Grand Prix–Los Angeles: Day 1 Blog

Posted in Event Coverage on January 17, 2009

By Wizards of the Coast

Over 830 players came to battle Saturday morning, but only 128 will rise early Sunday to continue. At the beginning of the weekend we highlighted a number of West Coast players trying to defend their home title as well as a number of rampaging pros who had traveled from abroad to steal it. Leading the standings undefeated headed into the second day of play? Hall of Famer Robert Dougherty! The Your Move Games patriarch burst out to a 9-0 lead with 27 points headed into the second day of play. Joining him at a perfect record was Justin Stanley.

There were a number of big names still nipping at the top tables' heels. Fresh off his National Team Championship at Worlds, Sam Black was sitting solidly in 4th place, with former National Team Member Gabe Walls in 5th. Carlos Romao represented Brazil in 7th, with Luis Scott-Vargas in 10th and Mark Herberholz in 11th.

Which archetypes reigned supreme? Faeries and Death Cloud were the big talk at the beginning of the event, but the top tables were riddled with diversity. Elves was seeing a resurgence, Astral Slide could be seen at the high tables, even Serum Powder in All-In Red! Check back tomorrow to find out who will be the champion of Grand Prix-Los Angeles as well as all the decklists, blog entries, photo essays, and feature matches you can handle!

 

EVENT COVERAGE

 

Grand Prix Los Angeles 2009 Trial Winners Decklists

by Event Coverage Staff

Matt Ferrando

Ramoncito Ronquillo

Merlin Catterall-Davis

Jim Dyke

Jeff Meadows

Bryce Yoihey

No Name

Justin Lackey

Jake Woods

Owen Turtenwald

James Wise

Joe Shapiro

Kyle Lisica

Shahar Shenhar

Feature Match Round 2: Brian Kibler vs. Zachary Gray

by Bill Stark

“I miss the days when I couldn't get a Feature Match Round 2 because I wasn't playing!” Brian Kibler lamented as he sat down to square off against his opponent in the second round of Grand Prix-Los Angeles. Kibler is an old school pro who saw a great deal of success on both the Pro Tour and Master's Series a half decade ago. With a Grand Prix in his home state, he was shaking off the dust to battle again. His opponent for the round was Zachary Gray, a Chicago resident who worked in the pharmaceutical industry.

The two shuffled in silence as Brian's headphones drowned out all exterior noise. Famous for the CD player he used to keep focused in between rounds on the Pro Tour, Brian had made the technology upgrade to an iPod. Zach calmly shuffled, giving no sign he was intimidated by his opponent's professional pedigree.

“I wonder how many of your cards I'm going to have to read?” Brian teased as Zach took a mulligan.

Former Pro Tour sensation Brian Kibler.

Brian opened on Wooded Foothills while Zach made an Overgrown Tomb and Swamp. A quick peek at Kibler's hand revealed a possible Rock versus Rock mirror match. It looked likely Gray was playing Death Cloud of some variety, but with a red splash the same couldn't convincingly be said of Brian. Kitchen Finks on Gray's side of the board was the first creature in play, but Brian quickly answered with Putrefy. Of course, thanks to persist the Finks was right up to bat again as a 2/1. Kibler went to town on Zach's hand with a Raven's Crime, but Gray calmly discarded a Life from the Loam. Having spent his early turns cycling Tranquil Thickets, the two-mana sorcery nee card drawing engine did not bode well for Kibler.

The first dredge with Life from the Loam revealed a Raven's Crime for Zach Gray, and he immediately went to work on Kibler's hand. Returning three lands he was able to hit his land drop, then force his opponent to discard two cards. With just one left in hand, Brian drew for his turn, surveyed the board, and conceded.

“Let's just go to the next one. This could take a while, but I'm not winning.”

Zach Gray 1, Brian Kibler 0

“I think this is my second Round 2 I've ever played at a Grand Prix,” Brian Kibler said as the two shuffled for their second game.

“I believe it's mine also.” Zach added.

“Yeah, but I've played at a lot of Grand Prixs.” Kibler responded.

Many years ago beatdown superstar David Price wrote a genre-shattering article about playing the Red Beatdown mirror match. In the article, he made the claim that when paired in the mirror, one should choose to draw instead of playing. The adage at the time was revolutionary, and many struggled to buy into the notion. After considering his play or draw options for the second game, Kibler revealed he was a subscriber to the tenant, opting to draw first and putting Zach Gray on the play. Gray, stoic as ever, didn't reveal any emotion over the decision.

Both players had a creature on the second turn with Brian making a Darkheart Sliver while his opponent had Sakura-Tribe Elder. Looking to get a lead on the game state, Zach cycled a land on his turn, used a sac land, then played Life from the Loam to recoup the cards from his graveyard. It was a risky play, however, as it left him tapped out and his Loam was at risk of being hit by any graveyard removal Brian happened to have drawn.

Sure enough, Brian revealed a Shred Memory to nab the Loam, and Zachs engine was, momentarily, offline. While many players were playing cards like Extirpate, Brian's deckbuilding genius shone through on Shred Memory. It couldn't extract his opponent's remaining Life from the Loams from his deck, but if they were playing from the top of their decks in a long game, he would be able to use the Shred's transmute to find a Life from the Loam of his own. That meant he was effectively playing more Loams than Zach, and through tight play with cycling lands he could keep the card semi-protected from his opponent's graveyard hate.

Challenger Zach Gray is all business.

Zach Gray had a grip full of cards, but he wasn't putting them to much use. Darkheart Sliver had gone on a mini-rampage putting the totals at 17-14 in Brian's favor. He added three Worm tokens by way of Worm Harvest, and then watched as his Harvest was RFGed from his opponent's Extirpate. Strangely, Gray didn't bother to search through Brian's library or hand for more copies, instead wiping the board of creatures with Damnation. Brian re-armed with Kitchen Finks, which ate a Putrefy, and continued working on his opponent's hand with a Raven's Crime.

While the board was relatively even, Kibler got Life from the Loam going in conjunction with Raven's Crime and it quickly looked like the California native was going to run away with things. Playing from the top of his deck, Zach found a Ravenous Baloth to stem the bleeding. Kibler took a turn cycling through lands and building up his manabase with Life from the Loam, but when he tried to return the sorcery one final time, realized he had miscalculated and couldn't get the card back. He was forced to leave it in his graveyard for the turn, which gave Zach the chance to take advantage.

Ripping from the top he round himself a Life from the Loam of his own, and started the process cycling and playing lands. He passed the turn, but again left Life from the Loam in the graveyard. Kibler was all too happy to play another graveyard removal spell, this time an Extirpate, to end the Loam problem once and for all, and put himself firmly back into control of the game.

Digging for removal to clear his opponent's board and go on the offensive, Kibler furiously cycled, Loamed, and drew each turn. Zach Gray was left playing from the top of his deck again and couldn't find any help. When he finally found an Extirpate, he sent it at a Loam in Kibler's graveyard (left there from earlier dredging of his original copy) and remembered to search Brian's hand and library for the remaining copies.

Finally the moment came. Kibler used a convoluted play of attacking to kill his opponent's Sakura-Tribe Elder, Death Cloud to get Baloth off the board, and Crime/Punishment to reanimate the 4/4 on his side of the board. Another Tribe Elder hit play for Brian a turn later, and Zach struggled to find help. Kitchen Finks stemmed the bleeding, but as a Treetop Village joined the warpath for Kibler, it just didn't look good for Zach.

A second Death Cloud left Zach with just two lands, and Brian with a Treetop Village; a few turns later, the game ended with Kibler on top.

Zach Gray 1, Brian Kibler 1

The two players entered the rubber game mirroring one another with dueling Sakura-Tribe Elders. After they traded in combat, Kibler made a second creature in the form of Kitchen Finks, but Gray used a Putrefy to make it a 2/1. He followed up with Thoughtseize nabbing Brian's Life from the Loam, then hit the sorcery with an Extirpate. The game hadn't even reached the midpoint and Brian was already down his engine.

 

Death Cloud
A desperation Death Cloud for two from Kibler left Zach with only three lands in play, but he had Life from the Loam running and quickly set about building back up. The Cloud had emptied Gray's hand, but Kibler had been left with one final card. Was it something tricky for the Loam? He didn't reveal, instead passing the turn and giving Zach a second chance to use Loam. Instead the Chicagoan left the sorcery in his graveyard and played a Ravenous Baloth.

A second desperation Death Cloud for two from Brian cleared the board of the 4/4 but Zach quickly jumped back ahead with Life from the Loam. Up at five lands to Kibler's three, Zach was finally caught with Loam in the graveyard as Brian topdecked an Extirpate. Zach used an Extirpate of his own to put an end to Brian's Extirpates, but time was called as he finished the turn. With the totals at 19-18 in Zach's favor, it didn't look probable the two players would finish the match. When Gray's Ravenous Baloth was answered with a topdecked Darkheart Sliver from Kibler, the two ended things in a draw.

Brian Kibler draws against Zach Gray.

Saturday, 11:17 p.m.: The Making of a Playmat

by Bill Stark

 

Stoic Angel
One of the great freebies players have been able to enjoy just for showing up Grand Prixs over the last few years are one-of-a-kind playmats commemorating each event. This weekend participants at Grand Prix-Los Angeles found themselves the proud owners of not only a special premium Chrome Mox, but a brand new mat just for showing up to play (and while supplies lasted, of course).

But have you ever wondered what goes in to making one of these playmats? Thanks to your crack reporting team on Magicthegathering.com, we now know!

It all starts with a fantastic piece of card art. Since Shards of Alara was filled with so many, picking one was a challenging proposition, but with fan favorite Volkan Baga in the house for the weekend to sign cards and greet fans, it made sense to choose one of his. The card in question? The beautiful Stoic Angel:

Once the art was selected, a commemorative mat graphic was created specific to Grand Prix-Los Angeles. Of course, to get it to print correctly on a mat, it had to be printed in reverse:

The playmat reverse image.

From there, hundreds of playmat blanks had the image adhered to them via a large combination presser and steamer, similar to a super industrial strength iron. Here's what a blank playmat looks like:

A blank playmat.

You can see how the image faded over time from being pressed at such high heat.

Before and After.

And finally, Randy Williams of Manassas, Virginia poses with the end result!

A fan with the Grand Prix-LA playmat.

Saturday, 1:30 p.m.: West Side!

by Dane Young

It's go time for the 2009 Magic season and 834 people showed up to celebrate it here at Grand Prix Los Angeles. One of the most interesting stories on the weekend has been a developing tale between players from the Western U.S. defending their turf against invading pros from Europe, Asia, South America, and other portions of the United States. Some of the West coast players were kind enough to share their views on the Extended format.

Pro Tour-Valencia Top 8er Sam Stein.California native Sam Stein showed up this weekend ready to send his trusty robots into battle. Sam piloted Affinity all the way to the Top 8 at Pro Tour Valencia in 2007 and is looking to repeat that success here with the help of three byes. "I'm pretty confident with the deck. All the decks are pretty good, but I'm comfortable with this one. I played Faeries at Worlds because my friends told me Affinity wasn't good, but now it's good again." Sam moved to Las Vegas last year and said this might be one of his last tournaments as he will be working full-time.

Adam Prosak represents for Arizona. Adam Prosak decided to bring the Arizona heat to the Grand Prix in already warm Los Angeles. A veteran of six Pro Tours and more than a dozen Grand Prixs, including a top eight at Grand Prix Cleveland in 2002, Adam is very happy with his efficient R/G Burn deck. The deck became public information after he won a Magic Online Premier Event with it, but Adam doesn't mind. "I hate playing burn spells, but the deck is good, so I'm playing it. We tested Zoo and always wanted to burn my opponent with Oblivion Ring, so I built this. It's got the best of Zoo's creatures, but with the ability to burn them out, and it's flexible enough to have a different plan against most of the decks. Against Zoo you can just kill all of their creatures and win with yours as they don't have much burn. You force Faeries to deal with your little creatures before burning them out, and you can outrace or disrupt combo decks."

Adam feels that his brew is solid against the field, and looking around the room, it seems that a lot of people agree with him.

Old school pro Brian Kibler is rockin' out this weekend with Death Cloud. "I've always been a fan of Death Cloud as a card and I also think Life from the Loam is very powerful. I like the style of the deck so I figured I should play it. It helps that the deck has been doing reasonably well in tournaments." With a career in California, Brian hasn't had as much time to play Magic as he used to, but he still loves the game and reads a ton of articles. He laughed about having only one bye this weekend, but hopes to do well in spite of it.

"Oh how times have changed."

Times have indeed changed for Brian Kibler.

Saturday, 1:30 p.m.: "Rest" Side!

by Bill Stark

Dane did a great job covering some of the West Coast players you can look forward to doing well this weekend. But what about the seasoned pros who have traveled from all over the world this weekend? We certainly can't forget about them.

While Ben Rubin represented the Hall of Fame from the West Coast, Your Move Games' founder Rob Dougherty was present defending the honor of the red dragon. In the region for business, he had decided to take advantage of his HoF status to get his game on. But could he relive the glory days of YMG Extended domination from Pro Tour-Houston, where his team finished 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in the standings? We'll know by the end of the weekend.

Hall of Famer Rob Dougherty.

Another prominent East Coaster and Magicthegathering.com columnist was also present, looking to repeat past Grand Prix glory. His name? None other than Steve Sadin. The New Yorker has one Grand Prix title already, and would no doubt love to add another one to his mantle. He's got a long road to get there, of course, but his byes no doubt help!

New York traveler Steve Sadin.

Of course, the Grand Prix circuit is famous for its international flair, not just the players who travel from all over the home country to play. This weekend Europe, Asia, and South America are all represented. In town with American testing partners Mark Herberholz and Patrick Chapin, Manuel Bucher came all the way from the Old Country. One of the 2008 season's most celebrated deck builders (his Quik ‘N Toast is responsible for inspiring the Five-Color Control decks that are so popular in Standard now), fans wait on baited breath to see what crazy concoction he's brought to battle this weekend. Will it be something the world has never seen before? Or will he stick with a tried and true industry standard?

European superstar Manuel Bucher.

Finally, from Japan are two Players of the Year: current champ Shuhei Nakamura, and 2007 champ Tomoharu Saito. Nakamura gets to take advantage of a hefty pro payout simply for showing up, no doubt a help in justifying the traveling expenses of flying all the way from Japan. The two pros have spent the past few seasons traveling to every event they could sink their teeth into, grinding out enough events to earn the Player of the Year titles. That determination at winning one of the most prestigious crowns in the game is no doubt at play this weekend, as the two push to gain an early edge in the Player of the Year race, both looking to repeat.

Former Player of the Year Tomoharu Saito.

So who will take the weekend? Will it be one of the West Coast stalwarts, successfully defending their own turf? Or a rampaging pro from across the globe? Or have we yet to hear of the player who will make his or her name known this weekend, bursting onto the Grand Prix stage to make their grab at fame and glory? Stay tuned to Magicthegathering.com all weekend long to find out!

Round 3 Feature Match: Kurt Burgner vs. Peter Szigeti

by Dane Young

This round's feature match pits two old school Californians against each other. Kurt Burgner has a tight resume and was Hall of Fame Eligible, while Peter Szigeti was the resident class clown during his years on tour. PTR wasted no time taking the mantle back up as he sang “To Live and Die in L.A.” and “Killing Me Softly” while the two friends shuffled.

Kurt won the roll and decided to play, while Peter chose to flip the matt so his deck would be on his right. Kurt sent his first hand back and then led off with a Bloodstained Mire into a Mountain and Mogg Fanatic. Peter answered with a Great Furnace and Springleaf Drum.

Ghost Quarter Stone Rained the artifact land after the Mogg Fanatic got in for a point. “Luckily I have one in my deck,”Szigeti said after reading the card. Suprisingly he chose not to find one after looking and could only ship the turn back after whiffing on land.

Peter Szigeti

Burgner followed up his Time Walk with “like the best creature ever,” Wild Nacatl. Peter found a Vault of Whispers and played Arcbound Worker, tapping it for Frogmite before letting Kurt get back at it. Undaunted, Burgner sent his army of beaters in for 3 damage, putting PTR on 15. After combat he loaded up his board with an untapped Stomping Ground into Mogg Fanatic number two and Tarmogoyf, which PTR had to read.

Peter pondered over what to do with his full grip before deciding to use his Springleaf Drum to cast Thoughtcast after a verbal prodding from the judge. He found no action, so the turn went back to Kurt, who dispatched the untapped Frogmite with Seal of Fire before filling the red zone and getting in for 8. Mogg Fanatic took out Arcbound Worker and PTR packed up his remaining two permanents before reaching for his sideboard.

Burgner -1
Szigeti – 0

Peter chose to play first and both players kept. Seat of the Synod and Arcbound Worker kicked things off, but Kurt had a Seal of Fire to slow the robots down. Vault of Whispers enabled Arcbound Ravager, but Incinerate melted the fairy godmother. PTR reloaded with Darksteel Citadel, Frogmite, Thoughtcast and Ornithopter. Kurt fired back with a 6/7 Tarmogoyf.

“He's a big boy. He doesn't fly does he?” asked PTR, pointing to the ‘Goyf. The answer was no, so Master of Etherium allowed him to send his Ornithopter over for a point.

Kurt tried to keep the robot army at bay with another Tarmogoyf and a Mogg Fanatic. He was successful, as the jolly green giants forced PTR to just deal another point with the Crusaded Ornithopter. Kurt had no plays, so Ornithopter got in again before he found a twin model. “The clock doubles,” Kurt mused.

Wild Nacatl was no answer to the winged attackers, so Kurt took two more down to 12. “Not gonna lie, I drew something good,” Kurt said, pointing Krosan Grip at the Master of Etherium before sending his squad over. Frogmite traded with Mogg Fanatic before Atog joined the team, potentially with a craving for Peter's seven artifact lands. Kurt pointed Flame Javelined at Peter's face on end step, knocking Szigeti down to 4.

Kurt Burgner

“Am I dead?”
“Depends on what I draw.”

Kurt passed without any plays, and Peter asked for a Broodstar as he peeled his card for the turn. He only found a Frogmite and played it before sending the Atog into the waiting pair of Tarmogoyfs. Land after land went to the bin as the Atog gorged himself. Peter did some math before deciding to lose both Ornithopters and a Vault of Whispers to pump the Atog up to 14/15. Peter was left with Atog, Seat of the Synod, Great Furnace and Frogmite, while Kurt had six lands. Incinerate put PTR on 1 as Kurt hoped to peel one of his many outs.

Atog and Frogmite came over for three as Kurt whiffed and Peter decided to move in on his next turn, feeding all of his lands to the Atog for lethal damage, but the wily old veteran had Gone to send the Atog back. Mogg Fanatic rolled off the top to put an end to the match.

Burgner – 2
Szigeti - 0

Saturday, 2:21 p.m.: Ask the Pro

by Bill Stark

What Extended archetype is strongest?


Gavin Verhey: Death Cloud is strongest but easily hated. Faeries is best.

Tim Landale: Faeries, but I think Tron is probably the right deck to play.


"The" Ben Seck: Monoblue Faeries. It's the deck everyone knows is best out of Worlds. Death Cloud has too many "medium" draws.


Rashad Miller: Faeries or Wizards is pretty strong.


Mike Jacobs: Faeries. I'm not sure whether it's blue-black or other. Basically any deck with Riptide Laboratory.


Gerry Thompson: Elves. Combo in general is most powerful in a vacuum. People are actually aiming for the blue deck for once...

Saturday, 3:30p.m.

by Dane Young

Former Pro Tour standout Dave Williams woke up at a relatively early 9:00 this morning and decided, "I don't feel like sitting around at home all day," so he hopped on a plane to play in the first Grand Prix of the year.

"I've been practicing with all the decks on Magic Online a lot and it feels like the format is very fast," he said. Aggressive decks aren't really Dave's thing, so he picked up a tricked-out Faeries deck from Patrick Chapin, but he lost in his first round of play against an aggressive R/G deck.

Regardless of what happens in the main event, Dave is looking forward to playing in his favorite event tomorrow, the Win-a-Mox tournament, in which the winner walks away with a near-mint Mox Jet. Dave may feel that Extended is too fast, with its first turn 3/3s and second turn 5/6s, but turn three kills are just what the doctor ordered when Ancestral Recall and Black Lotus are involved.

David Williams.

Round 5 Feature Match: Patrick Sullivan vs. Carlos Romao

by Dane Young

The first thing I heard from Patrick yesterday was "Hey do you have any Spark Elementals?" Standard. His opponent, Brazilian Carlos Romao is a former World Champion who brought South America to prominence.
The two chatted it up about basketball while they shuffled, as Carlos is apparently pretty good and Sully is a huge roundball fan. Sully won the roll and both players kept.

Carlos Romao

Mountain and Lava Spike sent the action over to Carlos who cracked a Polluted Delta for a Swamp and tanked before playing Raven's Crime. Sullivan discarded Flames of the Blood Hand and followed up with Great Furnace and Keldon Marauders. Sakura Tribe Elder got in its way before Rampant Growthing.
Sulfuric Vortex and put Carlos on 9 after he cracked another Polluted Delta and tore apart Pat's hand with Raven's Crime. Worm Harvest made four tokens and the race was on. Another harvest put a ton of guys on the board and Sullivan packed it up with nothing left in the tank.
Romao - 1
Sullivan - 0
Pat led off the second game with a Blinkmoth Nexus and Carlos answered with Windswept Heath. Pat swung with the Nexus on turn two and got Stone Rained by Darkblast via Godless Shrine. Unhindered, Pat domed Carlos with Incinerate through a fresh Circle of Protection: Red. Mutavault put Pat slightly ahead as Carlos dredged his Darkblast to deal with Pat's new Tattermunge Maniac. Garruk Wildspeaker gave Carlos some board presence and untapped a pair of land.
The circle prevented the Maniac's damage but the Mutavault rumbled right on through, dropping Carlos to 10. Another Maniac was all Pat could muster as Carlos cycled a land before taking his turn. Darkblast took out the first Maniac and Persecute ripped a Rift Bolt and Sulfuric Vortex from Pat's hand with a shrug.

Patrick Sullivan, perturbed.

Mutvault put Carlos on seven and the Brazilian dredged Darkblast. Raven's Crime put a grimace on Pat's face as he pitched Rift Bolt into the graveyard. Garruk made a Beast. Pat sighed as he passed the turn back to Carlos after the circle stopped the Maniac and Garruk made another token which got Incinerated. Sakura Tribe Elder number two joined the team and Carlos was way ahead.
The circle kept preventing damage and the beasts kept rumbling in and Pat extended the hand.

Circle of Protection: Red
Romao - 2
Sullivan - 0

Saturday, 4:54p.m.

by Dane Young

Pinned behind a table full of beautiful art and a line of adoring fans and flanked by an original painting of Doomed Necromancer and other prints, German artist Volkan Baga somehow manages to greet everyone with a smile despite the fact that his hand is likely ready to fall off. At least he will have enough practice to get his signature perfected.

The 31-year-old Baga went to school for communications design with a focus on illustration before taking an internship with longtime Magic artist Donato Giancola, who did Chrome Mox, this weekend's promo card. That internship turned into a contract to illustrate Magic cards in 2005 and he hasn't looked back since.

Players and fans alike are piling into the artist signing room to get powerful and popular cards signed. Mirari's Wake, Ranger of Eos and Elspeth, Knight Errant are getting a fresh coat of silver ink alongside some of Baga's personal favorites: Stoic Angel and Doomed Necromancer. Come down to say hello to Volkan and pick up some stunning signed original pieces (if you're into, you know, awesome art). Don't miss out!

Stoic Angel
Doomed Necromancer original art

Saturday, 5:30p.m.

by Dane Young

If you're not here this weekend, you're missing out. Even if you don't feel like playing in the Grand Prix or you didn't fare well in the main event, the public events are ready to sate your Magic appetite. In addition to nonstop drafting, take a gander at the Sunday schedule:

Sunday
10:00 PTQ Honolulu
11:00 Standard Win-a-Box
11:00 Mox Tournament
11:30 Vintage Win-a-Box
12:30 Japanese Shards of Alara Sealed Deck
13:00 Extended Win-a-Box
14:00 Legacy Win-a-Box
15:00 Vintage Win-a-Box
16:00 Standard Win-a-Box
17:00 Booster Draft Win-a-Box
18:00 Extended Win-a-Box
19:00 Legacy Win-a-Box

That's a lot of boxes! Come down to the International Ballroom at the Radisson LAX, bring some friends (they can play in the Learn to Play Magic tournaments if they don't already know how) and scoop up some loot. Be here or be some kind of quadrilateral.

Day 01 Feature Match Round 6

by Bill Stark

Reigning Player of the Year Shuhei Nakamura sat down to face off against American Andrew Vargas in the sixth round of play at Grand Prix-Los Angeles. The 2008 season for Shuhei kicked off with a Grand Prix victory. Nearly 12 months later he raised the trophy as the Player of the Year, bolstered by a hectic Pro Tour season of traveling to every event he could. As one of very few Japanese players present at the event this weekend, it looked like he was planning on making a run at repeating the title, no doubt hoping to do it in the exact same fashion with a Grand Prix win at the opening event of the season.

The Japanese super pro started on a mulligan, but came out of the gates quickly with a Mutavault, dropping Andrew to 18. Not wanting to fall behind, Andrew followed suit making a Mutavault of his own that could threaten a block. Vargas, who hails from Houston, Texas, continued making efforts to get on the board by dropping an end-of-his-opponent's-turn Spellstutter Sprite. Nakamura responded by sacrificing his Polluted Delta, then played a Spellstutter Sprite of his own, activating Mutavault to give himself two Faeries and the ability to counter.

Player of the Year Shuhei Nakamura.

Vargas took the chance to resolve an Umezawa's Jitte unmolested (Shuhei had been forced to tap out), but he missed his land drop and passed the turn with only an Island and Mutavault keeping the equipment compnay. Shuhei attacked to put the totals 19-17 in his favor, then played a Vendilion Clique on Andrew's draw step. Liking what he saw in his opponent's hand and not wanting to give him anything better, Shuhei left Vargas' grip as it was. Not to be outdone, the Texan soon dispatched Shuhei's 3/1 with a legendary copy of his own.

A second copy of the Clique hit for Vargas, who had finally come into some lands, and managed to connect with it wearing Umezawa's Jitte once. Shuhei had quickly moved his Spellstutter to block, but the two counters from the pointy stick would spell problems for his future army of X/1 creatures. Andrew managed to land a Glen Elendra Archmage which quickly found itself wearing the Umezawa's Jitte. Feeling the game slip away, Nakamura forced a counter battle over Ancestral Vision as it unwound on his upkeep, but Andrew came out on top and Nakamura whiffed on finding a Umezawa's Jitte answer, scooping up his cards and sending the match to a second game.

Andrew Vargas 1, Shuhei Nakamura 0

A first-turn Thoughtseize from Shuhei Nakamura revealed his opponent to be holding two lands, two Umezawa's Jitte, Sower of Temptation, Mana Leak, and Spell Snare. Nakamura forced Vargas to bin the 2/2 Sower, and Andrew volleyed back with a meager Island, go.

The first counterwar was over a Vendilion Clique from Nakamura, played during Vargas' draw step. Andrew's Mana Leak wasn't enough, however, as Shuhei had a Spell Snare to riposte and Vargas was forced to send a second Sower of Temptation to the bottom of his library for a free draw. The 3/1 quickly made short work of his life, and, after being joined by a Spellstutter Sprite from Shuhei, Andrew fell to just 6. With Nakamura at a healthy 16, it looked like the match was headed to a Game 3.

The next attack, combined with a sac land, sent Andrew to 1 and he had but a single draw step to find a miracle. After looking at his last card, Vargas surveyed the board, did some math, and nodded in defeat.

Andrew Vargas 1, Shuhei Nakamura 1

From Houston, Andrew Vargas.

Andrew Vargas revealed a one-land hand as he missed both a second- and t