped on it's head from Saitou defending against two 4/4 Flyers with a 2/2 Leech, to him now being in position to attack for 11!
Far from attacking, Wafo-Tapa now needed the Broodmate desperately for defense, and had lost the Cruel Ultimatum he had been counting on to decisively swing the card advantage in his favour. Out of cards, and facing down multiple attackers with just one defender, the Frenchman could only lay a land and pass the turn, while Saitou wasted little time in taking advantage – he activated a Mutavault and attacked with all four of his creatures. Wafo-Tapa's lifetotal plummeted to just 7, and a turn later Saitou added Garruk and attacked again. Once more facing too many threats with too few answers, Wafo-Tapa's only response was to raise his hand and offer a handshake accepting defeat.
Tomoharu Saitou (JPN) 2 – 0 Guillaime Wafo-Tapa (FRA)
This Japanese Elf deck seems very powerful – there's no spectacular new combinations or interactions – no Cascade for instance – but it's very robust, with pretty much no bad cards, and is able to very rapidly turn out the damage when the time comes to end the game. I like!
Blog: 7:22p.m. - Mes Que Un GP
Barcelona is a city that is synonymous with many things, but across the world it is arguably best well known for one thing in particular – it's football team. Barcelona FC are one of the true giants of world football – they play in the enormous Camp Nou stadium that can host over 97,000 fans, have been champions of Spain 19 times, and won European glory another 8 times (on Wednesday they face my own team, Manchester United, looking to claim a ninth European title), and over the years many of the very best players in the world have donned the red and blue stripes of Barcelona – Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Romario, Haji, Hristo Stoichkov, Ronald Koeman, Gary Lineker, Mark Laudrup, Johan Cruyff, and probably the greatest football player of all time, Diego Maradona. By any measure, Barcelona FC are enormous.
But the football club is also a unique focal point for the people of Barcelona as it represents not just their sporting ambitions, but the heart and soul of the Catalan people – a region of Spain who vigorously hold themselves as a separate nation. As well as being passionate about the football team's success, the club is sporting success, wrapped in politics, wrapped in national identity, wrapped in religion – small wonder then that the club's motto is ‘Mes Que Un Club', which means ‘More Than a Club', and throughout the city you see the colors and crest of Barcelona FC proudly displayed.
So from Mes Que Un Club, to Mes Que Un GP. Like all the big professional level events the Grand Prix in Barcelona is much more than just a large tournament with a great prize. It's a meeting point for thousands of players who share a love for the game, it's an opportunity to play in side events, to draft to your heart's content, to meet the artists who bring Magic cards to life, to see upcoming Magic products previewed.
So far, here are some highlights from the first day of Grand Prix Barcelona.:
Alexi Briclot and RK Post being swamped by fans eager for signed cards or custom artwork – including one man who came away with an enormous Dragon that had been hand-drawn by Briclot onto his playmat, where other Magic artists had already added their own Dragons.
The public events and side event drafts – pushed off to one side by the sheer scale of the main Grand Prix, were running very well with a wide range of drafts in old formats, new formats, or downright wierd formats.
And finally Chandra Nalaar... not the Planeswalker but the tiny puppy who brought virtually the entire GP to a halt as 1,500 people took their turn to tickle her belly and created the biggest crowd of the day – bigger even than the Luis Scott Vargas vs Gabriel Nassif. If they ever need to cast Jackal Pup for a Magic: The Gathering movie, I think they just found their star...
So there you go, as always there are plenty of reasons to make the journey to a GP, and the GP is only one of them. The other reasons are fun, friendship, fans, and fluffy puppies!
Blog: 7:57p.m. - The judge of judges
Judging a Magic tournament is an art of its own. It requires a special mind, someone who is willing to dive into the minutiae of the rules as well as the sometimes tricky art of communicating exactly and in a friendly manner what he actually meant. One of the deepest divers is John Carter. He is the Judge Coordinator in the Outreach section of Organized Play, which essentially means that he is, in his own words, “the judge of judges”.
His presence here in Barcelona was a surprise to most judges. The universal response: “How cool that you're here!” Having the Judge Coordinator visit is both appreciation and vindication of the work judges do, and that's precisely why John made the trip across the Atlantic to be here this weekend. “I specifically wanted them to see that we care for them.”
John Carter (left), learning and mentoring at the same time. As the Judge Coordinator, John Carter also is the mastermind behind choosing head judges for Grand Prix all over the world and in that way responsible how judges run their side of a Grand Prix. And there is a major difference between a Grand Prix in Europe and a Grand Prix in the USA, one that is mostly unknown to a lot of players: European events are run by Wizards of the Coast, American events are run by regional tournament organizers. For John Carter, that means that “the GPs are mostly held together by the judges, as they bring cross-tournament consistency.”
So John came to Europe to look and learn. “I wanted to see how the Europeans run their GPs and to see if we could learn something to take to the US and other parts of the world.” Simple things that nevertheless make a judge's life easier, like putting out a 10-key pad at registration so a player can type his DCI number himself. It saves time and prevents errors. European Grand Prix are the perfect place to see what works and what doesn't because of their size. Methods and techniques that work here can usually be downscaled and applied elsewhere.
To get a better feeling for this, John – himself a level 4 judge – donned the black of Magic's adjudicators and joined the floor judges at the GP for today. It is another way to show the judges that what they do is important at any level. John Carter, who started judging larger events as far back as the 90s, calls them “the backbone of organized play” and says: “They're doing stuff that nobody else is able to to or would be wanting to do. We couldn't just go out on the street and hire people to do this.” Understanding the rules of the game, knowing how to give the right ruling the right way, how to treat players and how to enforce penalties is something that cannot be easily learned from training videos or leaflets. The judge program is there to teach and to instill competence and confidence in the judges.
“We're very resistant to doing things internet-only. That's how we maintain our high level of quality,” he explains. Every judge has to be trained by another judge, person to person, taught and learning by example. For those judges who are too remote and don't have a taut community to serve as feedback, there is the global mailing list, and of course visits like the one from John this weekend.
Through personal contact to higher-level judges, every DCI man (or woman) in black learns what it means to be a judge, what their goal should be and everything else they need to know. At the moment, the judge program leads the judges to be educators more than enforcers. John explains: “If we're so busy solving common rules problems, we have less time to look at those who are doing something shady.” So what judges do is explain the rules violation and the according penalty to the player, so he doesn't do it again, knowing what he did wrong and how he is punished for it. Says John: “We still will enforce, of course, to preserve the integrity of the game.”
The goal of all this, and the message that the Judge Coordinator carried with him across the Atlantic as the central motto of being the judge of judges: “We say judges are ambassadors. We don't want judges to be cops waiting to bust players. They are there to resolve the issues players may have so they can get back to what they want to do: play the game.”
Feature Match: Round 8 - Raphael Levy (FRA) vs Tomoharu Saito (JAP)
Does anyone still need an introduction to these two? Levy is a French Hall of Famer and record-holder for most consecutive Pro Tours attended. Tomoharu Saito is the winner of the last two Grand Prix of the season, former Player of the Year and has five PT Top 8 appearances. And both are crowd favorites.Game 1
These two titans of tournament Magic offered a match of spectator's gold.No trademark slap from Saito, but a high roll gained him the right to play first – and to mulligan first, which he did. And then he slapped himself just as he kept his second set. Phew, went the 20-odd onlookers, relieved that Saito would fulfill spectator's expectations. Mutavault from Saito revealed nothing of his deck, Windbrisk Heights from Levy on the other hand gave everybody including Saito a pretty good appreciation of what the next few plays would be – they'd involve tokens, and probably lots of them.
Saito played Gilt-Leaf Palace including the Elf reveal to make it good, and cracked for two with Mutavault. Levy didn't like his next play, judging from his face. Land and double Burrenton Forge-Tender! “Maindeck? Really, maindeck?” Saito asked incredulously. Of course, his deck did not plan on delivering any targets for the busy little Kithkin smiths. For example, they wouldn't be able to do anything relevant against Saito's Imperious Perfect.
Levy looked really uncomfortable in this match-up, even though he was able to put a Glorious Anthem under his second Windbrisk Heights. Terror terrored the Perfect, and Levy attacked for two. To get his two Heights active, he needed at least another creature. Worrying about Saito's Civic Wayfinder shouldn't worry him, as he played another Glorious Anthem from his hand.
Saito knew the Heights would be a problem, so he used Profane Command to destroy a Forge-Tender and return his Imperious Perfect. But Levy had gone into token mode with Cloudgoat Ranger, making his deck a ticking bomb through the Heights. Saito knew this and destroyed all three tokens at once with Maelstrom Pulse, then attacked into Levy's board with Perfect and Mutacvault. Levy feared a trick, but decided on a block anyway – good choice, as Saito was just hoping for Levy to let the damage through.
Mutavault finally allowed the Frenchman to attack with three creatures, with mana up to activate just one of his two Windbrisk Heights. Saito went to 9 life. Levy activated one Heights and produced a much discounted Ajani Goldmane, gaining two life to up the loyalty. Saito started making Elf tokens, but the board looked grim for him.
Saito counted his mana and the amount of tokens he could produce. Would it be enough to keep him in this game? Probably not, but there still were the cards in his hand. Imperious Perfect and Mutavault attacked Levy's planeswalker, and Profane Command came downn to return Civic Wayfinder and kill Levy's Burrenton Forge-Tender. Bolstered by the Anthem, Cloudgoat Ranger had gotten too big to die to a -3/-3 effect. Tidehollow Sculler revealed that Saito had just a land left, so he'd have to work with his board, mostly. Lots of counting, again.
Levy couldn't believe how the match went down.Then, attack. Wayfinder, Mutavault, Mutavault, with three mana open and two cards in hand. Levy was loath to block, as he could not afford to lose a creature if he wanted his two Heights to activate. Still, Mutavault traded with Mutavault, and Cloudgoat Ranger absorbed damage. That opened him up to a Nameless Inversion, and now Levy was shaking his head: Saito had turned the game around. A second Imperious Perfect bolstered his attack far enough that Levy simply scooped them up, shaking his head about himself.
Raphael Levy 0 – 1 Tomoharu Saito
Game 1 had taken about half the round. 23 minutes remained for the French Hall of Famer to prove that the B/W Token deck was good enough to overcome the Japanese B/G Elf deck.Game 2
Levy was on the play, but Saito had the acceleration that his deck needed to run under the insurmountable wall of tokens Levy was planning to erect. Levy knew this and Terror'd Saito's first Llanowar Elf, following it up with Spectral Procession and Glorious Anthem. Saito fell to 14, but had Imperious Perfect and Maelstrom Pulse to handle the Spirit crowd.
A highly strung Saito teetered along on the edge.Levy added a second Glorious Anthem, a card that he certainly didn't want to see, and a third, that he did want even less. Saito made tokens and played Loxodon Warhammer to invalidate Levy's theoretical ability to race. However, with just over 20 minutes on the clock left, both players didn't leave themselves much time to think. Saito had Thoughtseize, seeing Marsh Flitter twice and a Thoughtseize. Levy fell to perilous life totals, drew his card and slumped. Wrath of God, with just three mana open. Levy started flipping cards from his library into play, knowing that he was dead but wanting to see what could have happened in this extremely short Game 2. Next card, one below the Wrath of God: Caves of Koilos, the fourth land that would have enabled the much needed Wrath of God.
Levy, clearly frustrated, extended the hand and asked to see what else Saito would have had to play with. The Japanese revealed his hand: Double Nameless Inversion, double Putrid Leech. Had the Wrath of God come online just a turn earlier, had Levy drawn any land instead of the third Glorious Anthem, he'd have been in the game.
Raphael Levy 0 – 2 Tomoharu Saito
“That didn't go exactly as planned,” Levy commented afterwards. He felt that the first game had been within reach to be a blowout victory, but he did not draw the one creature (or Procession, of course) to get his two remaining Windbrisk Heights active, and ultimately, coupled with Saito's removal, that left him reeling.
With the final result, Saito was safely through to day two, but Raphael Levy had no choice but to win his last round to make it through to Sunday.
Feature: Metagame Madness
I sat down with high hopes of bashing out a full metagame breakdown for you today. Knowing what made day 2 is important. Knowing what made top 8 even more so. If you only know the deck that the winner played, there are occasions where that is all you need to know. I like context though, and the only way to get there was to see what the 1495 players had brought to play with at the start of today.
There was a problem though. 1495 is a lot of decklists. With so varied a metagame, getting all the decklists interpreted the same way is important, and even with a big team on it, it was going to take some time. Having gone through 250 decklists myself I came to a decision. If I had to do the exact same thing a further five times I was going to go mad, and that's before you start worrying about the handwriting from various players. Much like the rhythm, these decks were going to get me.
Luckily, I have some experience with stats. A degree, plus 4 years in market research and a few additional qualifications on the sly. I know a thing or two about sampling. Having looked at 250 decklists (randomly selected from the population of ~1500), here is a feel for what the metagame looks like.
Black White Tokens – 18%
The big monster is the most represented deck, but not as numerous as many had predicted. At the start of the day we were steeling ourselves for covering lots of black/white mirrors, and we haven't had to do so once. Part of this is down to the fact that amongst the pros in the room it is barely being played, but on top of this, in general people seem to have being scared by the target painted on the deck's head, with many playing something new and fun tweaked for that very matchup.
Jund Cascade – 9%
That the next most represented deck is just 9% tells you something about how fragmented the field is. This deck heavily leans on the power of cascade, running Bloodbraid Elf and Bituminous Blast, along with aggressive creatures and such hits to cascade into as Maelstrom Pulse and Jund Charm. It's fun to play and aggressive.
Red Black Aggro – 8%
Casting Anathemancer is fun. It just is. This is a deck that can get early damage with dudes, and then has loads of reach with a tonne of burn. This deck can prey on many of the slower control decks that try to work over tokens, but can have issues with running out of gas.
Green White Tokens – 6%
The ‘other' token deck is one that I would have expected to see more of. With Overrun, Dauntless Escort and Wilt-Leaf Liege, this deck is both bigger and potentially harder to clean up against than Black White tokens, and is pretty solid in the token matchup. What it lacks is disruption. Is this the reason that more people aren't playing it?
Green Black Elves – 5%
Ah, Shuhei Nakamura's favourite. Every tournament it seems that Shuhei and Tomoharu Saitou are playing the same deck, and while Saitou is confident that the deck is awesome, Shuhei is always down on it. With the Alara Reborn additions of Maelstrom Pulse and Putrid Leech, it seems like a contender. Hard to bet against something that Japan picks as a good deck for constructed.
5 Colour Control – 5%
The ever complicated 5 colour control has so many options that it becomes hard to classify. This refers to 5 colour decks that are going the Cryptic Command route, and not trying to cascade. With Vivid lands powering out big effects, it has proven quite popular with the pros, including serial Cruel Ultimatum caster Gabriel Nassif.
Fog – 5%
Bill Stark championed it, and it made some top 8's at Regionals, but I was still unconvinced that this is really a deck. Still, various players disagreed, and sleeved up. Presumably they were hoping for rather more B/W tokens than they found, but the deck still seems to be doing alright against the general aggro field.
Cascade Swans – 4%
For late breaking tech, this 40+ land deck has proven fairly popular, especially with some of the pros who have travelled over from the United States. We have seen a couple of different builds of the deck, which I'll be going into in a little more detail on deck-tech Sunday (you want lists? You'll be getting lists!), but one way or another those Seismic Assaults are still proving their worth in Standard. Imagine different Nationals season might be if M10 has neither this powerful enchantment nor Glorious Anthem...
5 Colour Cascade - 3%
This deck is in some respects pretty similar to 5 colour control, but for the fact that it leans on Bloodbraid Elf and Bituminous Blast (and in some cases more) to get itself some free spells. With the cascade element in there it feels a little more random, but it is hard to argue with free as a cost for your threats...
Esper Lark – 3%
Meddling Mage is back, and then, thanks to Reveillark, he's back all over again! Not a high turnout for this one, and if the Hallowed Burial tech is widely spread around, potentially a dicey choice. Still, it is hard to argue with the power of the strange elemental birds nest thing...
Boat Brew – 3%
The least represented of the token decks, this was the one that pretty much started out this whole 2 colour token deck thing, when Pierre Canali showed up in Berlin with a red/white aggro deck. How far things have come.
Sanity Grinding – 3%
The other mill deck is one that hasn't found a lot of favour in the field, but as one of the combo deck of the format it was always going to be the choice of a few, who didn't get the memo about the faster, flashier, Seismic Swans deck.
Faeries – 3%
Good old faeries. Actually there is something of a question as to whether they are good any more. They feel like a bullish choice if the field is planning on beating tokens, with lots of mass removal effects, but there are few decks better positioned to beat up on random decks that are trying to metagame out the best deck. Sam Black is one of the players with this one, and the 2008 US National Team member has had a good season thus far, so he might well be worth listening to.
There are a lot of other decks in this field, but these are the ones that have stood out. Stay tuned tomorrow for a full day 2 breakdown along with more deck tech than you can shake a stick at. Unless, you know, you're a drummer or something.
Feature Match: Round 9 - A Game of Two Halves: George Paraskeupoulos vs Olivier Ruel
And so it comes to the final round of day one. Olivier Ruel, the king of the Grand Prix finds himself again near the top of the standings, only a draw away from a perfect record. Unusually for Ruel, he seemed tense. What was going on? It turned out that his football team was playing tonight in a clutch game to stay in its league. His opponent, George Paraskeupoulos, of Greece was tense for a whole different reason. He was playing Hall of Famer Olivier Ruel.
George led with a Windbrisk Heights and had a Bitterblossom to follow. Olivier, meanwhile, started on Mistmeadow Borderpost and Howling Mine. Ruel seemed happy to have a matchup with Fog against the deck he'd been expecting a lot of – much of the rest of the day had been more varied and his brain was fried.
Olivier RuelA Tidehollow Sculler took a Negate from Ruel, who faced down a Glorious Anthem, but had Jace online and was soon ready to start casting Fog effects. The first was a Pollen Lullaby, revealing Font of Mythos to prevent untaps from George. The Font came down the following turn, and it seemd the lock was in. Each player was drawing 4 cards per turn, plus Jace was doing his thing to mean that both the fog effects and the counterspells would keep on coming. Unbeknownst to Olivier, his team scored. The day was going even better for Ruel than he knew.
George played a Tidehollow Sculler, to which Olivier responded with Angelsong. He wasn't about to let himself lose this one. George had a Kitchen Finks to keep his life total up (a relevant concern with Bitterblossom around), but was not getting far with his attacks.
Runed Halo from Olivier naming Tidehollow Sculler. Another named Murderous Redcap. Olivier counted George's library. 36 cards. A little way still to go. Another Howling Mine came from Olivier, who played a Holy Day in his opponent's upkeep to save time. Jace was now up over 10 counters, so his ultimate ability seemed likely to end the game in short order. The ultimate left George with few outs and when one more fog effect it was on to game 2.
George Paraskeupoulos 0 – 1 Olivier Ruel (Nantes 0 – 1 Souchaux)
Just as game 2 began Souchaux scored again. Olivier's team were faster at doing their thing than the man himself. He was hit at the start of game 2 by Thoughtseize, revealing a hand of 2 Howling Mine, Jace Beleren and lands. The first Howling Mine went. Tidehollow Sculler took the second, and showed that a Font of Mythos had shown up. Tidehollow Sculler #2 took Font of Mythos, as Olivier was short on the blue mana he needed to cast Jace.
George ParaskeupoulosGlorious Anthem sped the clock on Olivier, who was on just 8, when he finally got Jace into play. For this game, he would need to rebuild fast. Hitting on the clash with Pollen Lullaby both allowed Olivier some time, and let him get rid of another Jace who sat on top of the Frenchman's deck.
Celestial Purge from Olivier got back Font of Mythos, which he played, though it did leave him tapped out. George had no attackers for that turn, though he did have a Tidehollow Sculler to take Runed Halo from Olivier's hand.
Another Font of Mythos came from Olivier. Was he back in this? Drawing 5 cards a turn now (plus Jace) seemed a great way to ensure that those Fogs were thick and fast. Olivier had Holy Day to keep himself and Jace out of harm's way. It didn't stop Murderous Redcap from shooting Jace though, keeping that ultimate a little further off.
No further Redcap shenanigens would be allowed by Olivier, as he played a Runed Halo. Pollen Lullaby was the next in a string of fog effects from Olivier, who also had a Negate to stop Identity Crisis. The game wasn't over, but that wasn't the way it felt. A Thoughtseize revealed 2 Cryptic Command, Negate, Celestial Purge and Font of Mythos. There was nothing that George could do. He extended his hand, knowing that the very next turn Jace would kill him.
Olivier Ruel wins 2-0! (Souchaux lead by the same amount at time of writing)
Feature Match: Round 9 - Kenny Oberg (SWE) vs Massimo Tolazzi (ITA)
Entering the last round of Saturday, the focus often switches to those players who aren't guaranteed of playing on Sunday morning and need to win to secure an appearance in Day Two – players who are so-called ‘on the bubble' – either they rise to day two, or the bubble bursts. At Grand Prix Barcelona that included Kenny Oberg of Sweden, who already has one Grand Prix Top-8 to his name in 2009. Earlier in the day Kenny had promised the coverage team thathe was playing something a little different. So in round nine, on the bubble, we let the feature match spotlight descend on Kenny and we'll hold him to his word – this had better be good!
His Italian opponent, Massimo Tolazzi, won the roll but had to Mulligan, he kept his six cards and led with a Mutavault.
Oberg - tongue in cheek, Elf in handOn his third turn Oberg added a Llanowar Elf – that was his third Elf and allowed him to use his Heritage Druid to add GGG to his mana pool. With that Oberg pulled a green D20 out and stuck it to three. Now I don't know about you but I learnt many years ago that any time your opponent starts using a dice to keep track of his mana you're probably in trouble. In this case it allowed Kenny to play Ranger of Eos and search up a pair of Nettle Sentinels, one of which he played.
Things were threatening to get out of control rapidly, fortunately for Tolazzi he had a Zealous Persecution that removed three of Oberg's elves, and a Path to Exile for his Ranger of Eos, but the Italian still found himself without a fourth land to play. Undaunted, Oberg added a Mosswort Bridge then played the second Nettle Sentinel. The Sentinels attacked, Tolazzi was down to 13 life and still stuck on just three land. That was a weakness Oberg could exploit, and Primal Command threw the Reflecting Pool back on top of Tolazzi's library while searching up a second Ranger of Eos.
Heritage Druid, Devoted Druid, tapping elves to generate more GGG, Ranger of Eos. That combination of three Nettle Sentinels in play along with the Heritage Druid meant every green spell Kenny played now put GGG into Kenny's pool... Kenny now had virtually all the mana he needed, but how was he going to draw extra cards to take advantage of that? Ah, Regal Force... Oberg drew up another 8 cards, and revealed his next Regal Force from hand.
“You know how this deck works?”
“Yes, I've seen it”
“I'm going to draw my whole deck, play it, then use Primal Command on your lands, then kill you next turn. Want me to play it out?”
Kenny Oberg 1 – 0 Massimo Tolazzi
All Tomazzi could do was watchWow, Kenny Oberg had promised us something different and he certainly delivered. I'd seen that the Elf deck could be ported from Extended into Standard, but didn't really expect to see it in a GP... and especially not winning in a GP! But despite being a game ahead, Tolazzi had suffered from a terrible draw in that first game, and would surely be much better prepared in the second. The question was whether he had anything that could answer such an unconventional strategy or not!
Massimo Tolazzi began with a happier land – Windbrisk Heights – and Oberg hit out with a first turn Thoughtseize. That revealed a hand of good things for Tolazzi – Path to Exile, Wrath of God, Tidehollow Sculler, and Spectral Procession... but no black mana sources. Seeing this, Oberg left the Sculler alone and stripped out Spectral Procession. The very next turn Tolazzi drew Caves of Koilos and the Sculler hit, taking a Primal Command from Oberg.
“Nice topdeck!” Oberg said, wryly.
Elvish Visionary from Oberg, Spectral Procession from Tolazzi, and his Sculler began the process of whittling the Swede from 20 to 0. Oberg's third turn the Elf deck proved how reliable it is... Heritage Druid, Nettle Sentinel, add GGG, filter a white mana and play a Dauntless Escort which would protect Oberg's on-board investment from Tolazzi's Wrath of God in hand.
But Tolazzi wasn;t about to remove his own creatures anyway – his army swept into the red zone, and Ajani Goldmane emerged from hiding under Windbrisk Heights to add +1/+1 tokens to everything, dropping Oberg to just 10 life, then played a Path to Exile and removed the Heritage Druid from the game – Dauntless Escort couldn't protect the Heritage Druid from that! With his engine busted, Oberg was only able to play a Devoted Druid and attack Ajani to take him out of the game, but his Elves could only watch as Tolazzi's spectral procession tokens passed overhead, and dropped the Swede to 4 life.
It was do or die for Oberg, except that removing the Sculler a turn earlier in blocking had put Primal Command back in hand. He gained 7 life to fend off the spectral procession for a turn, then searched up Cloudthresher. The spirits were 2/2 thanks to Ajani, but wouldn't surive the Thresher...
Glorious Anthem. Oh yes they would...
“Another topdeck” sighed Oberg unhappily, as Tolazzi attacked again,
That attack dropped Oberg to 2 life. Cloudthresher would kill him when played, and Primal Command would only put him on 9 life – the amount Tolazzi's spirits could attack for. Caught between a rock and a hard place Oberg looked briefly at his options but couldn't get his combo engine running, and the place in Day Two of Grand Prix Barcelona would be decided in a third game!
Kenny Oberg 1 – 1 Massimo Tolazzi
Not bad for turn four!Oberg's final tilt at Day Two began with a Llanowar Elf and Devoted Druid, while Tolazzi opened with a Windbrisk Heights and a Tidehollow Sculler that stole Oberg's Heritage Druid. But Oberg didn't need the Heritage Druid right now, and his third turn was a Primal Command which set Tolazzi back by returning the Windbrisk Heights while it searched a Ranger of Eos from Oberg's deck. This was proving to be a very robust amount of search that Oberg was playing – Ranger would get him Nettle Sentinel and Heritage Druid, and then Oberg would be dangerously close to going off while Tolazzi was yet to play hid third land. The Nettle Sentinel hit play and Oberg passed the turn.
You felt as though the window of opportunity for Tolazzi to intervene in Oberg's deck was about to slam shut, but the Italian could do nothing more proactive with his third turn than summon Kitchen Finks, and wait helplessly while Oberg tried to do his thing.
Heritage Druid, Nettle Sentinel, tap them all to add GGGGGG to pool, Devoted Druid to untap two Sentinels, get up to GGGGGGG, play Regal Force to draw 7 cards. That Regal Force was the point of no going back for Oberg, he untapped his Nettle Sentinels then played out more of his cheap green spells to rebuild his mana pool as each one allowed him to untap three Nettle Sentinels and add GGG. With his mana replenished a Commune With Nature found a second Regal Force which drew Oberg another 9 cards, this time containing another Regal Force and two Primal Command.
“You want to concede?” the Swede asked, as he showed his opponent the clutch of key cards
“Well, let's see how it plays out” Tolazzi replied, not quite ready to give up on his GP aspirations.
Continuing to play his deck out, Oberg flooded the board with Elves - hordes and hordes of the little green men, each one adding mana as he untapped his Nettle Sentinels and adding more to the amount he would draw from his next Regal Force. Finally satisfied with his board position Oberg reached out with Primal Command and put first the Fetid Heath then the Windbrisk Heights on top of Tolazzi's deck, then finally the Plains, leaving Tolazzi landless and facing over 40 power of creatures.
It was more than enough...
“Ok. We're done” said Tolazzi, and extended his hand and best wishes for Oberg as the Swede and his bonkers Elf deck advanced into day two.
Kenny Oberg 2 – 1 Massimo Tolazzi
Two turn four kills from a combo deck that has robust search options, explosive mana, and a secondary win condition of simply attacking with lots of little green men. Is this Elf deck a serious contender? We will have to take a closer look at it tomorrow!
Blog: Saturday 10:31p.m. - Between all chairs
How does Cedric Phillips do it? He sits in his chair, slumped, looking exhausted, and then kicks his bubble match out of the park with 2-0. It was the end of a really long day for everybody here at GP Barcelona, and some of the big names were struggling to reach the finish line to Sunday. Team America, including the likes of LSV, Gerry Thompson, Cedric Philipps and Michael Jacob, posted 8-1 or 7-2 finishes and will be in the midst of tomorrow's struggle.
C'mon Cedric, day two can't be that bad? From where I stood during the last round, I could see a handful of high-caliber 18-pointers on the green side, all needing just one more win to return on Sunday. Cedric Philipps sat side by side with Shuuhei Nakamura and two seats down Yuuya Watanabe. Guillaume Wafo-Tapa and Raphael Levy were fighting for survival on the other side of my aisle.
Shuuhei had the toughest hill to climb. After a win in the opener, his 5-color Control opponent put up a fight that lasted long enough to allow Cruel Ultimatum to resolve. At some point, it looked like the Japanese might even pull that one out through a combination of Elves, Garruk and man-lands, but the Cruel swing was to big in the end. Shuuhei proceeded to win the third with the speed his G/B Elf deck was built for.
Raphael Levy also took three games to stamp the ticket for day two, even though his last-round opponent had a radically different attitude towards the match-up. When they sat down, the opponent said he knew that Levy was with B/W Tokens, and that it was a good match-up for him. When Raphael found out that his opponent was playing Combo Elves, he felt certain to win the match. “B/W Tokens is a really bad match-up for that deck,” he said afterwards, and having the result to prove it. Thoughtseizes and especially Zealous Persecution are potent weapons against the Elves.
Others were not as lucky, for example Guillaume Wafo-tapa, whom I saw losing his bubble out of the corner of my eye. We'll see tomorrow how those who made it fare. For now, check the standings after round nine and return tomorrow for much more on the decks that plowed through the biggest Constructed tournament ever.