by Marc CalderaroRound 16 Round-Up and Partial FeatureMartin Juza vs. Jacob WilsonKevin Michael vs. Brandon Nelson
by Blake RasmussenRound 15 Feature MatchCedric Phillips vs. Shaheen Soorani
by Marc CalderaroSunday, 4:35 p.m.Drafting with Shouta Yasooka
by Marc CalderaroRound 14 Feature MatchBrian Demars vs. Robert Victory
by Blake RasmussenSunday, 2:48 p.m.Quick Hits: What player (besides yourself) do you think has the best shot at the Players Championship this week?
by Marc CalderaroSunday, 1:35 p.m.Photo Feature: Walking Around the Planes
by Blake RasmussenRound 13 Feature MatchCedric Phillips vs. Korey McDuffie
by Marc CalderaroRound 12 Feature MatchAlex Lloyd vs. Felix Tse
by Blake RasmussenSunday, 12:15 p.m.Drafting with Sam Black
by Blake RasmussenRound 11 Feature MatchThomas Holzinger vs. Felix Tse
by Event Coverage StaffDay One Blog
Round 11 Feature Match - Thomas Holzinger vs. Felix Tse
American Grands Prix, while generally well attended, are usually chock full of, well, Americans.
That's what makes this rounds' pairing of two international players who are still undefeated so great. Thomas Holzinger is in Worcester this weekend "on his way back" from representing Austria in the World Magic Cup, while Tse, a Canadian, isn't actually that far from his home country.
What he was far from, however, was a deck he was happy with.
"Hopefully you're not lying to me and both our decks are bad, because I was seriously seeing packs with like three playables," Tse said as he won the die roll, earning the right to play first with what he was claiming was a terrible deck.
"You're Black?! I cut you so hard in pack one!"
What Tze didn't know was that Black was Holzinger's splash color. The Austrian used it to help cast Krenko's Command on turn two, followed by Flames of the Firebrand killing a Scroll Thief the following turn.
Mind Rot from Tse emptied two lands from Holzinger's grip while Ravous Rats hit a third. Holzinger had made a Timberpack Wolf in the meantime, but his options were running thin and he only had Tse to 16 life.
"Getting owned by Kindled Fury."
And, lo, it came to pass.
Holzinger then drew a card that could finally start to break the game open. Roaring Primadox might not be able to get past Duty-Bound Dead on guard duty, but it could start bouncing the Bond Beetle Holzinger had in play...
...or he could have if Essence Drain hadn't slain the 0/1.
At least for the moment...
Tse paused knowingly when Holzinger made no play on his turn, correctly guessing the Yeva, Nature's Herald that was coming his way.
No matter though, as Tse cast Nefarox, Grixis Overlord to completely outclass anything Holzinger had going. A few turns of that and we were off to Game 2.
Tse 1 – Holzinger 0
Between matches, Tse tried to convince Holzinger to join his team for Grand Prix San Jose, the upcoming team Grand Prix. When Holzinger shared that he already had a team planned, Tse found himself still one member short.
Tse cast a Scroll Thief, but Holzinger kept going bigger and bigger, this time with, you guessed it...
"Yeva?" Tse posited, when Holzinger left four mana up. "I'm real good at guessing."
Now with a 3/3 Timberpack Wolf, Yeva and its Forcemage on the table facing off against Duty-Bound Dead, Walking Corpse, Scroll Thief and Wind Drake, Holzinger looked to be in commanding position, especially holding Cleaver Riot in his grip.
However, he declined to cast the powerful sorcery on his turn, instead opting to buttress his board with a Canyon Minotaur, all while holding back on lands to protect against any discard Tse might fling his way.
"Oh dear," Tse said, surveying a board that suddenly looked twice as hostile as before.
Faerie Invaders jumped into the fray as Holzinger crashed in again, reducing Tse's forces to nothing and Holzinger's to "just" Yeva. When Tse hit his sixth land to hopefully stabilize with Nefarox, Holzinger simply flashed in Vastwood Gorger to represent lethal damage even through the busty 5/5 flier.
Tse 1 – Holzinger 1
In stark contrast to the early, frenetic pace of the first two games, this one was positively glacial. The first play of the game – Rummaging Gobling – immediately died to Crippling Blight, while both players simply matched 2/2s with a Yeva's Forcemage and Walking Corpse.
The first big move of the game didn't come till Tse's fifth turn when he played Zombie Goliath. The 2/2s traded the next turn, but Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis was shot down by a Plummet in short order. When Zombie Goliath met some Flames of the Firebrand, we were back to square one.
It became considerably less intimidating wearing a Crippling Blight, and suddenly Holzinger was down to just six life.
I say attempted because Tse was able to respond with a very techy Hydrosurge.
Still, Holzinger was making up ground. Bond Beetle chump blocked and Tse found himself down to four life on the next attack. Sign in Blood made it just two life, but it also found a chump blocker of his own to hold off the Vastwood Gorger.
Life totals stood at 6 – 2 in Holzinger's favor at this point.
Holzinger drew and played Canyon Minotaur, setting up another road block to Tse winning.
"Come on, no creature!" Tse pleaded.
Holzinger, for his part, calmly untapped, attacked with his Vastwood Gorger into the chump block and ...
...extended his hand.
"Man, that sideboard Hydrosurge!" Tse exclaimed after the match. -5/-0 never looked so good.
Tse 2 – Holzinger 1
Sunday, 12:15 p.m. - Drafting With Sam Black
Thanks to his near daily online streaming and a pair of well-received articles, few players are as well regarded when it comes to Magic 2013 draft than Sam Black.
And when the Chronomaton master himself went 10-0 on Day 1 to find himself in first place, well, we'd be breaking all the coverage rules in the book not to watch and record his first draft of the day for posterity.
One of the most interesting parts of this gig is matching up the advice and decisions someone like Black makes in their public, usually online Magic persona, alongside how they act and perform while playing the same format at real tournaments. And having seen Sam Black do both, I can safely say, the guy takes his own advice.
He started off pack one in relatively unexciting fashion (this would become the theme for this draft), selecting Searing Spear over Knight of Glory, Deadly Recluse, Divine Verdict and a Fire Elemental.
Pack two gave him an Essence Drain over Arbor Elf, Switcheroo and an Aven Squire. Of course, after passing an Arbor Elf, Black immediately took a copy of the Green one-drop when his only other options were Divination and Evolving Wilds.
Then he slammed a Chronomaton for his fourth pick, barely even glancing at the rest of the pack. The man practices what he preaches.
From there the pickings got slim. Deadly Recluse was his choice over Rummaging Goblin while Titanic Growth was the only possible choice in a pack that also contained a Scroll Thief. He then selected Ravenous Rats over Naturalize, Disentomb over Zombie Goliath, Fire Elemental over nothing and picked up a Naturalize and a Reckless Brute on the tail end of the pack.
After pack one, Black's pool looked a bit shaky. He had a few Green cards and the Chronomaton, but just a few Black cards and Red cards to give him any semblance of direction.
Unfortunately for him, the packs kept not cooperating.
Acidic Slime third was the first real ray of light Black saw that let him know Green was certainly open at this point. Unfortunately, he had to pass a Bloodhunter Bat to take the Slime, a pick he later called "the hardest in the draft."
"I wasn't on the Mark – Huntbeast plan at that point, and look at my deck. It doesn't function without Farseek."
Pack three started with a pair of five drops in Sentinel Spider and Essence Drain, again, over little of note. Primal Clay was his third pick over Mogg Flunkies or another Rats, as Black said he needed to pick up cards he knew he would play.
From there, more unplayables passed his way, though he did take Unsummon 12th, a pick that surprised him given that he views it as the best Blue common. In fact, hindsight being 20/20, Black wondered if he shouldn't have been in Blue.
In the end, he didn't think his deck was horrible, but it certainly wasn't what he was used to. He had literally zero playable three-drops and had seven spells in his deck that cost five or more mana.
"It's not good," Black said surveying the deck," But I didn't pass anything."
Black believed the pod likely had a weak pool based on the packs he was getting passed and, looking back, didn't think there was much he would have done differently.
As it turns out, other players thought the pod had a weak pool as well.
"Was it just me, or were the packs really bad. I saw packs with like 10 unplayables," Felix Tse said as he sat down against Thomas Holzinger in Round 11. Both were in Black's pod.
Still, Black was optimistic. If he could hit five mana, his deck would hum, and he said Ravenous Rats and Acidic Slime both taxed resources very well together. He said his deck was hurting for a Plummet or two, but that he was never able to pick one up for free. Considering he felt like he had exactly 23 playable cards, he really couldn't have afforded to take Plummet over anything that would surely make his main deck.
"I have lots of removal and a lot of inevitability," Black said, looking over his deck. "Plus, I have Chronomaton. If I draw that, how can I lose?"
Round 12 Feature Match - Alex Lloyd vs. Felix Tse
Folks, it's the last of the undefeateds. After eleven rounds of play, Alex Lloyd and Felix Tse are the last two people with 33 points. Though this bodes well for their Top 8 hopes, there have been many an 11-0-er who took a nose dive the last few rounds. Perhaps we'll begin watching one of those right now. Or, just as common, these two players meet each other again in the Top 8.
Felix Tse won the roll and elected to play first.
Felix Tse started with a Duty-Bound Dead. Alex Lloyd commented on how much he like that card while laying an Augur of Bolas for himself. The look at the top three cards whiffed and Lloyd sent them all to the bottom. Lloyd thought a Fog Bank would help stabilize, but a quick Harbor Bandit changed things. The pirate (or "Rogue", I suppose) was getting +1/+1 from both the presence of Islands and the Duty-Bound Dead.
Tse attacked once but was careful not to walk into Divine Verdict as Lloyd passed with five mana open. A quick glance at Lloyd's hand showed he did indeed have the instant, so holding back was a smart choice. After a Crippling Blight took the Fog Bank out of commission and a Deadly Scorpion got in there for two, the totals were 13-20 in Tse's favor.
Lloyd flashed in a Faerie Invaders, then cast Switcheroo to take the Harbor Bandit and give his opponent a crippled Fog Bank. Tse winced as he had to Essence Drain his own evasive pirate, but the life-gain negated the Faerie attack and made the totals to 11-20.
"You've got the goodies, don't you?" Tse seemed a bit envious. Of course, that envy-filled statement was tempered by the fact that Tse was casting a Staff of Nin as he was saying it. Both these decks clearly had some fun toys. After a Divination and Invocation the board state was: Alex Lloyd – 2 Augur of Bolas, Faerie Invaders, 2 2/2 Flying Drakes. Felix Tse – Staff of Nin, Deadly Scorpion, Duty-Bound Dead and a useless Fog Bank. Tse added a Primal Clay as a 2/2 Flyer and passed the turn back. It was 8-14.
Lloyd finally cast the Divine Verdict when all his blue flyers smashed in.
"Oh you do have it. So, I'm not terrible." Though Tse binned his Primal Clay, he was relived that he didn't miss out on possible game-winning damage by holding back creatures earlier. When he saw the Faerie Invaders he feared he'd misread. Tse added a Scroll Thief and a Welkin Tern. He gave the turn back to Lloyd with the scores 7-8.
Lloyd drew, looked at the Artic Aven and Essence Scatter in his hands and attacked with everything save a 2/2 Drake. Tse pinged Lloyd, sunk to 3 life, untapped ... then scooped up his cards. Lloyd's flying assault was too much to handle.
Alex Lloyd 1 – 0 Felix Tse
Switcheroo, Divination, Clone and land was Lloyd's opening hand. This keep might have been scary against another deck, but Tse and he just played draw go for five full turns. This allowed Lloyd's slow hand to flourish. Tse broke the stalemate just before his sixth turn with a Faerie Invaders. Lloyd fired back with a Clone to copy it and left up mana to Negate the Essence Drain soon aimed at the 3/3. Tse still had a Crippling Blight to keep ahead in the race, but he would certainly rather those faeries be dead.
Lloyd still had the Switcheroo and it was nestled next to a Stormtide Leviathan in his hand. He also held an Essence Scatter and a second Negate (thanks to an Augur of Bolas). Lloyd's position was commanding to say the least. Though the score was 11-20, his six-card grip of all-stars dwarfed Tse's two-carder. He had the requisite lands for the big creature, he was just waiting for counter-magic mana. A Switcheroo exchanged the 2/2 Invaders for the 3/3. Tse now had control of the faerie clone.
Tse was hunching a bit in his chair. He was trying to eke through the remaining damage, but sensed how difficult it would be. He played Duress. Lloyd responded by bouncing his own Clone. Lloyd had run out of mana, so the Duress had the choice between the Scatter and the Negate. Essence Scatter hit the bin, but Tse despaired the coming tide.
Tse had the Spelltwine as the last card in his hand and he knew he had to use it this turn or it would be too late. He copied Essence Drain from his own graveyard but toiled among Divination, Unsummon and Switcheroo from Lloyd's. He cast Essence Drain on Lloyd's knew Griffin Protector and swapped his Scroll Thief with the Faerie Invaders which was previously his to begin with. Clones and Switcheroos can get confusing.
It was a good try from Tse, but now he had nothing left in his hand and the Islandwalking 8/8 took over the game. It came down with a splash and swam through Tse's defenses again and again. For insurance, Lloyd Cloned the Leviathan and made a Fog Bank to block any shenanigans. Did I say Lloyd's hand was good?
Alex Lloyd 2 – 0 Felix Tse
Alex Lloyd becomes the last undefeated player at Grand Prix Boston-Worcester, advancing to 12-0!
Round 13 Feature Match - Cedric Phillips vs. Korey McDuffie
At 10-2, both Cedric Phillips and Korey McDuffie were very much in the hunt for Top 8, but foremost on their mind as they sat down?
"Have you ever played against (Jon) Finkel," McDuffie asked, having just dispatched the legend last round.
"I did in Seattle, when we were both 6-1, but I played terribly," Phillips said. "I had sort of hoped to get revenge today."
Instead he'll have to settle for playing against the man who just dispatched Finkel on camera with a leg-up on a possible Top 8 berth on the line. No big deal.
"Good luck, Korey," Phillips said.
"I'd wish you good luck, but I want to win," McDuffie said.
Phillips mulled to six cards, but staring at McDuffie's hand, I'm not sure anything he could do would matter. Two Aven Squire, Ajani's Sunstriker and Odric, Master Tactician, all plus perfect mana? Seriously?
Seriously. McDuffie played the Sunstriker first and followed with an Aven Squire, curving right into Odric himself.
For his part, Phillips just had Talrand's Invocation.
"I was really happy when I was going to cast this. Now I'm not happy at all," Phillips said.
Two more Exalted creatures came down for McDuffie, pushing Phillips all the way to eight life with an active Odric on the board.
In other words, trouble.
With seven power on the table, McDuffie looked to be just one short ... until he drew a Show of Valor.
"Trigger?" McDuffie asked, pointing to Odric.
"Ok, you don't block."
"Ok, I'm dead," Phillips said, scooping up his cards. "I took a beating there."
McDuffie 1 – Phillips 0
McDuffie followed up with Ajani's Sunstriker, hoping to tip the race back in his favor. Only, had he known what was to come, he might have thought twice about playing the lifelinker.
Phillips struck in with Knight of Glory the next turn, though McDuffie started posturing like he had an Unsummon (he didn't). Phillips follow up Griffin Protector was beefy, but couldn't' stand in the way of the 4/4 Sunstriker coming his direction.
Lifelink put the life totals at 17-10 in McDuffie's favor.
"You keep playing like you have Unsummon, which makes me think you don't have Unsummon," Phillips correctly guessed before Cloning Ajani's Sunstriker and attacking for five with the Griffin Protector.
Another four-power attack from McDuffie set life totals at 6-16...until...
Yeah, no joke.
Instead, McDuffie just chump blocked with War Falcon as Phillips life total shot up to 15. McDuffie played an end of turn Faerie Invaders, but he was clearly in trouble. The best he could do was continue swinging with his own Sunstriker.
From there the players basically started swapping life totals. McDuffie went up 20-11, then was down 20-11, then was down 16-15, then was down 25-6.
In other words, he was losing ground.
Phillips dropped another bomb after that, Switcheroo –ing one of his creatures for the Ajani's Sunstriker that had kept McDuffie alive all this time. That was enough to convince McDuffie that he couldn't hope to catch up.
McDuffie 1 – Phillips 1
A quick mulligan from McDuffie was met by an equally quick keep on Phillips side of the table. He kept on six, but it was a comparably slow hand to the ones he had played out in the first two games.
And while McDuffie's hand was slow, it was also powerful, as Odric, Master Tactician made another appearance on the table ...
... until it was Cloned away.
Phillips, now on a roll, followed up with another haymaker in Serra Angel, followed by Sublime Archangel meriting another sigh from McDuffie. Phillips next attack was for a whopping seven damage, moving in with just his Aven Squire.
McDuffie was gamely playing on, however, getting in an attack with Faerie Invaders – for four, thanks to Guardians of Akrasa – but was also facing down a 10/10 Serra Angel on the next attack. Safe Passage fogged for a turn, but didn't help present a solution.
Neither did the lands he was drawing off the top of his deck. It was one thing to fight a Sublime Archangel-backed army. It was another to try and do so with nothing but air.
And when a fourth straight land off the top tipped into McDuffie's hand, he conceded to an overwhelming board presence.
McDuffie 1 – Phillips 2
Sunday, 1:35 p.m. - Photo Feature: Walking Around the Planes
The beginning of Day Two is the best – new format, so many players, so many decks, so many Top 8 dreams soon to be smashed to smithereens. I walked around the field during the first pod and scoped out the scene.
First, I saw Paul Rietzl trying to put the finishing touches on his triple-Arms Dealer deck. It was a pretty ridiculous-looking deck, but he lacked Mogg Flunkies, so he toyed with playing the great blue cards he'd drafted. I caught him doing the math to figure out how many targets you needed to make playing Augur of Bolas worth it.
Though he battled hard in the next round, I watched him get slaughtered by Thien Nguyen. Rietzl turned to me and said, "You know what happens when a deck with three Arms Dealers doesn't draw any of them? You lose." He continued, "And I saw 24 cards that game!" That was Rietzl's third loss, so it is unlikely the Top 8 is in his future.
I watched Matthias Hunt put a strong Blue-Green deck together. It was base-Blue, but he had Quirion Dryad and a heap of Green aggression to keep his opponent off-kilter while he was drawing and reusing cards. I like call the deck Draft-Gro. He wiped the floor with his opponent in Round 11 who, after the first game remarked, "Wow. That was fast!" Then Hunt, after the second game replied, "Yeah. I guess I am a little fast." The match was finished within ten minutes. Though in the next round, Craig Wescoe's strong deck was able to take him down. Going into the last Round 13, Matthias Hunt was 10-3.
I spotted a wild Lach-topus as well. Pro Tour Champion Chris Lachmann, recently married, was battling it out and took a quick game from his opponent. Near the end of Round 13 it appeared he was going to be 11-2.
Around Chris Lachman was Players Championship-competitor, Martin Juza. He was faced off against Tim Mezoff. He had some aggressive red and green cards with Rancor and Yeva's Forcemage and was using some interesting tokens for his Krenko's Command.
One of those pictured is Player of the Year Owen Turtenwald with a Mox Sapphire around his neck, but I don't exactly recognize the other one. Perhaps I'll just keep looking at it and it will hit me.
Melissa DeTora was doing quite well with what appeared to be very close to mono-black deck. Though I was only able to catch a few moments of her match-up, I saw her later and she flashed me the big thumbs up. That's the universal sign for, "One of us is too busy to talk to the other but I'm doing well." In case ya'll at home weren't sure what a thumbs-up means.
Right near DeTora, and most of the reason I missed her match, was streamer and all-around personality, AJ Sacher, playing against Jon Finkel, all-around winner. Sacher had drafted a decent Blue-Black deck, but with the lack of instant-speed removal, he thought he was dead to any Exalted deck. Sacher had seen the cards for such and deck, and was worried. So he took a gamble and tossed in some more Red cards to fight it. He was already splashing for a Searing Spear, but he took the final dive into madness and played two Volcanic Geysers. "My mana was bad to begin with," he told me.
Sadly, Finkel dismantled him with a consistent Blue-Green deck. Using Tricks of the Trade in both games, the greatest living Magic player took down the up-and-comer in two quick games. AJ said afterwards that he didn't regret his choice of Red, because there's no way he would've won the match without those two removal spells. So even though his land caused him problems, it's not like the replacement cards would've solved anything.
My favorite match, and favorite deck was Conley Wood's up against Craig Wescoe's. I'd asked Conley if he was planning of drafting anything wacky. Of course he said, "No. It'll probably just be Blue-Black Control or something." But when I saw him drafting his fifth-pick Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker, I knew I should've been watching him from the start. This deck was a little more than just Blue-Black Control. Woods ended the draft with an oddly shaped Grixis Control deck that left a couple great white cards in the sideboard.
Please remember when looking at this hand that Woods only has one Plains in his deck. Yes, yes, he has two Evolving Wilds, but if he didn't draw them turn two or three, they would barely be helpful. Woods did in fact draw the Plains by turn three, but something fairly ironic happened.
The turn-three Artic Aven hit a Murder immediately; the turn-four Rhox Faithmender found a Crippling Blight and became a 0/4 that couldn't block; and the Faerie Invaders got some bad blocks thanks to Safe Passage on its first attack. So Wescoe was able to line up and knock down all three of the reasons Woods had kept his hand. It was disheartening, though not for Craig Wescoe, who cruised to a win in that round.
However, the story ended still pretty well for Conley Woods. He was able to beat his next two opponents to finish the pod with a 2-1 record.
Oh, and check out the luxury seats that Wescoe and Rietzl seemed to have scored. When I was playing competitively, I had to constantly nudge my opponent, lest I mix up our graveyards or something. These two pros are in the comfort zone.
The Day Two scene is extremely vibrant. It appears many different archetypes are succeeded and there are some great pros still battling for the Top 8 finish. Draft Pod 2 is coming soon as are the last three rounds before the big cut. A 3-0 in this next round could keep many of the players on the fringes in hopes of the Top 8 dream.
Sunday, 2:48 p.m. - Quick Hits: What player (besides yourself) do you think has the best shot at the Players Championship this week?
Round 14 Feature Match - Brian Demars vs. Robert Victory
It's the first round of the last draft. After these three rounds, the Top 8 will be set in stone. Both Brian Demars and Robert Victory sit at 33 points – precariously balanced between a great finish and an decent one. This is Robert Victory's first Grand Prix ever, and this is his first feature match. If he was trying to contain his excitement, it really didn't work. He moved around often in the seat, and asked his opponent if he had ever had a feature match before.
Veteran Brian Demars kept calm and let Victory use his nervous energy. He responded politely and continued to shuffle his deck. After a mulligan from Demars, the first game was underway.
Brian Demars opened with two Swamps, an Island and a Walking Corpse with a Ring of Xathrid on it. Though that seemed decently aggressive, a Cathedral of War helping a turn-three Reckless Brute made the score 16-18 for Victory. He added a Guardians of Akrasa the following turn. The Reckless Brute would be attacking as a 5/3.
Not to be outdone, Demars returned the aggro favor by adding a Tricks of the Trade onto the Corpse. Now with the Ring counter, it was a 5/3 unblockable, regenerating dead body.
The two beat each other back and forth, and hard. Without casting others spells, the score were quickly 6-7. Victory really needed something that could stop this Walking Corpse. I know that sounds silly, but it was true. When the third counter came down onto the only creature Demars had summoned, it became lethal. Victory had two cards in his hand. Did he have the answer?
No. No he didn't. A Walking Corpse, wearing a ring, who knows the tricks of his trade, bludgeoned him to death. And the Reckless Brute, being cheered on by the Guardians in the Cathedral dissipated into the air.
Brian Demars 1 – 0 Robert Victory
To start the game, Demars considered keeping a two-Island hand. He had a Ring of Xathrid to play on turn two and a Hydrosurge to defend, but otherwise, it was uncastable black cards in his hand. After some thought, he kept the higher risk, higher reward play. He had plenty of Swamps in the deck and the hand would curve out well if it hit the land. Victory went to six cards then led with two Aven Squires. Joined by Crimson Muckwader, he quickly punished Demars's decision and took him to 14 before Demars could even consider playing a creature.
Demars, however, did find a third land to cast a Divination right on time. This sorcery found him a Swamp for turn four. He tapped out for a Harbor Bandit and equipped the Ring to it. After accept the turn from his opponent, Victory pressed the assault with a Volcanic Strength on an Aven Squire. Five more damage for Demars took him to 9.
Demars was able to temporarily stem some bleeding with a Giant Scorpion. He had the Hydrosurge in his hand, but he wasn't going to use it until the last possible moment. With one Island open, Victory feared an Unsummon and attacked with both fliers, eschewing the double-Exalted bonus. Though the Harbor Bandit was up to 5/5 status, after the double Aven attack it was 5-16, and Demars was barely hanging on.
Demars spent a long amount of time considering his plays the next turn. Eventually he cast a Duty-Bound Dead, made the Bandit unblockable and took Victory to 10. The Hydrosurge bought Demars one more turn by acting all Fog-like, and Demars, whose grip had goodies like Tricks of the Trade and Crippling Blight had many options from which to choose.
The Harbor Bandit was 6/6 – 7/7 with the exalted bonus, and the Tricks of the Trade would make it 9/7. But that was one point short of the kill. Demars knew there must be a way that he wasn't seeing. He didn't draw one of his outs, but he poured over his cards again and again to see something he might've missed. Eventually he gave up looking.
Demars scooped up his cards and hoped for a better game three.
Robert Victory 1 – 1 Brian Demars
"Wow. You really scared me with that one," Victory said. Victory came out of the gates screaming, but Demars was very close to parrying his attack just long enough to steal the "W".
Demars led off this game. He played a Merfolk of the Pearl Trident, a Walking Corpse, then finished curving out with a Divination to refuel. Victory had an Aven Squire into Guardians of Akrasa, so he kept the life totals close. It was 17-16 when he passed the turn back to Demars. Demars used Crippling Blight on the Aven and swung his opponent to 15 before he watched Victory drop a Bladetusk Boar which was unblockable as of now.
Demars didn't want to be uninvited to the unblockable party, so he played Tricks of the Trade on his Walking Corpse to get in on the unblockable goodness. Victory was ready for it though. After the totals became 13-11, he used Oblivion Ring to get rid of the scourge that ended him in the first game. No longer would Victory be tormented by a Walking Corpse just because it knows Tricks of the Trade!
Veilborn Ghoul from Demars was the first creature that would actually kill the Guardians if it decided to block (unlike the smaller Merfolk of the Pearl Trident and Augur of Bolas). However, Victory played a defensive Crimson Muckwader which leaped in front of the Ghoul the next turn.
Demars had a perfect answer for the Bladetusk Boar. He made a Primal Clay as a 1/6. But Victory had the perfect answer-answer. He untapped, laid a Torch Fiend and destroyed the Clay. Demars made a half-smirk, half-frown and nodded his head.
Victory laid another exalted creature and Bladetusk Boar had Brian Demars dead in two turns.
Robert Victory 2 – 1 Brian Demars
In his first Grand Prix ever, Robert Victory bumps up to 13-1. He's been doing so well, he immediately began talking with his more experienced friends who started advising him on intentional draws in the last two rounds. They were talking logic, but their tone was all emotion. They were extremely excited for their friend. It was fun to listen to.
Sunday, 4:35 p.m. - Drafting with Shouta Yasooka
Shouta Yasooka is the top-performing player today who's qualified for this week's Players Championship. At the second draft pod he was seated beside Melissa DeTora and across from Michael Jacob. I stared, looming over Yasooka's shoulder to see what the eleven-time Grand Prix Top 8 player was thinking. The draft ended up a little spicy, a little messy and a little greedy, but that just makes it all the more fun.
An underwhelming pack started the draft. Between a Deadly Recluse and a Furnace Whelp, Shouta took the spider (letting DeTora grab the dragon). Not committed to anything in particular the next couple packs, Shouta gained a Liliana's Shade, a Prey Upon, an Essence Scatter, and then a Flinthoof Boar. It was the sixth pick and the Japanese player had every mana symbol represented but white. For the next few picks he took Sleep, Mogg Flunkies and Watercourser, solidifying his position in the middle of a bunch of things. At least it seemed he'd ruled out black. That was a good thing as DeTora was vacuuming up all the black that Yasooka was passing. Among Red, Green and Blue, the second-to-last pick Rummaging Goblin certainly gave him pause to the availability of Red.
And Yasooka likes Rummaging Goblins. He likes them so much it was his second pick out of the next pack. Over the painfully unexciting Welkin Tern, the double Goblins were then joined by Yeva, Nature's Herald, Elvish Visionary, Primal Huntbeast and Arbor Elf (which was picked over Sentinel Spider). After the second pack finished with some Faerie Invaders,Chandra's Furyand a Goblin Arsonist it looked like Yasooka had a solid two-color deck, just spread over three colors.
There was still the third pack to try and pick a direction. It was certainly Green at the base, but whether there would be a splash of both Blue and Red or if there was to be a more solid third color remained to be seen.
At the beginning of the third pack, Yasooka basically wind-milled the first five picks. He went Centaur Courser, Flames of the Firebrand (over Searing Spear andChandra's Fury#2), Evolving Wilds, Turn to Slag and then a second Centaur Courser. But to make sure he wasn't actually making a Red-Green deck, Yasooka took a Tricks of the Trade over an Elvish Archdruid, a Duskdale Wurm and a Vastwood Gorger.
To round out the pack he grabbed a Canyon Minotaur, Plummet and a second Chandra's Fury. The Blue was too good to be denied and the Red-Green wouldn't have enough playables without it. So three-color it was.
Once Shouta got back to his table, he immediately had most of the cards ready.
Arbor Elf, Goblin Arsonist, Mogg Flunkies, Flinthoof Boar, Deadly Recluse, Elvish Visionary were his early drops. Two Rummaging Goblins, two Centaur Coursers, Yeva, Nature's Herald, Canyon Minotaur and Primal Huntbeast rounded out the rest. Only a Faerie Invaders sat perched on the top of them all.
The non-creature spells involved Flames of the Firebrand, two Chandra's Fury, Turn to Slag, Prey Upon, Plummet and Tricks of the Trade. But that's not enough cards. There were still some to be added. Shouta strongly considered two Wild Guess which could've helped him even out his draws. But requiring two red was a little too much to handle.
So instead of playing that double-costed spell, Yasooka added a double-blue sorcery, Sleep, and another blue creature with Watercourser. What looked like a blue splash had turned into close to a blue wave.
He has three blue sources and a double-blue spell. He has a two-drop that requires both a Forest and a Mountain to be good and there're are seven and six of those, respectively. He has a Yeva and only seven creatures to use with it. The deck is powerful to be sure, and the removal suite is basically a Searing Spear away from greatness. However, if his opponents can effectively shut down his Rummaging Goblins, Yasooka will have a tough time finding everything he needs to make this deck function smoothly.
But all this gibber-gabber is small potatoes for this Pro Tour Team Champion. If he doesn't do fantastically in this last pod, and he missed the Top 8, he still has a little thing called the Players Championship to look forward to this week. He'll be competing for $40,000 that, quite frankly, he has a pretty good shot of winning.
And Shouta only has to draw well for three matches. The list looks more than good enough to do that, even if it does look a bit odd. After the next two rounds, I asked him he liked his deck. He stared me down and said, "No. No. No." Yasooka had just won his last two matches with it.
Round 15 Feature Match - Cedric Phillips vs. Shaheen Soorani
"This tournament is actually going as well as it could be going for what we're doing," Cedric Phillips said, sitting down for something like his third feature match of the weekend.
"I'll do my regular lose my win and in and just miss the Top 8," quipped Shaheen Soorani back.
"I do the same thing," Phillips mused.
At least one of them would get the chance to play for the Top 8 next round, with both players at 12-2 coming into Round 15. Which one, you ask? Read on to find out!
"It's a keeper," Soorani started. "Lands and spells mean keep."
Phillips had both a land and a spell on the first turn, starting Arbor Elf into Crusader of Odric and Healer of the Pride while Soorani spent his first few turns making a Walking Corpse only to sacrifice it to Disciple of Bolas.
A second Prey Upon let Phillips take out the Shaman on his next turn, and Soorani's board was subsequently cleared when his Disciple traded with the Forcemage.
"Had it," he declared.
Where he had been on the offensive the entire game, Phillips was suddenly slowed, dismayed at the 5/6 standing in his way and the seven cards in Soorani's hand. An attack with Elvish Visionary, Healer of the Pride and Crusader would bring Soorani to just one life, but would leave him with virtually nothing in play. In the end, he opted not to attack.
At this point life totals stood at 26-4, but Soorani started taking Sphinx-sized chunks out of Phillips' life total, taking over the game with his high-powered, if sometimes clunky, Grixis deck.
A blank would have drowned Cedric, but Deadly Recluse almost cruelly gave him a small bit of hope. Not only did it gain him two life, but it provided a much-needed flying blocker.
Soorani 1 – Phillips 0
"Is this a race?" Phillips said as he played Prized Elephant. "Did this suddenly become a race?"
Somehow it had, and Soorani was considering just those implications when he touched his Water Courser debating an attack.
"Alright, they're coming in," Soorani said, taking the bait and sending the team.
Phillips tried to get in the next two turns to take up his part in the race, but each time Soorani stopped him.
"Not like this. Am I getting Downpoured out of the Top 8?"
"Not like this Shaheen. Not off my one bye. I've come too far. I thought we were friends."
The Recluse jumped in front of the flying 4/3 Primal Clay on Soorani's next attack, while the Timberpack Wolf chumped the Watercourser. A second Watercourser rounded out Soorani's turn as Phillips fell to eight life.
Unfortunately for Soorani, when it rains it pours, and he quickly fell to just five cards on a pair of mulligans, then drew nothing but lands for his first few turns.
He did manage to cast a Harbor Bandit to attempt to hold back Phillips forces, but just...kept...drawing...lands.
Meanwhile, Phillips started attacking with a Deadly Recluse while an Elvish Visionary and Yeva's Forcemage sat back on the table. Phillips followed up with a Prized Elephant to really start making life difficult.
Then Soorani finally drew his first spell of the game: Downpour.
When it rains, it pours.
"Just to add embarrassment to this last game," Soorani said, casting the Downpour that, ultimately, just delayed the inevitable. Lands, lands and more lands had doomed Soorani out of Top 8 contention.
Phillips 2 – Soorani 1
Round 16 Round-Up and Partial Feature
The last round was a flurry of activity and calculations. Alex Lloyd at 43 points and Robert Victory at 40 points were alleged shoe-ins, but after that, it was a mess.
Jason Ford, Thomas Holzinger, Shouta Yasooka, James Nunes, Brian Demars, Cedric Phillips, Dan Jordan and Kevin Michael all had 39 points. And Brandon Nelson and Martin Juza were still alive with 37 each. Demars was paired against Jefferey Szelzki who was out of contention. Demars received a gracious concession, so he was also in. Yasooka and Nunes were paired against each other and drew. But since the Japanese player's tie-breakers were better, though going to 40 points was a lock for Yasooka, it might not be for Nunes.
Jason Ford was the highest 39-pointer, so he felt comfortable drawing with Robert Victory. And Thomas Holzinger, with the second-highest tie-breakers of the 39s, also drew to 40 with Alex Lloyd.
That left Cedric Phillips and Dan Jordan playing for a spot, and Brandon Nelson and Kevin Michael. There seemed a slight chance that Martin Juza could make it as well, but since he was paired down, even if he won, he would likely finish at the bottom of the pack of the 40-pointers.
I started watching both the 37-point matches because the Phillips-Jordan match was on camera, but ended up focusing in on the Alex Michael-Brandon Nelson match, knowing that it was likely to determine someone's Top 8 berth. Martin Juza and Jacob Wilson had some great plays, but the Nelson Michael match was too intriguing to avoid.
Brandon Nelson started with a Torch Fiend and a Kraken Hatchling. He used the Fiend and a Hydrosurge to take down an early Ajani's Sunstriker from Kevin Michael. Michael's Mogg Flunkies and Aven Squire held the fort and the life totals early were 16-20 in Michael's favor.
Michael pressed his advantage with a Serra Angel. Here's the thing about exalted: a 4/4 flyer is bad, a 5/5 attacking flyer is worse. Nelson watched his life total drop to 12, then to 6.
Nelson was able to faux-stabilize with a Faerie Invaders. Fearing extra burn and tricks, Michael left the Angel behind, but still brought in the Mogg Flunkies and Crusader of Odric. Nelson traded the Crusader with the Faeries and let his Hatchling absorb the Moggs.
Even though Nelson had a Hellion Crucible with two counters on it, he only had a Chandra's Fury in his hand which would not stop the large winged assault coming at him. The game was over shortly after that.
Kevin Michael 1 – 0 Brandon Nelson
Nelson had to go to mulligan-town but kept his six-card hand. Michael offered him no relief for being down a card. He cast a turn-two Knight of Glory and quickly brought Nelson to 14. Michael cast Pacifism on Nelson's Scroll Thief, then when the Knight was blocked by a Torch Fiend, a Show of Valor took it down again.
Nelson finally caused Michael pause with a Bladetusk Boar. Eventually Michael attacked and Nelson snap-traded. Michael realized why the next turn. Nelson cast a Talrand, Sky Summoner. His plan was not to win with a Boar, it was to win a Drake. Nelson cast a Divination and earned himself a Drake. Then he cast a Tarland's Invocation to earn himself three more.
It was elementary after that.
Kevin Michael 1 – 1 Brandon Nelson
It was the rubber match. If Kevin Michael won, he was in. If Brandon Nelson won, he might be in. Or, it was possible he was just dream-crushing this man who has been on the bubble in three previous Grand Prixes.
Michael led off this game and made a Mogg Flunkies and Aven Squire. At 18, staring down those two creatures turned sideways, Nelson considered his options. He had a Torch Fiend in play, and an Unsummon in his hand. He had a Talrand again awaiting, so he just had to buy enough time to get some Drake action. Then, like the last game, just take over everything.
Michael replayed the Flunkies and made a War Falcon to join it before passing the turn. Again, Nelson's Bladetusk Boar gave Michael pause. He Pacified it before crashing in with his dudes. This time Torch Fiend died taking three damage from the Flunkies and the flyers took Nelson to 14.
Though Nelson cast another Boar, Volcanic Strength was exactly what Nelson feared. And it came out of Michael. Immediately Nelson said, "I was hoping you didn't have that when I cast the Unsummon." Nelson drew dead for a turn, and then it was he who was dead.
Kevin Michael 2 – 1 Brandon Nelson
Kevin Michael advances to the Top 8! And Brandon Nelson again comes so close and still has a long ride home.