Grand Prix Anaheim Day 1 Coverage

Posted in Event Coverage on May 26, 2012


Saturday, 11:22 a.m. – The Evolution of Block Constructed

by Blake Rasmussen

Grand Prix Anaheim offers us something of a rare view for looking at the evolution of a format. Not since 2007 have we seen a block format Grand Prix follow so quickly behind a block format Pro Tour.

That year, Grand Prix Strasbourg came just one short month after Pro Tour Yokohama initially defined Time Spiral Block Constructed. The Grand Prix Top 8 drew heavily on the previous pro tour, but a few innovators broke through and moved the metagame slightly.

Now with only two weeks to digest the results of Pro Tour Avacyn Restored – bracketed around a Standard Grand Prix nonetheless – many players were scrambling to find an edge no one else saw in Barcelona.

To get the pros' take on how the format has shifted in such a short time, I spoke with Reid Duke, Pat Cox, Luis Scott-Vargas and Conley Woods to and asked them a simple question: How did Pro Tour Avacyn Restored shape the expected metagame at Grand Prix Anaheim?

Cox and Duke's immediate reaction was that the format has become less about anti-aggro measures, specifically less Boros-centered than it was before. Coming into the PT, aggressive Boros decks – often topped off by cards like Hellrider and Brimstone Volley – were the default "best deck" and had everyone gunning for them. Many pros believed that if you couldn't beat Boros, there was no reason to play a deck.

Champion of the Parish++Hellrider
Champion of the Parish++Hellrider

But because the deck didn't perform well, Duke thought it could fly under the radar with fewer people gunning for it. Cox even thought fewer players would want to pack cards like Bonfire of the Damned or Pillar of Flame because of their weakness to Wolfir Silverheart decks.

Speaking of Wolfir Silverheart, this busty five drop is on everyone's radar now. All of the players though Silverheart decks would take up a sizeable chunk of the metagame, but whether that number would rise or fall depends on who you ask.

Scott-Vargas thought there would be fewer Silverhearts at the Grand Prix, mostly because people are gunning for it now much the same way they gunned for Boros prior to the Pro Tour. For that reason, he thought there might be more "gimmick" decks here this weekend like the Angel of Glory's Rise deck, graveyard centric decks and others.

For those who don't know, the Angel of Glory's Rise deck is pretty sweet. Piloted by Ken Yukuhiro to a Top 8 at PT Avacyn Restored , it's a four-color reanimator deck with the option of a combo finish. Sometimes it just casts Faithless Looting and reanimates a Griselbrand, but sometimes it has the much flashier Angel of Glory's Rise endgame.

Angel of Glory's Rise

The way it works is this: With Falkenrath Aristocrats in play and a Fiend Hunter in the graveyard (often put there by Aristocrats), cast or reanimate Angel of Glory's Rise, which brings back Fiend Hunter. Put the Angel under the Hunter and then sacrifice the Fiend Hunter to Aristocrats to bring back the Angel, which in turns brings back the Fiend Hunter. Rinse and repeat for an arbitrarily large Aristocrats.

If the deck has some spare Borderland Rangers, Cathedral Sanctifiers and Huntmaster of the Fells sitting around those can be looped through as well, gaining as many wolves, basic lands and as much life as the pilot desires.

Fiend Hunter++Falkenrath Aristocrat
Fiend Hunter++Falkenrath Aristocrat

Speaking of Falkenrath Aristocrats, Scot-Vargas thinks the card will see a rise in play this weekend. Haste, four power, near indestructability and flying means it can often circumvent Wolfir Silverheart battles and end games before they can go long.

Of the decks that aim to extend matches and may have difficulties with Falkenrath Aristocrats is the Miracles deck that took home the trophy two weeks ago in the hands of Alexander Hayne. Opinions vary wildly on this one, all the way from "pretty random" and lacking in tricks if you're in the Cox/Duke school of thought to "powerful" and "sweet" if you ask Woods and Scott-Vargas.

Entreat the Angels

The difference speaks to a view on the format. Woods has written a number of articles about maximizing the power of decks in the format when variance swings in your favor. He said his opinion on the format has done a complete 180 since the PT, when he wanted to minimize variance as much as possible. Instead, he said you want to be doing the most powerful thing possible when things roll your direction, and the Miracles deck is among the most powerful you can do.

Scott-Vargas also thought the Miracles deck was "pretty sweet" and recommended it for players who "want to get lucky." He said the deck did pretty much need to miracle out a Devastation Tide or Terminus in the first four turns unless it drew Feeling of Dread.

Duke and Cox, on the other hand, saw the variance in the Miracles deck as a major drawback. Additionally, even when it did get lucky, Cox thought the deck lacked tricks.

Finally, all four players respected the Bant deck designed by Sam Black and piloted to a Top 8 by Jon Finkel and Gaudenis Vidugiris. They saw some issues with the mana base, but respected the power the deck could bring to the table.

For more on Innistrad Block Constructed so far, be sure to check out all of the coverage from Pro Tour Avacyn Restored as we get set to rewrite a format this weekend in Anaheim.

Saturday, 2:10 p.m. – Dealer Talk

by Frank Lepore

With Innistrad Block Constructed still a young format, cards tend to rise and fall as decks and archetypes go into and out of favor. To get an idea of which cards were on their way up and which were falling out of favor, we took a little stroll to the various dealers booths set up around the convention center.

One of the most cited hits of the format has been Falkenrath Aristocrat, with multiple vendors commenting that they had sold out of the mythic. The upper-class vampire made an appearance at Pro Tour Avacyn Restored in the Raisin' Brand Reanimator list piloted to a Top 8 finish by Ken Yukuhiro, but perhaps players have found other uses for the 4/1 hasty flier. It was one card Luis Scott-Vargas specifically called out as one to watch prior to the tournament.

Falkenrath Aristocrat

Speaking of black and red cards, heading into Grand Prix Anaheim, rumblings of a Grixis Control list had surfaced, with Arcane Melee being a centerpiece of the deck. Apparently casting Barter in Blood and Sever the Bloodline for two mana has its rewards in this creature heavy format. The dealers around the event had confirmed these rumors, stating that Arcane Melee had been another card that had been selling well for them, so we'll keep an eye out for players sporting the five-mana enchantment.

Arcane Melee

Two cards that also shine in creature-heavy formats have made their presence known at the dealer tables, with both Tree of Redemption and Nearheath Pilgrim selling very well across the board. In creature stalemates, often the player with a way to gain life is going to prevail and both of these cards support that.

Bonfire of the Damned

But sometimes the best way to break a stalemate is to just burn everything out of the way. Apparently a number of players figured that out too, as dealers have been asked repeatedly for Bonfire of the Damned. Touted as one of the most powerful mythic miracles printed in Avacyn Restored, and costing a mere one red mana, Bonfire seems like a staple for any deck that is able to produce the color.

Zealous Conscripts

Some cards have not been as popular as they were only a week or two ago. Many dealers were unimpressed with the number of Pro-Tour-Winning Entreat the Angels and Tamiyo, the Moon Sage they were moving. Both cards were selling less than expected this weekend. In addition to those, the 7/7 Demon-of-the-hour, Griselbrand, was also not heavily requested, perhaps due to the fear of having him face a Zealous Conscripts.

Will some of these cards surprise the field and break out at Grand Prix Anaheim? Stay tuned all weekend to see how things shake up and what decks – and cards – will come out on top!

Saturday, 3:14 p.m. – Four Artists, Four Styles

by Frank Lepore

Most Magic players know that there is more to the game than the deep strategy and countless interactions between the individual cards. For many, the flavor and art of the game also play a large part in their enjoyment of it. This is an area where large events like Grand Prix distinguish themselves. At most Grand Prix you'll often find a bevy of artists ready and willing to sign your cards or sketch a little illustration onto them.

Grand Prix Anaheim has an exciting four such artists in attendance, all of which have extensive resumes. Let's take a look at who we can expect to see this weekend:


With his signature sinister and moody illustrations, Daarken has such notable gems as Birthing Pod, Bloodghast, Fetid Heath, and the Planeswalker Sarkhan Vol to his name for players to get signed. You can see more of his illustrations behind him, purchasable as prints, along with a banner displaying his personal website at You can find Daarken's full body of Magic work here.

Martina Pilcerova

While Slovakian artist Martina Pilcerova's body of Magic work might be limited, she has been responsible for such favorites as Cloudpost, Seething Song, Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree, and Vivid Crag, all cards which have had a tremendous impact on the game. Here you can see her with a panoramic playmat of her work on the basic Island from Champions of Kamigawa, which she painted all four of. You can find Martina's full body of Magic work here.

RK Post

RK Post is a Magic artist who has been around the block a few times. He is credited with the entire cycle of Avatars from Prophecy (Avatar of Woe, Avatar of Hope, etc.), Faerie Macabre, Fulminator Mage, Ichorid, Lightning Angel (which a print of can be seen in view), and the list goes on and on. You can find RK's full body of magic work here.

Terese Nielsen

The last artist at Grand Prix Anaheim is one of the most well known in the game. Unfortunately at the time of this article she had taken a slight five minute break, but even in such a short time, Terese Nielsen had formed a line some twenty people deep. She has been responsible for cards ranging from such iconic cards as Force of Will and Natural Order, to the more recent Descendants' Path to the controversial Dismember. Terese is one of the most recognizable artists in the game. You can see Terese's full body of Magic work here.

As you can see, no matter what your artistic preference, you can find something – or someone – to sate it at a premier level Magic event. Make sure to check the event information page of the next event you plan on attending, so you can know exactly which cards to bring to get signed or altered by your favorite artist.

Round 4 Feature Match - Luis Scott-Vargas vs. Eli Linzi

by Blake Rasmussen

So imagine it's your first Grand Prix. You earned three byes and decided to make the trip into California from Hawaii. You have friends in the area and, hey, there're always something to do in California.

You collect your three byes, get ready for Round 4 when you hear your name called for a feature match. And your opponent? None other than all-world all-star Luis Scott-Vargas.

Welcome to the Grand Prix circuit, Eli Linzi.

"I figure, even if I lose, there's Disneyland," Linzi said as he and Scott-Vargas chatted before the match.

Linzi was on Zombies, a fact he didn't really try to hide with his sleeves emblazoned with "I want your brains" and a zombie on the back. Not that you can hide that fact for long when you start every game "Swamp, zombie, go."

Scott-Vargas came to gam with a Miracles deck that touched on red for Bonfire of the Damned, Rolling Temblor and Desolate Lighthouse, among others. It was a version built to torch aggro decks, which might make this a fortunate pairing for Round 4.

Game 1

The fates weren't in either player's corner to begin with, as each threw back their initial seven for a more palpable six cards.

"Gotta keep it fair, ya know?" Scott-Vargas said as he joined in Linzi's mulligan.

This is apparently Luis-Scott Vargas trying to keep it fair.

Really, though, the game was anything but fair. Linzi started quickly with three Gravecrawlers, but a miracle Bonfire of the Damned took out the first wave and a Rolling Temblor cleared the board of the second wave of zombies.

When Tamiyo, the Moon Sage followed the next turn and tapped down a Swamp, Linzi saw the writing on the wall.

"Yeah, you've probably got this one," he said, with only three Swamps in play, one stuck under Tamiyo

And after a few more blanks from Linzi and a pair of Entreat the Angels, Scott-Vargas certainly did have it, and in rather unfair fashion.

Scott-Vargas 1 – Linzi 0

Game 2

Maybe looking to keep things actually fair this time around, Scott-Vargas pitched back three hands, grimacing slightly at each one.

Meanwhile, Linzi kept a seven that curved pretty perfectly. Diregraf Ghoul into Gravecrawler into Bloodflow Connoisseur put pressure on Scott-Vargas pretty early. A Pillar of Flame on the Gravecrawler slowed things slightly, but the pro was stuck on two lands and never drew a miracle to get out of the beats Linzi's growing zombie horde delivered.

Scott-Vargas 1 – Linzi 1

Game 3

Seven cards for everyone! It's a miracle! (Get used to it. We'll be here all day)

Linzi had another quick zombie-esque start, but was once again stymied by Rolling Temblor. He rebuilt with Geralf's Messenger and a Bloodflow Connoisseur, but realized too late he had missed a Gravecrawler in his graveyard.

Disneyland will have to wait for Eli Linzi. He's too busy taking down one of the game's most accomplished players.

In the end it didn't matter. Scott-Vargas tried to lock down the Messenger with Tamiyo, the Moon Sage, but but Linzi saw the interaction with his Connoisseur and freed it. Two more Gravecrawers eventually joined the party, and when Scott-Vargas couldn't find another sweeper, he succumbed to Linzi's beaters.

Eli Linzi defeats Luis Scott-Vargas 2-1, meaning the Happiest Place on Earth will have to wait a little bit longer.

Saturday, 4:26 p.m. - Top Tables Round 5 Edition

by Blake Rasmussen

Earlier today we asked several pros to ponder on a few predictions for how a prepared populace would pick apart this peculiar format after the Pro Tour. Their answers were plenty enlightening, but we wanted proof.

So, as we do when we want to take the temperature of the metagame, we'll check in on the 20 top tables from time to time for a snapshot of what's doing well as the weekend progresses. Today we'll check in for rounds five and nine to give what we think is a reasonable spread to give decks room to spread their wings. Or claws. Or hands. Or whatever appendage the deck's creepy Innistrad crawlers choose to employ.

So far, Pro Tour Avacyn Restored's influence is being strongly felt among the 4-0 decks. Bant Spirits, Miracles, Naya and Angel of Glory's Rise reanimator – Barcelona's breakout decks – are all strongly represented, with Sam Black's Bant Spirits creation leading the way.

The surprise so far – though anyone who pays attention to Magic Online probably wouldn't call it a surprise – is the strong showing so far of Jund, which plays a slew of the format's best cards and best removal. Its strength against Wolfir Silverheart might be one of the reasons for its earlier resurgence.

Check back in Round 9 to see what rose and what fell as the weekend moves on.

Round 5 Feature Match - Owen Turtenwald vs. Steve Guillerm

by Frank Lepore

It's pretty much a known (or kn'owen') quantity that it's impossible to beat Owen Turtenwald on Day 1 of a Grand Prix. Turtenwald is a member of Team ChannelFireball and known for his consistent Day 1 finishes responsible for the phrase, "X and Owen."

Well, Steve Guillerm is certainly going to try and break that trend today! Guillerm is a relative new comer to professional play who has racked up quite a few consistent finishes in the past couple months, including an 11th place finish at GP Orlando. Both players started the event with the maximum of three byes and both are looking toward a 5-0 record.

Game 1

The players exchanged pleasantries and got to shuffling. Guillerm won the die roll and decided to play. He sighed at his opener, but decided to try it out, while Turtenwald took a trip to Paris for a new six.

Three lands for each player before Guillerm landed a Forbidden Alchemy on Turtenwald's end step. On his main phase he cast a Mystic Retrieval from his graveyard and returned the Alchemy to his hand. Turtenwald played his fourth land but had no action.

With both players at five, Guillerm cast the Alchemy again, putting a relevant Devil's Play into his graveyard. Before playing his land, Guillerm landed his deck's key spell in the form of Arcane Melee: the enchantment that threatened to make most of Guillerm's spells cost about one mana! More Looting and Thought Scouring from Turtenwald put more and more cards into the graveyard before he cast a Vessel of Endless Rest, sending off Guillerm's eventual Fireball to the bottom of his library.

With each player sitting on seven lands, this was the truest of control mirror matches. Back...and forth. Guillerm cast a Runic Repetition, targeting his exiled Mystic Retrieval, which was a series of plays that could potentially be done ad infinitum. He then cast the Retrieval on a Forbidden Alchemy, all for one mana each! Guillerm kept digging through his library, presumably looking for a threat to end the game, but none would be found this turn.

Blasphemous Act

It would be Turtenwald to land the first threat as he cast an Entreat the Angels for two 4/4's and passed the turn.

Guillerm had answers, but he had to choose the most efficient for the situation. He dug for a more optimal solution, chuckled to himself, then decided to Blasphemous Act away Turtenwald's army. Turtenwald, however, had a second Entreat to pressure Guillerm with. Guillerm was able to get back the Blasphemous Act with Mystic Retrieval, and the board was empty once more.

In order to keep things fair, Guillerm brought Turtenwald to 16 life with double Pillar of Flames which he threatened to be able to return infinitely with the Mystic Retrieval and the Runic Repetition. He then returned a few more things, and drew some more cards before passing it to Turtenwald. Without any threats in sight, and Guillerm with a grip full of cards, it was on to game two.

Guillerm 1, Turtenwald 0

Game 2

This time the starting hands were a little more balanced with both players going down to six cards. They were satisfied with that and played land-go for a few turns before Guillerm broke the tension with a Forbidden Alchemy. He followed up with his first creature of the match in the form of a Fettergeist.

Turtenwald had a Vessel of Endless Rest for the Mystic Retrieval in Guillerm's graveyard then cast a Geist of Saint Traft to be on par with the opposing spirit.

Guillerm went into the tank for a moment before looting then passed the turn. Turtenwald windmill slammed down a Gisela, Blade of Goldnight then attacked Guillerm down to eight life with a single Geist of Saint Traft. Seeing no relief in sight for Turtenwald's essential 22 power, Guillerm gave a, "yeah, that's pretty good," and it was on to game three.

Guillerm 1, Turtenwald 1

Game 3

Both players instantly kept their hands and resumed their dance of drawing card, playing lands, and passing turns. Guillerm's deck was made to simply burn through cards at breakneck speed, and that was exactly what he was doing. He attempted to land an Arcane Melee, but it was met with a Dissipate from Turtenwald. This might have been a red herring, however, as Guillerm attempted to resolve his Curse of Echoes on the next turn - an arguably more important card in this matchup. The Curse, however, was once again met with a Dissipate from Turtenwald, which was followed by a Geist of Saint Traft.

Guillerm dug for an answer to the holy father but was coming up short to a creature that could put away the game on his own in a mere four turns.

Guillerm drew his card for the turn, which was an unofficial miracle of its own in the form of a Blasphemous Act. He played out a second Arcane Melee to get a discount on it, as well as keep Dissipate mana up on his next turn. The Melee resolved and Guillerm would be able to play most of his spells at an incredible discount.

Turtenwald brought Guillerm down to eight life then passed it back. It looked as though Guillerm might have regained control. He cast Blasphemous Act with more than enough to pay for both it and the Dissipate in hand. Turtenwald did indeed have the third Dissipate, forcing one of Guillerm's own. Ultimately, the Act had to resolve... An end of turn Restoration Angel from Turtenwald followed by a Temporal Mastery threatened to all but seal the game for Turtenwald. Guillerm slumped in his seat as he thought he saw the writing on the wall.

Steve Guillerm

Turtenwald brought Guillerm to two life after two swings from the Angel; as the David to Turtenwald's Goliath, could Guillerm find a way out of this mess? A Sever the Bloodline from the top of his deck was definitely an answer. In response Turtenwald would loot with a Desperate Lighthouse and find an Entreat the Angels. He tried to play it for three Angels but Guillerm had the Dissipate. The board was now reset and Turtenwald had but one card in hand to Guillerm's enormous graveyard to work with.

Miraculously, Turtenwald topdecked another Entreat the Angels, making a mere two tokens this time: more than enough to put Guillerm away, but leaving enough mana to play other spells.

Guillerm followed suit however with a topdeck of his own in the form of another Sever the Bloodline! Turtenwald presented a Geist of Saint Traft, but Guillerm had the Tribute to Hunger. And back and forth they went. Guillerm burned through his deck once more – Think Twice, Faithless Looting, Think Twice – then passed.

A second turn from Turtenwald from a Temporal Mastery meant Turtenwald would get to look at three more cards thanks to Desolate Lighthouse. With nothing to do though, Turtenwald passed allowing Guillerm to assemble the combo of Runic Repetition and Mystic Retrieval. Turtenwald continued to dig for a way to close this game, while Guillerm struggled to retain control; Guillerm's library was looking mighty sparse...

Guillerm eventually dug deep enough to find a Devil's play then ended up getting back a Dissipate with his Mystic Retrieval...for safety's sake. He was looking to be able to close the game, and that was before he got his second Dissipate back! Another Temporal Mastery from Turtenwald met Guillerm's first Dissipate and Guillerm cast Devil's Play at Turtenwald for a massive nine damage. It appeared time was on Guillerm's side until Turtenwald played a Gisela, Blade of Goldnight.

"Yeah, she makes it really hard to Devil's Play," Guillerm quipped. "Dissipate."

Turtenwald passed back and Guillerm Retrieval'ed and Repitition'ed, getting back Devil's Play, Dissipate, and more Mystic Retrievals and Runic Reputations. With a seemingly endless supply of counterspells and burn, Guillerm was in good shape to lock this match up.

Another Temporal Mastery from Turtenwald met yet another Dissipate. Guillerm showed Turtenwald the Devil's Play for the final 11 and that was the match. Steve Guillerm would go on to 5-0.

Guillerm 2, Turtenwald 1

Round 6 Feature Match - Reid Duke vs. Ryan Carpenter

by Blake Rasmussen

Reid Duke and Ryan Carpenter really exemplify much of what it means to play Magic.

Duke is the consummate good guy, friendly and well-liked by the community and with yards and yards of talent. The Magic Online World Champion broke out in the paper universe recently with a win at Grand Prix Nashville and is cruising along today at 5-0.

Sitting across from him is a name from Magic's past. Ryan Carpenter played on the Pro Tour back in the 90s, back when there was a kind of pro tour for kids with the JSS, the same arena where greats like Jon Finkel cut their teeth.

He had gotten out of the game for a while when his 11-year-old brother pulled out some old draft decks from Pro Tours long ago and asked his big brother to teach him how to play. Just like that, Carpenter was hooked again, and even qualified for Pro Tour Philadelphia last year.

Back in the present day, however, the players were sporting very different decks. Carpenter had picked up the Bant Spirits deck that was so successful at Pro Tour Avacyn Restored. Duke, meanwhile, was playing a blue-red-white control deck that skimped on Miracles but played plenty of card draw.

Game 1

Carpenter kicked things off with one of the format's fastest starts, turning Avacyn's Pilgrim into a turn two Geist of Saint Traft.

Duke quickly cut off his access to white mana, using Devil's Play to dispatch the Human mana producer, but the damage was already done. The Geist hit for 6 damage, and then 8 with a Spectral Flight.

All the while, Duke was struggling for mana as well. He got to three lands, but then stopped, meaning the only defense he could muster was a Fettergeist.

The new-age Serendib Efreet proved little more than a speed bump for Carpenter, and even though he missed a win with Strangleroot Geist for one turn – he had an Abundant Growth on his Island and Duke would fall to exactly two on the attack– he figured it out the next turn.

Reid Duke knows how to call a metagame, but can his URW control list had issues tussling with a Geist of Saint Traft.

"At least that was quick and painless," Duke offered.

Carpenter 1 – Duke 0

Game 2

Another game, another Pilgrim, this time off a Cavern of Souls. This one died quickly to Pillar of Flames, but a second Cavern of Souls let Carpenter reload with Invisible Stalker.

Cavern of Souls

Still, once again he found himself stuck on lands, letting Duke develop his mana base and amass some components.

Meanwhile, Carpenter had wiggled his way to a board of two Cavern of Souls, Avacyn's Pilgrim, Geist of Saint Traft and an Invisible Stalker. He followed it up with a Strangleroot Geist and hit Duke down to seven. Duke had access to a Terminus, but was on strictly blue and red lands, one of the perils of playing three colors in this format without access to Cavern of Souls.

But Reid Duke was Reid Duke for a reason. Digging with Desperate Ravings, Duke went deep enough into his deck to finally pull out a Clifftop Retreat, allowing his Geist of Saint Traft traded legends. A follow up Pillar of Flame removed the Strangleroot Geist, and suddenly Carpenter's offense looked anemic.

Two attempts at Increasing Savagery were both met with Dissipate, and a Terminus eventually completely cleared the board. He then kept it clear with a Harvest Pyre on Avacyn's Pilgrim.

That's when Duke landed his haymaker, Gisela, Blade of Goldnight. When Carpenter couldn't find a solution, all it took was two swings from the legendary angel.

"That was a close one. I Miracled the Clifftop Retreat to legend-rule you," Duke said, exhaling.

Carpenter 1 – Duke 1

Game 3

After a fairly epic second game to even the match, game three was fairly anticlimactic. Essentially, Carpenter cast a Geist of Saint Traft and Duke drew some cards with Desperate Ravings and Amass the Components. Then Carpenter cast Wolfir Silverheart.


Well, mostly. As the Miracle mechanic can do, there was a tense moment where Duke drew a card on Carpenter's final attack with mana up for both Terminus and Devastation Tide. Neither, however, was on the top of his deck.

Ryan Carpenter defeats Reid Duke 2-1 to move to 6-0.

It's no miracle Ryan Carpenter won this round, though he was certainly helped out by Reid Duke having no Miracles.

Saturday, 7:17 p.m. - Quick Hits: What block deck best translates to Standard?

by Blake Rasmussen

Block decks often define Standard once the next rotation hits or, in some cases, even sooner. So is Grand Prix Anaheim a vision of things to come or things that could be right now? Which block deck best translates to Standard?

Josh Utter-Leyton

What block deck best translates to Standard?

What is holding it back?
Nothing, I think it's a good deck.

What does it gain in the transition?
Elite Vanguard, Hero of Bladehold


Gaudenis Vidugiris

What block deck best translates to Standard?
GW Humans


What is holding it back?
Vapor Snag


What does it gain in the transition?
Dual lands, Angelic Destiny, to go with the two 3-mana Doublestrikers.


Jackie Lee

What block deck best translates to Standard?
RG Werewolves


What is holding it back?
The main reason is that none of the other decks are comparable to Standard. There’s no Vapor Snag. Everything we’re trying to do here doesn’t work with Vapor Snag.


What does it gain in the transition?
RG is already a deck in Standard


Owen Turtenwald

What block deck best translates to Standard?
Miracles. Because if you play Miracles you have to play all of these cards.


Round 6 Feature Match: Jackie Lee vs. Chris Neal

by Frank Lepore

Jackie Lee is at the top of a contingent of up-and-coming female players. She has been on an absolute tear, putting up such impressive results as 3rd at Grand Prix Baltimore, 11th at Grand Prix Salt Lake City, and 11th at Grand Prix Mexico City. She's looking to follow suit here in Anaheim this weekend

Chris Neal has been a player since Tempest but admits he doesn't make it to many big events. Both players are sitting comfortably at a 5-1 record and looking to lock up a Day 2. As the two shuffle up, Lee sympathizes with Neal about being newer to competitive play. She makes it clear that even veterans of the game make mistakes under pressure.

Game 1

Lee won the roll with a five and she was on the play: a boon for an aggressive deck like hers. A turn one Champion of the Parish came down and threatened to get huge with the addition of her turn two Cloistered Youth. Neal consequently dropped to 18 life.

A turn two Scorned Village for Neal meant that a turn three Garruk Relentless might not be far behind. The Cloistered Youth transformed into an unholy Fiend and Neal went down to 13 life.

Lee passed and this meant that Neal's Villager would also flip giving him five mana for his third turn. He attacked, bringing Lee to 17. He thumbed a Brimstone Volley in his hand then tapped and uptapped his mana before simply passing.

Lee Gathered some Townsfolk, but the Brimstone Volley finally connected to do away with the would-be 4/4 Champion. Neal was down to ten life with Lee at a healthier 16.

Lee traded her two 1/1 humans with Neal's 2/2 Moonscarred Werewolf. Garruk finally came down and traded with the Unholy Fiend leaving an empty board for both players. Lee with no action had to pass the turn while Neal laid a simple Avacyn's Pilgrim.

Lee found another Cloistered Youth and Neal played a Borderland Ranger, finding a Mountain. He took three, going to seven, but also had a Bonfire of the Damned in hand. While Lee was at a robust 14 life, one should never underestimate how game changing Bonfire of the Damned can be.

"Do you know how many Townsfolk I could gather right now?" Jackie joked at the amount of white mana she had in play.

Neal pulled the trigger and Bonfired for three then attacked for another three, brining Lee to eight. The race was definitely on albeit in tiny increments. While Lee was desperately looking for red mana, Neal had an overabundance of his two colors.

A Fiend Hunter for Lee took the Ranger out of the equation and the board looked a little more even. Three lands in hand for Neal meant this might be Lee's opportunity to mount a come back.

Chris Neal

The Fiend Hunter kept chipping away at Neal as he drew land after land. It wasn't looking good, despite Lee's slow clock.

"You know how many Charmbreakers I could play with that many lands?" Lee asked comically, referring to Neal's abundant manabase. "!"

Lee drew for the turn, and sighed. She played a Champion of the parish and passed with Neal at five life. One Pillar of the Flame from Neal later and the board was once more the exact same as it was. Neal fell to four life and with no red mana, Lee was forced to pass.

The top of his deck rewarded Neal with a Kessig Wolf Run. This allowed him to pump his Avacyn's Pilgrim for exactly eight, bringing Lee from her nine life to zero.

Neal 1, Lee 0

Game 2

"Not exactly how our decks are supposed to work," Neal pointed out.

"Sweet. Game." Lee agreed and the two went to their sideboards before shuffling up.

"Where are you from?" Lee asked Neal. "Ventura Country," he replied. "Oh. Boston for me," Lee said.

Lee decided to play first and they both verbally hoped she would draw some red mana sources this game. They kept their openers and Neal led with an Avacyn's Pilgrim while a turn two Cloistered Youth from Lee threatened to lay the beats.

Jackie Lee

Neal put a Borderland Ranger into play to ensure he would hit his land drops while Lee cast a second Cloistered Youth. Neal removed the unflipped 1/1 with a Garruk Relentless which forced him to flip.

A Hellrider came down on Lee's side and she swung for six, using the two triggers to put Neal's Garruk into the grumper. Neal chose to play a Wolfir Silverheart, pairing it with his Borderland Range before attacking for six and dropping Lee to 11 life.

Lee attacked for six once more, dealing two directly to Neal and losing her Hellrider to an 8/8 Silverheart in the process. She followed the attack with a Brimstone Volley to finish it off then played a Stromkirk Noble. A lucky - dare I say...miraculous? - Bonfire of the Damned off the top for Neal allowed him to deal four to Lee and her team before also attacking for three. Lee found another Hellrider, dealing Neal four and dropping him to a mere two life. While the game was either player's for a moment, Neal once more found a much needed Kessig Wolf Run to seal the deal.

Neal 2, Lee 0

Saturday, 8:23 p.m. - Gunslinging Cubed

by Frank Lepore

"Gunslinging" is a popular feature at premier level Magic Events. It basically means that a known celebrity of the game – developer, designer, player, personality, etc. – brings a deck or two to the event, and the players get to do battle against them. If you win? You get a booster pack. If you lose? Well, you don't get a pack, but you get an awesome experience with one of Magic's greats! Plus, you could just play again.

Grand Prix Anaheim features two such gunslingers in the form of columnist Adam Styborski and Magic: The Gathering Editor and Rules Manager Matt Tabak. Both of these men have made incredible contributions to the game, and Matt has even designed a few cards himself, such as Dungeon Geists and Soulquake.

While Matt came prepared to battle with a constructed deck, Adam had no such plans. What was Adam battling with, you might ask? Well, Adam chose to Winston Draft his Pauper Cube.


That's certainly a mouthful, so we'll break down what's happening in sections. First, Cube Drafting. Cube Drafting is basically a format where you gather a bunch of your favorite cards – often the best cards – and separate them into fifteen card packs, to simulate an actual booster pack. You then draft them like regular packs, like you would in a regular draft.

You can find an official description here, on the Magic Online Cube Draft event page.

A "pauper" cube - or anything "pauper" really – would be a cube that contains solely common cards. You with me so far?

Finally, Winston Drafting. Well, Winston drafting is a little more complex, but the basic rules are as follows:

Each player supplies 45 cards worth of sealed product (specifically three booster packs).

Shuffle all 90 cards together in one big deck without looking at them.

Choose someone to draft first, then put the top three cards from the deck face down next to it as three new small piles of one card each.

The first player looks at the first small pile. He may choose to draft that pile or not.

If he drafts it, he replaces that pile with a new face-down card from the deck.

If he doesn't draft it, he puts it back, adds a new card from the deck face down, and moves on to the next pile.

He looks at that pile and decides to draft it or not, replacing it with a new card if he drafts it, adding a new card to it and moving on if he doesn't.

If he doesn't want to draft the third pile, he adds a card to it, then drafts a random card from the top of the deck.

Continue until all 90 cards have been drafted. Construct 40-card decks and play.

For a complete primer written by Aaron Forsythe himself you can check it out here.

When I went to visit Adam, he was Winston Draft gunslinging his pauper cube against none other than Evan Erwin himself!

Evan Erwin and Adam Styborski

Yes, two of the games most entertaining personalities, battling it out in one of the rarest, most obscure formats in the game...and having an absolute blast! This is what it's all about. Magic events bring a ton to the table and rare experiences and opportunities like this are just a few of them. Despite knowing both Adam and Evan personally, I was still ecstatic to see them pitted against one another at the gunslinging table. It's some of the most fun you can have, both inside and outside of Magic and if you ever have the opportunity to try it, it's highly recommended.

Round 8 Feature Match - Paul Rietzl vs. Zakk Meza

by Blake Rasmussen

"I'm already drawing dead."

Paul Rietzl's lament after losing the die roll might have been a bit premature. After all, the consummate pro had run his record to 7-0, and it doesn't seem likely he did that on the back of winning every single die roll.

What it really signaled was that we were in for a matchup between two players who could sling some spells while throwing some chatter at the same time. Rietzl's opponent, Zakk Meza, seemed to be from the Antonino De Rosa school of Magic, where the talk was just as important as the game. Why, within just the first 10 minutes of meeting Rietzl, he already had called the longtime pro "Buttercup" and handsome.

Game 1

They did, though, actually play some Magic.

Rietzl, on a RW aggro deck, but was immediately rewarded with a land off the top. His turn one Stromkirk noble even yielded an "Oh no" from Meza.

"You're up buttercup. I can call you buttercup, right?" Meza asked, playing Mulch from his Angel of Glory's Rise reanimator deck.

"Please," Rietzl said as he used Cavern of Souls to play a Champion of the Parish on turn two.

The Noble hit a few times, but it was all in the name of Meza setting up his graveyard. Between Mulch and Faithless Looting, his graveyard came stocked with two Fiend Hunters, Huntmaster of the Fells, and an Angel of Glory's Rise. When the Angel rose from the dead thanks to Unburial Rites, it meant Rietzl was well...

"I'm dead."

Meza 1 – Rietzl 0

Game 2

"That was kind of a beatdown," Rietzl offered while thumbing through his sideboard.

"Sorry. You were kind of stuck."

"I'll try to win this one. That'll make up for it.

"Thank you."

But the banter didn't stop there.

"You're even more handsome in person," Meza offered, shortly after quizzing his opponent on when the last time he was nervous playing Magic.

When someone in the crowd pointed out Meza might be laying it on a little thick, Rietzl was unperturbed.

"If he doesn't get a win he might get a date," Rietzl said.

Zakk Meza is a master of the chatter. Antonino De Rosa would be proud.

And the way Game 2 went, a date looked like a better possibility than Meza pulling out anything resembling a win.

By the end of turn two, Rietzl as way, way off to the races. Two Champions of the Parish and a Stromkirk Noble looked downright scary when Meza was Mulching turn two. It looked even more imposing when Gather the Townsfolk made Rietzl's attack good for 8 damage on turn three.

"Let's see if I do anything cool here," Meza said, peeling his top card carefully. "Ruh-roh. You got it."

"My draw was a little better that game.

"You really drew that off the top?" Meza said of the Gather the Townsfolk. "That was amazing. What's the miracle cost on that again?"

Meza 1 – Rietzl 1

Game 3

Cavern into Stromkirk Noble elicited a groan from Meza, but probably not the expected one.

"Awww. No Delver of Secrets?"

Rietzl's Boros deck was indeed not running Delver of Secrets.

A Mulch flipped only one land for Meza, but did deposit an Unburial Rites in the graveyard, a card which became a bit more precarious when Rietzl had the Thraben Heretic to likely keep it in check.

Cathedral Sanctifier and Huntmaster of the Fells kept Meza's life total in the 20s, despite the early Stromkirk beats. Now facing a wall of creatures he could conceivably penetrate for the first time int eh match, Rietzl fell silent and contemplative after casting Midnight Haunting

His attacks – with both Spirits and the Stromkirk Noble - resulted in no blocks, which gave him the perfect opportunity to cast Rally the Peasants, dropping Meza all the way to 11 life. Another Huntmaster made that 13, but the Spirit tokens alone represented up to 6 damage, and the pair of Brimstone Volleys in Rietzl's hand threatened a ton more. They did, however, make the math that much more difficult.

I'll admit, it was somehow a bit eerie at this point for both players to be virtually silent. I had become use to both of them narrating the match to this point.

Paul Rietzl turning some red and white cards sideways. Not shown: Zakk Meza calling him handsome.

Again Rietzl paused to contemplate his attacks, eventually flashing back the Rally the Peasants to deal 6 in the air and make his Stromkirk Noble trade with the two Wolf tokens.

That left Rietzl's fliers vulnerable to the Huntmaster flips, but turned his Brimstone Volleys on. He was able to cast one, dropping Meza to just two life.

Sensing his time might be up, Meza carefully drew his card before Mulching. The Mulch binned Angel of Glory's Rise, but Thraben Heretic removed it. He then passed back hoping to flip his werewolves back into Huntmaster of the Fells and out of burn range.

However, with the upkeep triggers on the stack, Rietzl flashed the last three points of Brimstone Volley damage to remain undefeated.

"That was quite a game right there."

After the game Rietzl turned to Matt Sperling who had just finished his own feature match and held up Rally the Peasants.

"Matt, this is the best card in the format, not even close."

At 8-0, he might have a point.

Paul Rietzl defeats Zakk Meza 2-1

Saturday, 9:55 p.m. - Top Tables Round 9

by Blake Rasmussen

The cream has definitely risen to the top as we near the end of Day 1 at Grand Prix Anaheim. Four of the most talked about decks coming into the tournament have delivered on their promise, while one archetype is going to need more than one Miracle to make a dent on Day 2.

Bant Spirits has soundly demonstrated it's the real deal, taking up nearly a quarter of the top 20 tables in Round 9. With numerous others locked into Day 2 or on the cusp of it with the Green-White-Blue creation, the deck has been putting up consistent results all day.

Angel of Glory's Rise reanimator looks to be another big winner, slotting six pilots among the top 40 players, with others lurking on the fringe. The deck's numbers have held steady all day, and it wouldn't be too surprising to see a copy or two in the Top 8 tomorrow.

Jund has also been fairly steady. After winning the Magic Online Championship Series earlier today, a number of players brought Jund as an answer to a Naya-heavy metagame.

And while Naya has been a target in this tournament – notice just three copies in the top 40 – Red-White aggro has filled in as a deck to beat as Reid Duke predicted it would before the tournament even started. Last we checked, Paul Rietzl was even vying to remain undefeated with a RW deck in the feature match area sporting Rally the Peasants, a card he called the best in the format.

As for disappointments? The big one has to be Miracles after showing well early and coming in the hands of several big name players, including most of the ChannelFireball team. A number of them are struggling to make Day 2, and only Eric Froehlich – who updated the deck to include Red – was sitting near the top of the standings.

As for the rest, the UR deck is piloted by none other than GP Minneapolis champ Christian Calcano, who didn't seem to want to abandon his Sulfur Falls from last week. The Nearly Mono Black deck isn't Zombies, but instead has cards like Demonic Taskmaster and what looks like a light splash for Sorin, Lord of Innistrad. The two Mono Red lists actually look very different, but one of them is being piloted by none other than Hall of Famer Rob Dougherty.


Round 9 Feature Match - Eric Froehlich vs. Eli Linzi

by Frank Lepore

Well, this is it. With day almost in the books, each player is looking for a win to bolster their odds for a run at a Top 8 finish tomorrow. In the arena we have Eric Froehlich, a known pro specializing in both Magic and Poker, with quite an extensive resume. Eli Linzi on the other hand is a relative unknown on the center stage but his impressive 8-0 record thus far on the day would have us believing otherwise.

Game 1

Froehlich won the roll and the players wished one another good luck. Froehlich kept his hand while Linzi sent his back for six more to reluctantly keep. Linzi puts some early pressure down with a highborn Ghoul while Froehlich just barely managed to hit his third land drop off of a Thought Scour.

Crypt Creeper

Linzi beat for two, then called down a Crypt Creeper for another two power. Froehlich hit a lucky Entreat the Angels off the top for a single 4/4 then passed the turn.

Both of the 2/1's entered the red zone. Froehlich blocked which left Linzi able to Tragic Slip the angel to finish it off.

Linzi then put two Diregraf Ghouls into play, bringing his total onboard power to six, but Froehlich had the Rolling Temblor to wipe it all away. With no gas in the tank, Linzi was forced to pass the turn. Froehlich summoned a Tamiyo, the Moon Sage, and Linzi was left with a pass once more. Froehlich ramped his mana with a Vessel of Endless Rest while Linzi drew a Geralf's Messenger. Just like his brothers before him, however, the Messager met a Terminus off the top from Froehlich.

With little action left, Linzi played a lonely Bloodflow Connoisseur and passed the turn. Tamiyo hit eight counters when Froehlich chose to tap the vampire down, then a Temporal Mastery allowed him to immediately ultimate and get Tamiyo's emblem. Froehlich then cast Bonfire of the Damned for three, which returned the Bonfire back to his hand. The game was pretty much locked up at this point.

Froehlich looked for a more reliable win condition and ended up casting Think Twice from his hand an unprecedented five times.

"That was more than Twice..." Pro Tour winner David Sharfman commented from the sidelines.

"Bonfire for four," Froehlich announced.

"I'm just gonna concede here..." Linzi responded.

Froehlich 1, Linzi 0

Game 2

"Did you just draw Diregraf Ghoul every turn after turn one?" Froehlich asked.

"Seems like it. I needed to apply pressure against you, but you just had the Temblor, which is great against me," Linzi replied.

Eli Linzi plays first in Game 2

Linzi decided to play first and both players kept. A turn one Gravecrawler from Linzi meant the pressure was on, quickly dropping Froehlich to 18. He followed it up with a Crypt Creeper and passed.

Froehlich had a Pillar of Flame for the Gravecrawler, but he was still taking two a turn for the foreseeable future. That was until Linzi added a Geralf's Messenger to the board. Froehlich was at 14 but staring down five points of power on the board. A rolling Temblor took out the bulk of it, but a 4/3 Messenger remained dropping Froehlich to eight life with its attack.

A second Messenger from Linzi looked to seal the deal, dropping Froehlich to six with lethal on board. Froehlich Thought Scoured himself, but when Linzi tapped his Messengers Froehlich knew that was the game.

Froehlich 1, Linzi 1

Game 3

Linzi managed to even up the score against someone who has successfully placed in more than a few premier level events. No small feat. With both players at 1-1, this game was for the 9-0 record. Would Linzi be able to get the zombie opening of legend?

He stared solemnly at his hand, slumped in his chair and announced he would mulligan. Froehlich kept his hand, giving him a distinct advantage, but it was back to Paris for Linzi and things were looking bleak; could his five card hand pull out the win?

Diregraf Ghoul

A turn one Diregraf Ghoul looked to start the beats early as Froehlich Thought Scoured himself. A Gravecrawler joined Linzi's board and eventually the pair dropped Froehlich to 14. Linzi cast an Appetite for Brains against Froehlich which revealed a Temporal Mastery, a Bonfire of the Damned, two Terminus, a Think Twice, and a Desolate Lighthouse. Among a veritable hand of Miracles, Linzi nabbed a Terminus and passed.

Froehlich dropped to ten from the zombie pair and needed to stop the bleeding. Linzi added a Crypt Creeper but Froehlich was able to cast his Bonfire for two leaving the board nice and empty. A Blood Artist from Linzi and Froehlich was back in the game. He had seven lands now and was able to hardcast Temporal Mastery if he so desired. Linzi played a Liliana of the Veil and both players would discard a card, however looting with Desolate Lighthouse and drawing cards from Think Twice was all Froehlich was interested in doing.

Temporal Mastery off the top left Froehlich with a second turn to find all the answers he needed, which included a newly drawn Tamiyo, the Moon Sage. Liliana eventually went ultimate and Froehlich decided to float all of his mana in response. Linzi chose Tamiyo and all of Froehlich's white producing lands in one pile, and all of his blue producing lands in the other, putting Froehlich in a sticky situation.

Froehlich said goodbye to the blue lands in order to hang onto his Planeswalker. Linzi played a second Blood Artist and passed back. Froehlich had five lands and one Tamiyo and things went back and forth for a bit. Linzi topdecked a Highborn Ghoul which all of a sudden gave him new access to his Gravecrawler again.

Geralf's Messenger

Froehlich stared intently at the top card of his deck as he drew for the turn. Entreat the Angels for three was the play and Froehlich tapped down the Highborn Ghoul as he gave Tamiyo her eighth counter. Linzi found a Sever the Bloodline for the angels though and was able to drop Tamiyo back down to six loyalty for a turn. Terminus swept the board and the planeswalker was once again threatening to take over.

A Geralf's Messenger from Linzi brought Froehlich to eight life, but was tapped down by Tamiyo who was once more at eight counters. Another Highborn ghoul from Linzi, but it was unable to stop Tamiyo from going ultimate. Froehlich cast a Terminus, Linzi bottomed his creatures, and Froehlich returned the Terminus to his hand.

"Oh. Yeah." Linzi sighed, as he realized that Froehlich would have access to nigh infinite Terminus'. "I should probably just concede here..."

The game went on as a race, with each player trying to find enough burn for the other. Linzi found another Messenger which dropped Froehlich to six, but Terminus was still a real thing.

Congratulations to Eric Froehlich, who finishes Day 1 with a perfect recrod

Froehlich eventually dug up a Pillar of Flame which would eventually deal the entire twenty damage to Linzi leaving Froehlich at an astonishing 9-0 record!

Froehlich 2, Linzi 1

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