Grand Prix Austin Day 2

Posted in Event Coverage on January 7, 2012

EVENT COVERAGE

Sunday, 10:46 a.m. – Lucky (Pod) Number Seven

by Blake Rasmussen

The road from 7-2 to the Top 8 on Day 2 of a Grand Prix can be a difficult. There's little room for error, you're starting out a match or two behind some very strong players and the window to draw into the Top 8 closes pretty quickly. Even just one loss in the first three rounds can submarine a player's shot at the title.

But if any 7-2 player is poised to make a run in Austin, the smart money would be on a player coming out of Pod 7. This group of eight is seriously stacked, with two Hall of Famers, multiple long time pros and a conglomeration of talent with more accomplishments in the game than many Top 8s.

Most people wouldn't bat an eye if I told them this was the Top 8 at a Grand Prix or even Pro Tour, let alone Pod 7 on Day 2 of a Grand Prix.

Martin Juza

Brian Kibler

Raphael Levy

Brandon Scheel

Ricky Sidher

Eric Froehlich

Tyler Lytle

Nick Hasenoehrl

Would you want to draft at this table with your tournament life on the line?

With no disrespect to Lytle and Hasenoehrl – who I'm sure are fine players that very well could emerge from this pod 3-0 when all is said and done – there are six players in this pod that couldn't be more frightening to face when your back is to the wall.

Kibler and Levy need no introduction to anyone who has followed the Pro Tour for some time, in Levy's case, a long time. Levy was enshrined into the Hall of Fame way back in 2006, and rightfully so. With 486 Pro Points, the Frenchman is third on the all-time list and with a strong year could join Kai Budde as the only players with 500 lifetime Pro Points.

Raphael Levy is third on the all-time Pro Points list.

Kibler, meanwhile, seems to be everywhere these days. The Hall of Famer has been traveling extensively as of late and is part of the superteam ChannelFireball. It's rare to not find his finely coifed hair and expertly wrapped scarf floating around the tournament hall at a major magic event this days. He was also the champion of the last Pro Tour held in Austin where he took the trophy with – what else – Zoo.

Juza is another ChannelFireballer and was in the running for Player of the Year in 2011 right up through the World Championship. He won Grand Prix Hiroshima last October, the same month he also Top 8ed Grand Prix Santiago. Juza is, quite simply, one of the hottest players around right now.

Sidher may not be a Levy, Kibler or Juza, but he's had the most recent Grand Prix success of anyone at the table, and in the very same format! Sidher made the Top 8 of Grand Prix San Diego just this past November, though he started 8-0-1 in that tournament. Like the rest of the table, his 7-2 record left little wiggle room to repeat the feat.

Froehlich has been a longtime mainstay of the tour, with PT and GP Top 8s stretching back to 2002. His last Top 8 was Worlds in 2010, but other Pros know he's still a player to be feared.

Which brings us to Brandon Scheel. Scheel is less well known than the players he'll be facing, but the Iowa native was a regular on the Pro Tour just a few years ago, best known for a string of heartbreaking 11th place – yes, exactly 11th place multiple times – finishes. Scheel has taken some time off from playing in major tournaments to concentrate on school, but he certainly has the talent to go on a run in Austin, and his aggressive GW deck has the power to get the 3-0 result he needs to move on.

Brandon Scheel faced off against Brian Kibler in Round 10. You can tell it's Kibler from the perfectly coifed hair in the foreground.

Round 10 Feature Match - Martin Juza vs. Eric Froehlich

by Marc Calderaro

"That was an interesting draft," Eric Froehlich opined. "My entire draft deck was face up the whole draft." Though that was physically untrue, when I had asked Martin Juza about the match-up before getting to the feature match area, he had said, "Well, he got a fourth-pick Mayor of Avabruck..." So perhaps some of the important contents were face up. But I knew better than this. I saw the very solid Green and White cards that Froehlich was underplaying. There were many non-double-faced cards hiding within the sleeves.

Martin Juza

Juza's deck was no slouch, either. In fact, it was kind of the stone-cold cold stones. He went pick-one Devil's Play into pick-two Kruin Outlaw, then took a Brimstone Volley over a Reckless Waif that ended up tabling back to him anyway. Yeah, it was a pretty decent first pack. Juza later nabbed Blasphemous Act and Manor Gargoyle and used the third pack to fill in all the curve holes.

It looked nice.

Game 1

"I'm gonna play, I think." Juza started with an Ashmouth Hound and a Cloistered Youth on turns two and three. Froehlich did one better by going Unruly Mob into Darkthicket Wolf and used Prey Upon to take out the un-flipped Youth.

It was 17-14 in Juza's favor as Crossway Vampire traded with a Ulvenwald Mystics. Froehlich's second Mystics came out after Juza's continued red assault of a Devil's Play on the Unruly Mob. Juza still had a Brimstone Volley and a Smite the Monstrous in his hand. Soon Froehlich was down to two cards.

11-10. Another Mystics down, but a Villagers of Estwald replaced it. The Darkthicket Wolf had single-handedly taken out most of Juza's life, as Juza's Hound had done in reverse. Two drops are important in this format, in case you weren't sure. With anything larger than two power getting taken down, the little wolves were the only things that stayed around for long.

The Villagers became a Howlpack of Estwald, and on the next attack, Juza had to choose which large guy to Smite: the now-5-power Darkthicket Wolf, or the now flip-styled Howlpack. He took out the transformer, sunk to 7, then watched Froehlich empty his hand with a land and a Doomed Traveler. Juza had Blasphemous Act and a Silverchase Fox waiting in his wings. He counted up his land (five), and the creatures in play (3), and simply passed his turn. Froehlich's attacks brought the totals to 2-10.

Juza drew a Reckless Waif and weighed the options of playing creatures doomed to die (something Doomed Traveler knew something about as it fell into the yard, leaving a Spirit in his wake). Juza thought if he blocked the Wolf and sunk to one from the 1/1 Flying Spirit, he could simply clean up the creatures on the board with the Act and ride a Fox, or later, better creature to victory.

All went as planned until on Froehlich's attack step, after no blockers had been declared on the Spirit, Froehlich showed a Spidery Grasp, allowing the meek Spirit enough power to take out the mighty Juza.

Eric Froehlich 1 – Martin Juza 0

Game 2

Juza, on the play, thought better of his hand – pretty much five land a Brimstone Volley. He went to six and nodded, laying the first land on the table. Wolves soon faced off – Darkthicket for Froehlich and Kessig for Juza – and the two players hit each other just to see what it felt like to be bitten by a wolf. My best guess would be that it hurts.

With the nigh-unblockable Orchard Spirit and Hamlet Captain joining Froehlich's ranks (and a Prey Upon to take out Juza's Avacynian Priest), Froehlich took an early lead – 14-17 in his favor.

Juza was lacking his signature rares. He sat on a Silverchase Fox, Tormented Pariah, and Smite the Monstrous while casting his Ashmouth Hound, leaving two mana open. Froehlich sent in his Wolf and Spirit. Juza bit his nails.

Eric Froelich

He threw both dogs in front of the Darkthicket, who got all spidered up with Spidery Grasp after Juza gave first strike to Kessig Wolf. All the cards involved hit the bin. The life totals were 12-17. Silverchase Fox from Juza never got a chance to really live but at least took the Hamlet Captain with him. Though Froehlich hadn't seen the Blasphemous Act out of Juza, he had opened it in the draft. He didn't assume that the Act had made it all the way to Juza, but he wasn't going to lose to the swingy rare if it had.

Orchard Spirit and Mystics were alone on the battlefield. Skirsdag Cultist tried to get something going on Juza's side as Juza sunk to 5, but a Prey Upon and a Butcher's Cleaver proved scary as hell. The Smite the Monstrous was good as either creature Froehlich would equipped could succumb to a good smiting. But Juza only had five land. Passing without casting a spell and appearing dead on board, was a little too telling. All Froehlich had to do was not give the Cleaver to either creature, and swing for the win.

Eric Froehlich 2 – Martin Juza 0

"Your deck's pretty good," Juza said as he shuffled up.

"Yeah, I got four of these." Froehlich flashed a certain green removal spell that he had been flashing around all game.

Froehlich moves to 8-2, while Juza sinks to 7-3.

Sunday, 12:19 p.m. - Martin Juza and Things to Come

by Marc Calderaro
Martin Juza

I sat down with Czech superlative, Martin Juza right after the first draft. He was at a veritable murderer's row in his pod. He was surrounded by the likes Raphael Levy, Eric Froehlich, Brian Kibler, Brandon Sheel and Ricky Sidher. Thinking nothing of it, the perennial bridesmaid of the Player-of-the-Year wedding put together a strong Red-White deck packed to the gills with rares and beats and just general mayhem.

Creating general mayhem at the top tables is, of course, nothing new for the grizzled old veteran (you see, this is funny because Martin Juza is the most baby-faced, affable, least grizzled, least old person – though he is quite the veteran). He's been ripping up tables for a while, and in his fairly short career has thrown up ten Grand Prix Top 8s, and multiple Pro Tour Top 8s. Juza's so prolific at the game, right before now-reigning Player of the Year, Owen Turtenwald told me that he kind of hoped that Martin Juza would win, because of how much he deserved it. Martin laughed when I told him that; "Well, we all hope to win ourselves more than everyone else."

This is an exciting time for Magic tournaments – lots of organized play changes, lots more Grand Prixes (something of a specialty for Martin), the last, large-scale Innistrad-only tournament, a brand new year – I figured there's no better person to get a word with than Juza. So what is this year going to bring for the Czexpert?

Juza yuckin' it up.

"I need to focus on Pro Tours!" Juza said confidently. He said that sometimes he's traveling for way too long, traversing the world for Grand Prixes that he doesn't give the Pro Tours the attention they deserve. I guess that's only a problem if you're as good as Juza and if you like to travel as much as he does.

He went on a month-long trip, centered on Magic, of course, from Australia to Peru to Machu Picchu (no, there was no GP there ... I wish) to Chile, then to Japan. This grueling trip was certainly fruitful, as the sights were gorgeous and he did quite well at the tournaments, winning Grand Prix Hiroshima and Top 8-ing Grand Prix Santiago. However, it really cut into the time he was able to focus on the upcoming larger event, cough cough, Worlds.

The new, additional Grand Prixes will be a boon to Martin's plan because now with simultaneous Grand Prixes going on across the World, "I won't have to be traveling so far every weekend. I can just, you know, drive there." This will allow him more time to practice and less time traveling.

Traveling all that way had never been a problem before, and it certainly hadn't been an issue this last tournament leg. "This format is awesome. [Triple Innistrad] is what, four months old?! And we're still discovering new decks and new card interactions. First it was UB control; mill yourself, then mill me; then it was UR; then the Burning Vengeance thing, now Spider Spawning. It's great."

If he had to pick a favorite archetype, it would be Green-White, because it's always at least a 2-1 deck even without rares. "All Wizards had to do was slightly skew the color pie to get Green a good removal spell, and all of a sudden the worst draft archetype is now the best."

As to what Dark Ascension will soon add to the mix, he said that flippers that flip from creatures to non-creatures seem just odd enough to work.

Though Juza dropped his last round, and will have to work had to get a stellar finish today, I wouldn't worry too much about the Ol' Pro. This year is going to be the year of Pro Tours for him. A bit of a transition for sure, but anyone whose watched him rip apart Grand Prix field after Grand Prix field knows that no transition within the game of Magic will be too hard for Martin Juza to make, and then to master, and to embarrass you with how thoroughly he's mastered it.

Round 11 Feature match - David Ochoa vs. Craig Edwards

by Blake Rasmussen

Right about this time at every Grand Prix we come to a crossroads where the last two undefeated players are paired against one another. At Austin, that time has come as 30 pointers Craig Edwards and David Ochoa faced off for the right to remain the sole player with an unblemished record after 11 round.

And if you asked Craig Edwards, that player was likely to be David Ochoa.

His deck is better than mine, but I can still win," Edwards said. "I passed him his entire deck."

It was possible that knowledge could be used to Edwards advantage, as he pointed out that he had passed Ochoa two-thirds of his cards. Either way, one of these players would be leaving the feature match as the odds-on favorite to make the Top 8.

Game 1

Edwards mulliganed his first hand, but was still first on the board with an Avacyn's Priest and Silverchase Fox facing down Ochoa's Typhoid Rats and Markov Patrician. Both players had quickly revealed that it would be a classic matchup of green white aggro against blue black self-mill.

The Patrician traded with the Fox at the first opportunity, and both players reloaded. Ochoa cast Seloff Occultist and Edwards had an end of turn Midnight Haunting to put some pressure on his blue black opponent.

Ochoa's Murder of Crows made its fleeting presence felt, but was soon dismissed by Smite the Monstrous. Hardly phased, Ochoa simply played a second Murder of Crows.

Maybe Edwards shouldn't have passed so many crows?

Still, his tapper kept the 4/4 flier in check and Chapel Geist matched up nicely against the Falkenrath Noble. The result was a pretty clogged board, but Edwards helped break it open with a Spidery Grasp on a Spirit token that was blocked by Falkenrath Noble.

After the carnage of the attack phase, Ochoa accidentally flipped one card too many with Selhoff Occultist triggers and received a warning for looking at extra cards.

"I'm so bad at the game," said Ochoa, who also happened to be sitting at 10-0.

He started climbing back in with a Sensory Deprivation on the Chapel Geist and a Civilized Scholar. The Scholar was less civilized the following turn, crashing in for five with its Hyde side Homicidal Maniac. Ochoa furthered his board position with a Moon Heron.

Murder of Crows had Craig David thinking hard all round.

But Edwards wasn't out of it yet. He cast Bonds of Faith on Murder of Crows and played a Villagers of Estwald. That kept Ochoa from attacking the next turn, but with a freshly cast Skaab Goliath followed by a Skirsdag High Priest and Ludevic's Test Subject , that wasn't likely to last.

Prey Upon killed the High Priest, but there was still the matter of a possible 13/13 breaking out of its egg or whatever cocoon that is. The Moon Heron traded with the long-forgotten Spirit tokens, but when the Test Subject became an Abomination, it freed up the Skaab Goliath from Avacyn's Priest's clutches.

That finally did it. Edwards was finally out of gas and conceded.

"You went turn 5 Murder (of Crows), turn 6 Murder, right?" Edwards asked, looking across the table.

"You passed them to me!"

Ochoa 1 Edwards 0

Game 2

Technically, there was a Game 2. The DCI Reporter will record the final result of this match as 2-1. But for our purposes, Ochoa never hit a third land and Edwards played some creatures. That's really as descriptive as this game needs to be.

Seriously. Next game.

Ochoa 1 Edwards 1

Game 3

And what a game it was. It certainly made up for the practically nonexistent though technically there Game 2.

Both players jockeyed for position in the early turns. A Cloistered Youth turned into a Unholy Fiend and combined with a Spidery Grasp to kill a Rotting Fensnake. The Zombie Snake got its revenge when Corpse Lunge let it throw itself at the same evil little girl that had just killed it.

Another trick, Moment of Heroism on a Mausoleum Guard, let Edwards remove Ludevic's Test Subject when Ochoa blocked. Heroic indeed.

Still, the Guard didn't match up well against Selhoff Occultist and Murder of Crows, both of which Ochoa cast on successive turns. Both players, hoping to be the first to 11 wins, were playing lightning fast and not missing a beat.

Edwards attempted to fight back with a Villagers of Estwald, but it and the Mausoleum Guard were exiled in successive turns by Ochoa's backbreaking Sever the Bloodline.

"I didn't pass you that one, did I?" Edwards asked. He was assured he didn't.

It was little comfort, though, as Edwards' Silverchase Fox looked pretty weak in comparison to Murder of Crows and Selof Occultist.

David Ochoa, the lone remaining undefeated player after Round 11.

Edwards used Creeping Renaissance to regrow Blazing Torch, allowing Silverchase Fox to trade with Seloff Occultist, but when Ochoa cast both Civilized Scholar and Abattoir Ghoul the next turn – thanks to some Murder of Crows triggers – it was more than Edwards could take.

Ochoa 2 – Edwards 1

Sunday, 1:21 p.m. - Spawning Spiders with Tom Martell

by Blake Rasmussen

It was the first round of the first draft of the second day of Grand Prix Austin (ya follow?) and I was using the opportunity to cruise the draft tables and see who had drafted what and with how much success.

Or at least that was the plan. I got as far as table 21 when I stopped and stared at the awe-inspiring graveyard Tom Martell had stacked up with his blue green black Spider Spawning deck. What stopped me cold was the Spider Spawning sitting exiled next to his graveyard...which was topped with a Spider Spawning.

Tom Martell may have backed into one of the best decks in the room.

"I really love this deck," Martell said after easily defeating an opponent with a Butcher's Cleaver-wielding Daybreak Ranger, largely on the back of piles of 1/2 spider tokens with reach.

The Spider Spawning deck has received quite a bit of attention as Innistrad has matured as a format, and Martell had drafted a shining example of what such a deck should look like. And he did so somewhat accidentally.

"I got into it backwards," Martell said. He took mostly traditional picks with a few wrinkles until a Spider Spawning came to him late in pack two. Then, he knew.

"Ok, game on," he said he remembered thinking at the time.

His draft started normally enough, with a first-pick Sever the Bloodline followed by Falkenrath Noble, Claustrophobia and Forbidden Alchemy. It wasn't until he took his first green card – a Mulch – 12th that he took a look around the table and, not recognizing anyone, decided the archetype might be open.

Even then he wasn't willing to commit totally. He took a Silent Departure over Spider Spawning in the second pack, but when he saw another Spawning sixth pick, he moved in taking it over an Armored Skaab, which he called "probably a pretty terrible pick."

Still, when the Spider Spawning he passed with the second pick came back late, he knew he was all-in.

But when he looked at his pool, he only saw three creatures among an otherwise solid shell.

"The deck needs to get to 11 guys," Martell said. "Ten to 11 is optimal."

Those creatures are needed to make Spider Spawning actually spawn spiders and to also enable cards like Gnaw to the Bone, of which Martell was able to snag two.

Since he was so creature-light, that led to an interesting third pack. He took a Grave Bramble first – yes, first – followed by Avacyn's Pilgrim , Civilized Scholar, Deranged Assistant and three more creatures with his first seven picks, all the while passing multiple Midnight Hauntings and Bonds of Faith.

 

Grave Bramble
Pack 3, Pick 1...Grave Bramble?

It was when he turned over a 14th pick Mulch, which he had passed for a Deranged Assistant, that the deck finally came together just in the nick of time.

"This deck just fell into my lap and saved me," he said.

Besides 10-11 creatures and the obvious Spider Spawnings, Martell said the deck needed a critical number of milling cards, one of the best of which was Mulch, followed by Armored Skaab. The creatures it did play needed to be defensive in nature in order to allow the deck's engine to get going. So Grave Bramble became first-pick worthy, while the normally strong Orchard Spirit languished in Martell's sideboard.

He also had the Runic Repetition/Memory's Journey combo to keep from decking himself, but said he wasn't sure it was necessary. He even boarded it out against an aggressive opponent because the combo doesn't actually do anything. Mostly, he said, he liked having it against slower control decks and so he could mill as hard as he wanted without worrying about the size of his library.

The strategy worked relatively well, as Martell finished the pod 2-1, winning his final game with upwards of 40 life and half a dozen spiders in play.

Round 12 Feature Match - Brian Kibler vs. Raphael Levy

by Marc Calderaro

Brian Kibler's dubstep blared loudly from his headphones. Though headphones are not allowed during the match, Kibler often waited until the last possible moment to disengage. Hall-of-Famer Raphael Levy just shuffled silently, answering Kibler's jovial questions as he asked them. Both players had 27 points and a win here would position them very well into the second draft.

Game 1

"Will it give me the search for secrets?" Kibler asked as he laid his turn-one Delver of Secrets on the table. Levy simply nodded as Kibler revealed a Hysterical Blindness on his next upkeep flipping the Delver. Brian smiled. Sinking Levy to 17, Kibler followed with a Deranged Assistant. Levy's Doomed Traveler cracked back and Levy cast Invisible Stalker. The race was on.

Brian Kibler

Kibler's hand was Hysterical Blindness, Murder of Crows and lands, while Levy was stuck on two land – Elder Cathar, Slayer of the Wicked, Spectral Rider, all stranded in his hand.

17-10 in Kibler's favor as he laid the Murder of Crows on time at turn five

Remember when I said, "the race was on?" That race was rather a lob-sided one. Perhaps Usain Bolt against a Derelor or something. It was mostly Levy trying desperately to not die with just two lands. It didn't really work that well. A Civilized Scholar and all the looting from the Murder of Crows was just way too much sculpting.

Brian Kibler 1 – 0 Raphael Levy

"You know, that's the first time I've actually flipped a Delver on turn two." All thanks to Hysterical Blindness, too.

The soon-to-be famous Hysterical Blindness play from Kibler came last round. Kibler was on one life with four 4-power creatures attacking him. "I just double-blocked that one, blocked that one, then slammed the Blindness on the table." It was pretty perfect. Hysterical Blindness murdered everything and allowed Kibler to steal the game, and the match.

The Blindness certainly contributed to his win last game, though so would have Rapid Fire, so take that with a grain of salt.

Game 2

"Ugh. No Delver?"

"No Delver." Kibler frowned and laid a Deranged Assistant, then a Hanweir Watchkeep. Levy had Doomed Traveler and Elder Cathar, but after the Watchkeep came down, he went into the tank and thought a bit. He decided on a main-phase Think Twice would be prudent, but shook his head after the card was drawn.

Bane of Hanweir

Kibler's Assistant assisted him in pumping out a turn-four Pitchburn Devils and then assisted him in doing nothing the next turn to flip the Watchkeep into the Bane of Hanweir. Levy gained valuable tempo with a foil Silent Departure (foil provides extra tempo advantage, little known fact), but Kibler returned the favor by using Brimstone Volley on Levy's new Abbey Griffin.

The two combatants flipped cards around for a while. Levy, as almost the anti-Kibler, routinely laid his cards on the table and put his hands in his lap, while Kibler would feverishly and loudly flick his cards around within his hand shifting from the left to the right, sighing. Kibler is always fun to watch and listen to, jabbering this way and that, making comments about plays and laughing to himself. Levy is delightfully stoic. Mouth closed and level, only slightly smirking at the more egregious Kibler comments. Every once in a while you can almost catch an eye roll.

The American ultimately cast both a Stitched Drake and a Hanweir Watchkeep, and then made an audible groan when Levy laid his Moorland Haunt.

"Well, that's kinda rude!" [Note: Kibler said nothing when Levy took out Stitched Drake with a Slayer fo the Wicked. Rudeness is subjective, I guess.]

"Rude? What are you talking about?" Levy passed the turn back.

Raphael Levy

There was a fun match going on in the hands. Raphael Levy had two Feeling of Dreads left over after his Murder of Crows went onto the battlefield, and Kibler was still sandbagging that Hysterical Blindness to hopefully blindside Levy at the worst possible moment. The life totals were high, 15-17, but the breakdown of the peace treaty was soon to come. These creatures weren't made for defendin' if you catch my drift. On Levy's attack step, Crows and Doomed Traveler's Spirit token broke the treaty and took Kibler to 10, then Elder Cathar suited up with a Butcher's Cleaver.

Galvanic Juggernaut and Bane of Hanweir returned in kind. And when the Lifelinking Cathar jumped in front the Juggernaut, Kibler saved it by blinding the crap out of the old vet. However, that meant the two Feeling of Dreads in Levy's hand were to go unanswered. Not like he really needed them though.

With six power of flyers, growing evermore, thanks to the Moorland Haunt, Levy took game two without even revealing either of the powerful instants in his hand.

Brian Kibler 1 – 1 Raphael Levy

So Kibler lost his sideboard. He reached into his deckbox and realized it wasn't his. After shuffling for over five minutes while waiting to hear from the judge on whether or not the box would be found, Kibler declined to change any of his main deck after the box was found and returned. They were given extra time, and I actually caught the eye-roll from Levy this time.

Game 3

Unruly Mob and Elder Cathar started the game for Levy, and Kibler responded with Village Ironsmith and Deranged Assistant. He spent his next turn flipping the Ironfang.

Ironfang

"No Slayer, No Slayer, No Slayer..."[autocard Slayer of the Wicked] Kibler chanted as Levy laid his fourth land. No Slayer. Just a Spectral Rider and a Stitcher's Apprentice to flip the Ironfang back into its boring old Ironsmith form. Who would want to smith iron when you can have the metal as a fang? Not me, that's for sure.

Kibler shuffled his hand around. He had tons of great cards, but he was on two land and his draw steps were unfruitful. But Brimstone Volley, Hysterical Blindness, Kessig Wolf were all potential plays, thanks to the Deranged Assistant. Kibler re-flipped Ironfang and let out a dejected, "I'm done," passing the turn to Levy.

A second Elder Cathar came down pre-combat as Raphael left two mana for Stitcher open and swung with his white dudes.

After Kibler threw his 3/1 in front of Levy's Unruly Mob, the Frenchman sacrificed the new Cathar to his Stitcher to pump the Unruly Mob after Ironfang was declards a blocker, but Kibler responded with the Brimstone Volley, killing the Mob before it was able to turn into an all-out 90s-L.A.-riot of a mob.

Kibler was hanging on at 13-19. His Galvanic Juggernaut had a ray of light shot through it via Smite the Monstrous, but he replaced his monster with Murder of Crows – a decent replacement. But Levy's next play turned out to be the real monster. Demonmail Hauberk came down, then was offered the remaining Cathar to equip on the Spectral Rider (netting it a +1/+1 counter in the process). If you're counting at home, that's a 7/5 Intimidating ghost. The attack took Kibler to 6. He shuffled his cards in his hand a lot during the next turn. A lot.

Smite the Monstrous

After much, much deliberating, he sent in the Ironfang and Murder of Crows. He realized his best out was to get dig into Harvest Pyre and Grasp of Phantasms, so he sent in the creatures in hopes of looting with the Murder of Crows. Levy was on to his shenanigans, quickly counted and said, "Yeah that's fine." He went to 12. Kibler's plan was thwarted.

The Spectral Rider swung for the win the next turn, but Raphael had assumed the Hysterical Blindness and set his opponent to 3. He was right. Kibler had successfully stalled, but the game was still out of his reach. Silent Departure bounced the Murder of Crows, Slayer of the Wicked took out the Ironfang.

"Yeah, that's not good."

"It was good before?"

Brian Kibler 1 – 2 Raphael Levy

GP Austin Photo Essay - A Little Behind the Scenes

by Marc Calderaro and Blake Rasmussen

So there's always tons of goings-on at Grand Prixes. The main event is fun obviously, but there are plenty of other game states to be seen. There're are tons of side events going on including Standard, Legacy, Modern, Draft, and Commander.

Yes, I'm not exactly sure how that happened either, but it's safe to say it didn't come from the Innistrad draft tables.

There're always great artists signing and selling and drawing,

RK Post is planning his next illustration, at least, in my mind.

There're fun dealers ready to help to get the next big tech,

I just sold 20 Bloodghasts; I have no idea why."– Filip Roman

But one thing you don't usually get to see is some of the stuff "behind the curtains". I mean, we're certainly all familiar with this classic, black judge curtain,

Yes, I'm not exactly sure how that happened either, but it's safe to say it didn't come from the Innistrad draft tables.

but what's going on behind said curtain? I'm asking this question metaphysically as well as physically. Because here's what's physically behind this curtain:

Judges, behind the screen

But what's metaphysically behind it, is judges who've earned a brief moment of respite in between watching the Day 2 draft. Judges who are swapping stories, lamenting the terrible handwriting they have to try and interpret, getting opinions on calls they've had to make, and most likely, discussing their last Commander game (you see, judges are famous for liking Commander a lot).

How about the Grand Prix stream? We all know the GGs live stream, with Brian David-Marshall, Nate Price and Richie Hagon jib-jabbering away, but it's also nice to see things like this:

Even when BDM's not on camera, he's taking the time to watch these matches and learn just what's going on all around the tournament.

While we're at it, let's get another few shots of how Rashad Miller and the rest of the GGs crew puts the stream together.

Behind Nate and Richie
Ok, Rashad, I can see you're busy. I'll come back later.

Hmm... let's do one last trip.

For anyone who's competed at a large event before, you'll be familiar with this scene:

Hubbub Galore.

The large gathering of organizers, judges, and reporters who seem to gravitate around the large center stage. It's where all the action happens. Returning match results, making general announcements, posting the standings, and such and such. And there are lots of great people working around here who make this whole big Grand-Prix thing happen. But there's one person in particular I'd like to spotlight right now: Nick Fang.

Nick Fang seen here in his natural state, hunched over a computer, squinting, surrounded by paper.

Nick Fang is a large part of why tournaments run as smoothly as they do. Juggling all the results and pairings and disseminating all that information to us (that includes the public as well as the reporting staff). He spends so much of the tournament negotiating thousands of slips of paper, but somehow makes it look easy.

When I told Nick I was going to write a short little bit about him, he took a two-second break from his usually unbroken gaze into his computer to give me this look:

Speaking of people who run this tournament, it's safe to say nothing would happen smoothly without these people either.

rom Right to Left, Steve Port, Chris Richter, Jordan Barker, Riki Hayashi

Now most of these names you probably recognize: superstar judges Chris Richter and Riki Hayashi are household names and TO Supreme-O Steve Port from Legion Premier Events (side note: that's the Tournament Organizer that comes with guacamole and sour cream) runs great events up and down the Midwest. But Jordan Barker in the middle is a relative newcomer, he's been doing programming for the event and this is his sixth Grand Prix event.

When I asked him for any stories about what he does, he gave me a good example. "Well the clocks weren't running at the same speed for a while. For some reason, time was slower around one clock." These are the sort of issues it's easy to forget exist at all. And luckily, we don't have to deal with them, Jordan does. After Barker troubleshot the issue of time, I think it's safe to say that without these proud people, time wouldn't even work.

Jordan Barker: Timemaster

I had been buzzing back and forth, in between running judges, organizers, streamers, players, snapping photos of just a small segment of the happenings that don't involve playing for a long time now. And though I would love to talk to more people and hear more stories, there's more Magic to be had. And the Top 8 is shaping up to be pretty awesome. Back to the cardboard jungle!

Round 13 Feature Match - Jackie Lee vs. Pat Cox

by Blake Rasmussen

Both Jackie Lee and Pat Cox had made it through 12 rounds this weekend with only a minor blemish on their records. These two talented magicians were 11-1 and should be able to draw into the Top 8 with a win this round. The loser would have to win at least one more round, maybe two, to advance to the bigger stage.

No pressure or anything.

Cox had an aggressive black red vampire deck that packed a bunch of cheap removal and a small white splash. Lee's deck was something to behold and anyone could have mistaken it for a Standard deck if they weren't sure what format her Delvers of Secrets, Invisible Stalker and Runechanter's Pike were being played in.

Game 1

Lee didn't like her first hand, but her second, which yielded a first turn Delver of Secrets, was much better. The Delver didn't flip on turn two, but Invisible Stalker looked to make Cox's life miserable.

It did, however, flip on turn three, revealing a Think Twice that Lee immediately cast.

Jackie Lee is within striking distance of the Top 8. Not shown, one of her many flipped Delver of Secrets.

Fortunately for Cox, he had a Dead Weight to kill the flipped Delver of Secrets and an Ashmouth Hound followed by a Screeching Bat to start attacking.

Lee then set up the Standard-level combo du jour with a Runechanter's Pike, suddenly turning her Stalker into a much faster clock.

But it wasn't fast enough. Night Revelers, hasty thanks to the Stalker and a Deranged Assistant's Human Status, shifted the race significantly in Cox's favor. When Lee wasn't able to find any defensive help, all it took was two attacks for Cox to move up a game.

Cox 1 – Lee 0

Game 2

Lee had the same start as the previous game, only in reverse. Her turn two Deranged Assistant was followed by a turn three Delver of Secrets. Which was bad news for...well, actually, it was bad for Lee, as soon as Cox flashed a Rolling Temblor to wipe the board.

Lee's follow-up was strong, as Falkenrath Noble could prove dangerous the longer the game went. She played a second Delver and a Brain Weevil to continue pressuring the board.

Cox, meanwhile, was stuck on three lands for several turns, but caught up when he found the land to cast Slayer of the Wicked, killing the Noble.

But when the Delver of Secrets turned into Insectile Aberration, it forced Cox to use his Falkenrath Marauders – usually a devastatingly aggressive rare – defensively. And he did just that when he used it to block the Aberration the following turn. Lee simply replaced it by skipping all of the flipping nonsense and casting another 3/2 flier with Moon Heron.

The Heron and Brain Weevil continued to beat down, putting Cox to 3, and when Lee cast a second Heron, Cox conceded to her air brigade.

Cox 1 – Lee 1

Game 3

Lee's start was even more aggressive this time around, if that was possible. Turn one Delver of Secrets, turn two Invisible Stalker (no flip) could have been straight out of constructed. Unfortunately for her, the blistering start was halted by very much a limited answer when Cox cast Rolling Temblor.

When playing a win-and-in match, attacking with a Falkenrath Noble is good place for Pat Cox to be.

After that both players built their mana bases and boards for a bit, as Lee's Moon Heron and Fortress Crab squared off against Night Revelers, at least until Falkenrath Marauders showed up and got aggressive and began to tick up in size.

Tick. 4/4

Runechanter's Pike suited up the Moon Heron in hopes of stopping the marauding Marauders, but Dead Weight let the flying vampires get in for four.

Tick. 6/6

Lee tried another Moon Heron, but passed without blocking for a turn.

Tick. 8/8

Running out of options, Lee was forced to Think Twice in her main phase, hoping to find a Silent Departure and stabilize. She did just that, hitting the out she needed.

Bounce. 2/2

When the Heron picked up the Runechanter's Pike, it looked like Lee might turn things around. Unfortunately, a Falkenrath Noble and a second Dead Weight to clear out the Moon Heron pushed Lee to three life. And when Cox recast the Falkenrath Marauders, much smaller but just as hasty, he dealt just enough to virtually secure his spot in the Top 8.

Cox 2 – Lee 1

Round 14 Feature Match - Reid Duke vs. Raphael Levy

by Blake Rasmussen

This morning there was a short back and forth on Twitter between myself and a player who thought that Raphael Levy was sitting at 499 lifetime Pro Points, second behind Kai Budde. It turned out the player was thinking of Olivier Ruel, but it might just be that he was ahead of his time. Six years past his Hall of Fame induction, and a whopping 14 years since he broke onto the scene with a win at GP Lyon in 1998, Levy is still going strong and threatening yet another Top 8 on his already ridiculously stacked resume.

Standing in his way is Reid Duke, reigning 2011 Magic Online Champion and MOCS Player of the Year and all around emerging star. Duke had an odd green black blue deck with Spider Spawning that wasn't quite as clean as a polished version of the draft monster, but still had some powerful cards and a strong game plan. He would need it facing off against Levy's highly aggressive black white human deck.

Game 1

The smallest of the small creatures squared off immediately, as Selfless Cathar from Levy attacked into Duke's Typhoid Rats.

Duke played a Civilized Scholar to start looting, while Levy managed only a Village Bell Ringers to start pecking away. He then used Sever the Bloodline to keep the Civilized Scholar from civily, um, scholaring.

His follow-up wasn't too bad either. Levy cast Mikaeus, the Lunarch for four. Duke matched with a slightly less imposing 4/4 in Grizzled Outcasts, but Levy threatened to start spreading counters to his Village Bell Ringer and freshly cast Abbey Griffin.

The Bell Ringers stood in front of the non-transformed Werewolf the next turn, and even survived thanks to Mikaeus. Post combat, Duke used Altar's Reap and Corpse Lunge to kill Mikaeus, stemming the bleeding before the Mythic Human got out of hand.

Reid Duke, Magic Online master, candidate for the GP Austin Top 8, all-around nice guy, and owner of a Splinterfright that refuses to grow.

Duke reasserted himself with a 1/1 (for now) Splinterfright and defensive Manor Skeleton, while Levy buttressed his air force with a Chapel Geist. Duke shot back with an Evil Twin copy of the Chapel Geist.

But Levy wasn't without tricks of his own. He cast a Fiend Hunter targeting the Evil Twin and, with the trigger on the stack, sacrificed it to an Altar's Reap.

Meanwhile, Splinterfright had milled four cards, but no creatures and remained a pretty paltry 1/1. That also hurt Duke's Spider Spawning, which only could create one blocker for Levy's lethal air force. When Dead Weight removed that lonely spider, Levy's birds flew in uncontested.

Levy 1 – Duke 0

Game 2

Despite losing, Duke allowed Levy to play first, a curious move that was certainly unusual in this format. Whatever angle Duke was taking, it involved out-drawing Levy, making the extra card important. When Levy went to 6 on a mulligan, the cause was helped even more.

Be careful when putting Raphael Levy on the play. He may curve perfectly into Mikaeus, the Lunarch. Not that you can tell from his constant stoic demeanor.

Still, Levy came out of the gates running, turning a turn two Cloistered Youth into an Unholy Fiend and curving up with an Elder Cathar . Duke, for his part, cast an Orchard Spirit.

Being on the draw looked like it might be a mistake as Levy continued to curve perfectly into a turn four Mikaeus the Lunarch. Then again, that is the thing about Mikaeus...he fits anywhere on the curve.

Evil Twin Legend ruled Mikaeus, but Fiend Hunter removed the Orchard Spirit and when Duke cast a 1/1 Splinterfright, Purify the Grave actually killed it and left Duke creatureless.

With no other action and all the way down to three life facing far more than lethal, Duke scooped to the Hall of Famer.

Levy 2 – Duke 0

Sunday, 5:18 p.m. - Drafting with the Ocho

by Blake Rasmussen

At 11-1 and within shouting distance of the Top 8, David Ochoa needed a strong draft to propel him into his XTH Grand Prix Top 8. And as the last remaining undefeated player before falling to Pat Cox in round 12, he was the obvious choice to track his second draft of the day.

Ochoa started off with an Instigator Gang over Mentor of the Meek, Fiend Hunter and Falkland Noble. The flip card is both a legitimate bomb and as clear a signal as you can send in the first pick.

"Normally the pick would be Mentor of the Meek, but the player to my right opened Reckless Waif and was passing it," Ochoa said, also noting that he held his cards as long as he could because the player to his left had to pick before him.

Mentor of the Meek++Instigator Gang
Mentor of the Meek++Instigator Gang

The signal might have paid off immediately, but not with the Waif. The player on his right, David Saylor, passed him a Devil's Play (Saylor took a Slayer of the Wicked over the rare burn spell).

He followed up the two bombs with a few green creatures like Avacyn's Pilgrim and Villagers of Estwald, as well as some tricks

For pick five he had a choice between Crossway Vampires and Rakish Heir. Rakish Heir has a ton of upside, but Ochoa said he prefers the Crossway Vampires because their applications are broader and they fit into more decks.

His next big choice was at the start of Pack two when he saw Geistflame and Prey Upon as the top options, alongside a Butcher's Cleaver , Pitchburn Devils, and Scourge of Geier Reach. He flipped between the Geistflame and Prey Upon for a while, but ultimately went with the red spell.

"I could take the Prey Upon and have a reasonable shot at wheeling any of the non-Geistflame cards," he said. "Prey Upon is a lot weaker if you're base red, because the creatures are a lot worse, and I didn't know if I was base green or base red yet."

After that he took an Orchard Spirit over Hamlet Captain and another Rakish Heir, and a bunch of red and green creatures surrounding a Butcher's Cleaver in pack two.

Pack three presented him with another choice. He had picked up a Clifftop Retreat in pack two, potentially enabling a white splash. That option came up when he had to decide between a Brimstone Volley and Gavony Township.

"Volley is just very strong on its own," Ochoa said. "I just prefer consistency over power."

Gavony Township++Brimstone Volley
Gavony Township++Brimstone Volley

He also had to choose third pick between Into the Maw and Skirsdag Cultist. He said the choice was close, but the Maw gave him outs against larger creatures that he otherwise couldn't beat, while the Cultist was only better against low-powered decks.

The pick that raised this coverage reporter's overly developed eyebrows the most was relatively innocuous but showed why Ochoa is on the Pro Tour and I'm spending my weekends writing about, well, David Ochoa.

He left a Hollowhenge Scavenger – which I have regarded as unspectacular but possibly playable – in the pack and hate drafted a Moon Heron.

"There wasn't any way I was going to play with the Hollowhenge Scavenger. He's not really that great. But fliers is one of the ways I would lose," Ochoa said.

Instead, Ochoa just didn't lose again. Winning and drawing his way into the Top 8, Ochoa showed just how strong his sense of Innistrad drafting really is.

Sunday, 5:18 p.m. - Feature Match – Paul Rietzl and Luis Scott-Vargas … kinda

by Marc Calderaro

How I love wandering the public-events floor! How else would I have seen one of the best matches all day? Luis Scott-Vargas and Paul Rietzl competing together in a 2HG. Rietzl was playing BW and LSV was UGr with a lot of self-mill.

Two-Headed Giant anyone?

They faced down two Houston-based players, David Thomas and George Hayek. David's name might be familiar to you, and not just because of Wendy's. He has Qualified for multiple Pro Tours and has had some recent success on the Star City Games circuit. His Legacy Dredge build was making the forum rounds for a while. George has a bit less illustrious Magic career but said his most famous moment was as a 13-year-old during the Odyssey block beating everybody down because no one expected a little kid to play counterspells.

When I jumped into the match LSV was stuck on two land and so Rietzl was pretty much going 2 vs. 1. "You know we got a free mulligan too, right?" Rietzl quipped, lamenting his current board state. He had a Geist-Honored Monk, a Mausoleum Guard and a Voiceless Spirit, so he wasn't too out of it. Hayek and Thomas had started out relatively unopposed and took an early lead, much of it involving a flipped Garruk Relentless and many Deathtouch-laced Wolf tokens.

"I'm not going to lie, I don't know what Garruk does; I'm relying completely on you here." Rietzl turned to LSV and only half-chuckled, he was fairly serious.

Thomas had a Creepy Doll, Battleground Geist, Fortress Crab and Heretic's Punishment to accompany Hayek's double Voiceless Spirit. The pair still had Rietzl and LSV at 28 life, but there wasn't much for the Pros to do other that to wait for death. "I've only discarded, four times. So that's good, right?" Scott-Vargas was looking for fun in the right places.

LSV finally drew a third land on turn eight, or maybe nine and Rietzl pumped his fist. "Yes! Yeeess!" He was excited. It was a third land to play the Daybreak Ranger . But the land were still all forests and LSV still had many blue cards in his hand.

LSV and Paul Rietzl

The pros' life points slowly drained away, but in another two turns, LSV finally drew a Sulfur Falls and solved both his blue-card worries, and his Daybreak Ranger activation concerns. This got the ball rolling, and it was almost 2 vs. 2 again. Rietzl cast a Dead Weight on the double-Travel Preparation-enhanced Voiceless Spirit, then Fought it with the Daybreak Rangerthen, used the Morbid trigger to play a kicked Somberwald Spider. That's teamwork, that's Two-Headed Giant, and that's hitting your fifth land on turn thirteen.

Though they had gotten closer to stabilizing, the two were still on the losing side of the token war. "I can't get through. He has six Typhoid Rats!" Rietzl pointed to the Wolf tokens from Garruk.

The score was 17-30, but Rietzl and LSV had somehow gotten themselves back this game. They swung with everything they had: Splinterfright, a big Somberwald Spider, Voiceless Spirit, Geist-Honored Monk (with tokens), and the Guard. And they had a plan.

After seemingly bad blocks, LSV played Hysterical Blindness, and thanks to the Selhoff Occultist triggers and the Heretic's Punishment going around, David Thomas was down to ten cards in his library.

Thomas and Hayek

Thomas was ok with that; he almost saw it coming. He told me after the match, "I love Two-Headed Giant...You just have to be prepared for everything." And he was prepared. The next turn he played his Snapcaster Mage, flashed back his Blasphemous Act (obviously for 1 mana – seems fair), then flashed back Spider Spawning to make 7 tokens joining the Creepy Doll that survived the blast. Thomas and Hayek smiled, but that expression was short-lived.

Rietzl turned to his teammate: "Let's make a lot of tokens."

"Ok, I'm going to make six." LSV cast a Spider Spawning of his own.

"Ok, I'm going to make thirteen." Paul Rietzl cast Army of the Damned.

They had always been happy and chatty throughout the game, even when they were losing hard, but now it got even more fun. After the ridiculous token attacks, the score was 14-13. We've got a game, folks.

Thomas rightly counted the cards in his library, looked through Luis Scott-Vargas' graveyard, then cast Memory's Journey targeting Vargas' two Dream Twists and Memory's Journey ."

"All right. I'm sure you want to respond, but I have no idea how. You're on your own." Rietzl laughed and then stared at his teammate.

In between Dream Twist response activations, Heretic's Punishment was activated twice, netting land both times.

"Make sure you note both life total changes, zero. And zero." Hayek said laughing. Rietzl pointed to his notepad. "Oh, you did note it? Good." Rietzl's pad actually noted 13 written twice and crossed out both times, with a third "13" written underneath the other two. That's good record-keeping.

Thomas then flashed back his Memory's Journey so his library would be no longer empty. It was like half of a Doomsday. He put back Lost in the Mist, Battleground Geist and Spider Spawning. The pros' side had six Spider tokens, two Spirit tokens and five zombie tokens. The amateurs' was Slayer of the Wicked two Spirit tokens, four Spider tokens, a Creepy Doll and a Heretic's Punishment. They were simply waiting for Hayek to draw a Divine Reckoning so they could outright win the game.

As if it couldn't get more ridiculous, that's when the Bloodline Keeper came down for Rietzl. Just about everything died on the next attack as the Thomas and Hayek dropped to 5, and after a Stensia Bloodhall activation from Thomas, the pros were at 11. It was time for a Divine Reckoning. Please?

Nope. Thomas just made eight more tokens, successfully stalling, but still unable to alpha strike without dying on the strike back. Thomas only had one more turn for Hayek to draw the Divine Reckoning.

He didn't get there. Even though LSV didn't get a second land until, well basically never, the two had pulled it out.

"I thought we were dead. What if you had done this?" Rietzl then explained what he thought was a way for Thomas and Hayek to win. Both Scott-Vargas and Thomas explained why it wouldn't have worked.

"Oh. Well it's a good thing I wasn't you, because then I would've killed yourself," the Pro Tour-winner noted.

David Thomas and George Hayek put up a great and creative fight, but sometimes, you must remember, the phenoms are phenoms for a reason.

When I started watching the match, it was just the players and Eric Froehlich spectating. By the end, the match had attracted a crowd of about 30. Maybe Hayek and Thomas didn't win, but they've certainly gained some new fans.

Day 1 Undefeated Decklists

by Event Coverage Staff

Stanislav Cifka

Download Arena Decklist

Craig Edwards

Download Arena Decklist

David Ochoa

Download Arena Decklist

Melissa DeTora

Download Arena Decklist

Chris Poff

Download Arena Decklist