by Mike RosenbergRound 15 Feature MatchPaul Rietzl vs. Matt Sperling
by Jacob Van LunenSunday 2:32 p.m.Back in Black!
by Jacob Van LunenRound 13 Feature MatchBen Lundquist (White Weenie splashing Red) vs. Samuel Pardee (Mono-Blue Devotion)
by Mike RosenbergSunday, 1:44 p.m.Day One Undefeated Decklists
by Mike RosenbergSunday, 12:12 p.m.Grand Prix Albuquerque Day Two Metagame Breakdown
by Jacob Van LunenRound 11 Feature MatchPaul Rietzl vs. Todd Anderson
by Mike RosenbergRound 10 Feature MatchTodd Anderson vs. Richard Kandela
by Event Coverage StaffDay 1 Blog
by Event Coverage StaffInfo: Fact Sheet
Round 10 Feature Match - Todd Anderson vs. Richard Kandela
Todd Anderson has been on a tear with Mono-Black Devotion. After finishing in the Top 8 of Grand Prix Louisville with the same archetype, Anderson is once again making a run for the title as he starts off the second day as one of the four remaining undefeated players.
However, one prize his excellent performance at Grand Prix Louisville did not get him was a Pro Tour invitation, and getting back onto the Pro Tour is his number one goal right now. "The qualification is way more important than some money and a trophy to me," he said. A trophy and the title of champion is great, but the invitation to play at Pro Tour Born of the Gods was the real prize for him this weekend.
His opponent, Arizonan Richard Kandela, was looking to halt Anderson's advance with White Weenie, a deck that seeks to attack with lots of little white creatures. A splash of red gives Kandela access to Boros Charm and Chained to the Rocks, both very powerful cards in his aggressive archetype. But would they be enough to stop a player devoted to getting back onto the Pro Tour?
Kandela led off with Soldier of the Pantheon early, and a Mutavault in play on the second turn. Anderon's first creature was Pack Rat, but Chained to the Rocks from Kandela disposed of the two mana creature, and Mutavault attacked in with Soldier of the Pantheon. Another attack with the land and creature elicited a Mutavault activation from Anderson, but Boros Charm kept Kandela's creatures alive and left Anderson down a land. The follow-up Nightveil Specter was also Chained to the Rocks.
Kandela had no removal for Anderson's second Specter, however, and 10 isn't the life total you want a Mono-Black Devotion player to be at when they're only one land away from Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Kandela continued on regardless, activating Mutavault and attacking in. However, after Anderson attacked in on the next turn, his Grey Merchant came down after he played a fifth land, draining Kandela for 5 life.
Kandela reloaded the battlefield with Firefist Striker and Precinct Captain, but the match quickly became elementary. Anderson had Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, and when he attacked in with both of his creatures, Kandela unleashed a sigh, falling to 9. Pack Rat followed, and Nykthos gave Anderson six mana, which he used to cast Erebos, God of the Dead and a Doom Blade to rid Kandela of his Firefist Striker.
...until Anderson sent in his team. Kandela quickly blocked with his indestructible creatures on the ground, and with Imposing Sovereign in play, Anderson had dropped his shields.
However, it was all for naught, as Kandela had nothing waiting on top. On the next turn, Anderson sent in his team, to wrap things up.
The second game was a testament to the dangers of targeting a Gray Merchant of Asphodel with Banisher Priest. Kandela had his back against the wall fairly fast, but he continued to push back despite a rough mulligan to six. Anderson had Nightveil Specter and a freshly cast Gray Merchant of Asphodel on turn five. With Brave the Elements in hand, Kandela decided to cast Banisher Priest to exile the Grey Merchant, allowing his Soldier of the Pantheon to continue swinging in past Nightveil Specter while Anderson couldn't activate his Mutavaults.
However, the game quickly devolved into draw-go. Anderson, who knew about the Brave the Elements from an earlier Lifebane Zombie, played carefully and kept his Mutavaults up to make attacks awkward for Kandela. Eventually, he aimed a Hero's Downfall at the Banisher Priest, forcing Brave the Elements from Kandela at the end of his turn. When Kandela attempted Imposing Sovereign on the next turn, Anderson aimed another Hero's Downfall at the Priest, freeing his Gray Merchant of Asphodel and gaining Anderson another 5 life.
The Shrivel that Anderson had to wipe Kandela's team after that made the writing on the wall clear. After a few turns of two power beatdowns, Kandela offered the handshake. Anderson's hope of earning his invitation to Pro Tour Born of the Gods was still pristine.
Anderson 2 – Kandela 0
Round 11 Feature Match - Paul Rietzl vs. Todd Anderson
Todd Anderson has been quietly building up an impressive resume over the last few years. Anderson legitimately dominated the Star City Games Legacy Open events earlier this year and he's coming off a Top 8 at the most recent North American Standard Grand Prix. Despite his recent success, a qualification for Pro Tour Born of the Gods has eluded him. Anderson needs a Top 4 finish this weekend to secure his Pro Tour berth. He's off to a great start at 10-0, but one of the most formidable players in the room stands in his way in the eleventh round of competition.
His opponent, Paul Rietzl, is currently ranked 20th in the world in the Top 25 Pro Rankings. Rietzl is a Pro Tour Champion (Amsterdam 2010) with multiple Pro Tour and Grand Prix Top 8s. Coming off a Top 8 finish at Pro Tour Theros, it's becoming clear that Rietzl is one of the game's all-time greats. Rietzl is a favorite for the upcoming year's Hall of Fame class and his 10-0 start here in Albuquerque only further solidifies his mastery of the game.
Rietzl won the die roll and led things off with a Thoughtseize on the first turn of the match and it became apparent that both players were playing Mono-Black Devotion. Mono-Black Devotion has lost some of its popularity over the last few weeks, but its dominant performance here at Grand Prix Albuquerque has reestablished it as the deck to beat in Standard.
A flurry of Thoughtseizes left both players with very little action in the early turns of the game. Anderson found a Pack Rat and knew it would go unanswered if Rietzl hadn't drawn a spot removal spell the turn before. He cast it and smiled and he quietly chanted, "Brick, brick, brick."
Rietzl was unable to find the removal spell he needed and his back was against the wall as the Rats started to get out of hand, a pair of Nightveil Specters started accruing a great deal of card advantage for Rietzl, but the Rats seemed insurmountable.
Anderson 1 - 0 Rietzl
Rietzel nodded as they shuffled up for a second game, "I thought I might get you that game. I had a few turns where I drew three cards with Nightveil Specter."
There was a bit of fumbling between the first and second game. Anderson accidentally shuffled his deck again after it had been presented to him and both players stared at each other for a few seconds before looking at their hands.
"Right! I'm on the play. We're really off to a great start here," smiled Rietzl with raised eyebrows.
Both players laughed.
Anderson was unable to find any removal for the Nightveil Specter and things began looking grim when it was quickly joined by Erebos, God of the Dead and Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Things seemed like they were getting out of hand quickly. Anderson was able to find a Pack Rat, but he didn't have the time or cards he needed to make it a relevant racing tool.
Rietzl's Nightveil Specter continued to churn out a huge amount of card advantage and Anderson was overrun both in terms of card advantage and board presence. They were off to a third game.
In the third game, Rietzl quickly tore apart Anderson's hand with three copies of Thoughtseize.
Anderson was able to use Devour Flesh to deal with Rietzl's Erebos, God of the Dead, but Rietzl's pair of Underworld Connections kept his hand full of gas while Anderson could only play lands and spells off the top of his library.
Rietzl found a Pack Rat a few turns later and made short work of Anderson.
Paul Rietzl is the last remaining undefeated player at Grand Prix Albuquerque.
Sunday, 12:12 p.m. - Grand Prix Albuquerque Day Two Metagame Breakdown
128 players had a strong enough record at the end of Day One to be invited back for the second day of competition. What are these Day Two competitors playing? We've crunched the numbers and have the answer for you below.
For a more specific breakdown of the Day Two deck types, check out the table below:
|Mono Red Aggro||6|
Devotion to a color is the name of the game, with four out of the five colors seeing a lot of success by devoting themselves to one specific color and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. Mono-Blue Devotion was the most popular choice, with 21 players battling their way through the second day of competition in Albuquerque with Thassa, God of the Sea and her servants.
Esper Control is the second most popular deck for players fighting in Day Two, with Jace, Architect of Thought and a slew of removal, permission, countermagic, and powerful end-game threats such as Ætherling and Elspeth, Sun's Champion leading players into another day of competition.
Next up is a line-up that leaves only white on the devotion sidelines. Mono-Black Devotion, which helped propel Brian Braun-Duin to his Grand Prix Louisville victory back in October, is once again putting up a very strong showing. The players piloting this archetype include Grand Prix Louisville Quarterfinalist Todd Anderson, Grand Prix Washington D.C. Champion Owen Turtenwald, and Pro Tour Theros Quarterfinalist Paul Rietzl. These players have recently put up some very strong finishes, and their backing of Mono-Black Devotion just goes to show how potent the deck is.
Following Mono-Black Devotion is a little devotion of the red and green variety, respectfully. Both Red and Green devotion aren't technically mono-colored, with many Red Devotion decks making minor splashes into either white or green, though a few players competing today are representing only red. The Green Devotion decks are oftentimes splashing a little red (courtesy of some solid lands or Burning-Tree Emissary fueling Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx) for access to Domri Rade and Xenagos, the Reveler.
After that, the format spreads out into a wide variety of archetypes. White Weenie is seeing some solid representation this weekend, with most players who have sleeved up little white creatures splashing some red for Chained to the Rocks and Boros Charm.
Next up is Golgari, which is split into two divisions: one version is very similar to Mono-Black Devotion, but gains access to cards like Abrupt Decay and Golgari Charm primarily. The other version is very representative of the green-black guild, highlighting the power of cards like Reaper of the Wilds. The latter was represented by a few members of ChannelFireball, including No. 17 Ranked Player Brian Kibler and No. 2 Ranked Player Josh Utter-Leyton.
Grand Prix Albuquerque's Day Two metagame is looking interesting. Which deck will ultimately take the event down? Check back throughout the day to find out all of the latest!
Sunday, 1:44 p.m. - Day One Undefeated Decklists
Round 13 Feature Match - Ben Lundquist (White Weenie splashing Red) vs. Samuel Pardee (Mono-Blue Devotion)
Ben Lundquist was a Pro Tour regular a half-decade ago. Lundquist had a number of Grand Prix Top 8s and even made the United States National Team alongside Luis Scott-Vargas and Paul Cheon in 2006. Recently, Lundquist has returned to competitive Magic and it's becoming very clear that he still has what it takes to compete at the highest levels of competition. Lundquist made it all the way to the Top 4 of Grand Prix Oakland a few months ago, securing himself a spot at Pro Tour Born of the Gods. Since then, Lundquist has strung together a number of strong finishes including a win at the Star City Games Standard Open in Los Angeles earlier this month.
His opponent, Samuel Pardee is a rising star in the competitive Magic world. Pardee has been considered one of the stronger newcomers for some time, but he made his prowess clear to the world with a victory at Grand Prix Portland. Pardee found himself with his back against the wall in the last round of Day 1 yesterday; he already had two losses and he was paired against his good friend, Jacob Wilson, in a mirror match between two of the best players in the room. Pardee was able to secure victory against Wilson and he hasn't picked up a single loss since.
While shuffling up, both players talked lamented their real world responsibilities, wishing they could devote themselves more to the game they love so much. They recalled past Grand Prix success and wished each other "good luck!" before presenting their decks.
Samuel Pardee got off to a nice start with a pair of Cloudfin Raptor into Frostburn Weird. Ben Lundquist was prepared for the race and the players started trading hits with one another as the game progressed.
The key moment in the game occurred when Lundquist chose to cast Daring Skyjek instead of using Lightning Strike to kill one of Pardee's Cloudfin Raptors. The additional Devotion provided by the second Cloudfin Raptor made Pardee's Thassa, God of the Sea a creature and it pumped both of the Cloudfin Raptors into 3/4s.
The game was quickly getting out of reach for Lundquist as he struggled to poke through points of damage, but Pardee's flyers were seemingly impossible to race and they were off to a second game.
Lundquist led things off with a Soldier of the Pantheon in the second game and it began to grow early thanks to Ajani, Caller of the Pride. Pardee took some early damage, but he was establishing a strong board position with Judge's Familiar and Thassa, God of the Sea.
Lundquist's first copy of Ajani, Caller of the Pride had been dealt with via Thassa, God of the Sea, but he cast another Ajani and pumped his Soldier of the Pantheon into a 4/3 before attacking. Pardee shrugged and cast Rapid Hybridization targeting his own Thassa, God of the Sea, whose indestructibility meant that Pardee would be making a 3/3 at instant speed without having to kill one of his creatures. Lundquist looked dejected, he knew this was a mistake, his Soldier of the Pantheon traded with an amphibious token and he passed the turn, now significantly behind.
Pardee continued to apply pressure with a big Master of Waves. Lundquist tried to squeak in some damage, but Pardee was able ride the wave to victory.
Samuel Pardee defeats Ben Lundquist in two games!
Sunday, 2:32 p.m. - Back in Black!
One week after Pro Tour Theros, hordes of Magic players showed up in Louisville, Kentucky to try their hand at Grand Prix level Theros Standard. After fifteen rounds of swiss, there was a clear dominant deck. Mono-Black Devotion made up half of the Top 8 and eventually won the event in the hands of Brian Braun-Duin.
Coming into this weekend, many assumed that the most aggressive Red and White strategies would keep Mono-Black Devotion from dominating another Grand Prix. Nevertheless, coming into the last round of swiss here in Albuquerque, it's becoming very clear that Mono-Black Devotion isn't going anywhere. The future looks dark and bleak, and the boogeyman of the format has been established.
Round 15 Feature Match - Paul Rietzl vs. Matth Sperling
The final round left a few tables drawing, but four 12-2 records could not. Southern California Magic regular Corey Burkhart had to play out his match against Grand Prix Portland 2013 Champion Sam Pardee.
And unfortunately for two friends, Paul Rietzl and Matt Sperling, they also had to play their match against each other. The two players, both who shared a Grand Prix victory in San Jose's Team Sealed event, had the same 75 cards, and even the same sleeves.
When the two players were seating, the judge informed them that they should switch seats. Rietzl and Sperling were to be moved under the camera first.
"So I'm playing him now?" Sperling asked, pointing to Pardee as thought he misinterpreted what the judge was saying. When the judge clarified his point, Sperling slowly got up and moved to his proper seat.
It was very clear; he did not want to be put in this position. The two friends had to battle, and only one player would move on. Worse for Sperling was the guilt of denying his friend Professional Points. Rietzl's Quarterfinal finish at Pro Tour Theros gave him a good shot at Platinum for the season, and when it comes to picking up Professional Points at a Grand Prix, every Top 8 counts.
Sperling debated simply offering the concession to his friend to give him that chance before they got underway. "Do what you have to do," Rietzl said. "I wouldn't do it if I were in your position."
Sperling thought for a moment, and then nodded. The two got underway.
Sperling led with first turn Thoughtseize discarding Ultimate Price into second-turn Pack Rat. Rietzl had a third-turn Nightveil Specter which caused Sperling to pause, who debated on making a token or simply killing the 2/3. Instead he opted to make no tokens, preserving his hand of spells as he stalled on three lands. He met Specter with Specter, while Rietzl cast Desecration Demon.
Sperling had another Specter, this time missing his land drop for the fourth turn. Thoughtseize from Rietzl revealed Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Desecration Demon, Hero's Downfall, and Desecration Demon. The discard spell took out the Hero's Downfall, and the Desecration Demon attacked in unimpeded. Erebos, God of the Dead followed.
Sperling sent in his two Specters. One got through, exiling a Pack Rat. "Just what the doctor ordered," Sperling said, who led with his fourth land and a Desecration Demon his own. Rietzl played a Mutavault, his third for the game, and went to his combat step. He woke up his newly played Mutavault and sacrificed it to tap Sperling's demon. Sperling sacrificed his Pack Rat to feed Rietzl's demon, and once the dust was settled, Rietzl woke up both of his other Mutavaults and put Sperling to 1.
Sperling drew his fifth land, but his Gray Merchant was diminished. He went to combat, and Rietzl quickly woke up one of his Mutavaults to tap Sperling's demon. Attacks from the Specters put Rietzl to 11, which exiled Gray Merchant of Asphodel and another creature. Sperling cast the exiled Gray Merchant, dropping Rietzl to 1.
Unfortunately for him, 1 was not 0, and Rietzl's counterattack locked up the first game.
In the second game, Sperling again led with Thoughtseize, revealing Swamp, Nightveil Specter, Ultimate Price, Pack Rat, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Dark Betrayal, and Thoughtseize. Sperling pitched Rietzl's Thoughtseize and passed back. A second Thoughtseize revealed that Rietzl drew a Swamp. This one discarded Dark Betrayal. Rietzl's Pack Rat was promptly hit with Dark Betrayal, and Sperling quickly untapped to cast Nightveil Specter.
It attacked in on the next turn, exiling Devour Flesh from Rietzl, who forced it by activating his Mutavault and attacking on the next turn. A second Specter attack got Sperling a Swamp, and it was joined by another Specter.
One of the Specters was destroyed by Hero's Downfall on the next turn, but the other one connected and exiled Thoughtseize, which Sperling cast. It discarded a Specter of Rietzl's, and another Thoughtseize – Sperling's fourth copy cast but only the third copy from his deck – rid Rietzl of his other Specter.
Rietzl eventually succumbed to the attacks from the Specter once they were joined by Mutavaults, buried in both card advantage and the damage that he was slowly taking.
When Rietzl cast a first-turn Duress, he couldn't help but chuckle when Sperling revealed a hand that was nearly identical to Rietzl's opener in the second game: Swamp, Devour Flesh, Pack Rat, Thoughtseize, Nightveil Specter, Nightveil Specter, and Pack Rat. Sperling lost his Thoughtseize, and then his Pack Rat to Rietzl's Devour Flesh on the second turn.
Rietzl had nothing on the third turn, while Sperling cast Nightveil Specter. Rietzl found his own on the fourth turn, but it was disposed of with Devour Flesh. Sperling sent in his Specter, then he cast Pack Rat which promptly met its end to Ultimate Price.
Sperling's board continued to develop, with Underworld Connections giving him the edge when his second Specter was matched with two more from Rietzl.
But before Sperling had the game wrapped up, with an overwhelming board of creatures and Gray Merchant of Asphodel in hand ready to wrap things up...
Sperling offered an intentional draw.
The other feature match going on next to them between Corey Burkhart and Sam Pardee, both who had to play due to their tiebreakers at 12-2, had wrapped up. With one of the two 12-2 matches that had to play now finished, Sperling offered the draw.
The draw did not guarantee either player a Top 8 finish. In fact, there was a good chance Sperling drew himself out of the Top 8. However, there was no turning back, nor any regrets. Sperling knew his friend and teammate had a shot at Platinum for the season, and he wanted to give his friend the best chance possible.
As for Rietzl, this was a reprieve. A second shot to lock up some useful Professional Points.
Rietzl 1 – Sperling 1
As the final standings were revealed, the result of Sperling's draw became clear.
Rietzl managed to squeak in at 8th place.
After the match, I asked Sperling if he had any regrets over the draw instead of taking a guaranteed win.
"No. I'd do it again."