by Nate PriceFeature Match Round 8Karla Carmona vs. Jackie Lee
by Marc CalderaroFeature Match Round 7Shuhei Nakamura vs. Carlos Pal
by Marc CalderaroSaturday, 6:30 p.m.Fear and Loathing in Costa Rica(Minus the "Fear" and "Loathing" parts)
by Marc CalderaroFeature Match Round 6Max Tietze vs. Miguel Gatica
by Marc CalderaroFeature Match Round 6Max Tietze vs. Miguel Gatica
by Marc CalderaroFeature Match Round 5Sam Black vs. Marino Donato
by Nate PriceFeature Match Round 4Reid Duke vs. AJ Sacher
by Marc CalderaroFeature Match Round 3Misha Gurevich vs. Rodolpho Nunez
by Nate PriceSaturday, 2:00 p.m.Demographically Speaking
by Marc Calderaro and Nate PriceSaturday, 12:41 p.m.Sealed Deck Exercise
by Nate PriceSaturday, 12:00 p.m.Sealed Deckbuilding Exercise
by Nate PriceSaturday, 10:58 a.m.Return to Costa Ravnica
by Event Coverage StaffInfo: Fact Sheet
Saturday, 10:58 a.m. - Return to Costa Ravnica
With the Return to Ravnica prereleases just around the bend, it has been fun to ask players which guild they belong to. If you don't know which guild you are, find out. The question got me to thinking, which guild would the part of Costa Rica that I have been exposed to here in and around San Jose be a part of? The answer was a little more complex than I expected.
First, there's the massive Arenal Volcano, shrouded in mist, yet visible from the outer edges of town. Between this and the untamed rainforest that coats much of Costa Rica's central valley, it's clear that there is at least some Gruul here. The savage nature of the wilderness, the untempered reactions of the wildlife, it's a natural edge to the wanton, contrived destruction of the Rakdos. It's definitely Gruul.
But look a little bit closer and you see an incredible cycle of life going on beneath the canopy, where fallen trees host decomposers like fungi, returning the nutrients housed by the tree to the environment, in turn being used as food for higher animals. Hunters kill prey, and the dead serve as resources for the living...sounds mighty Golgari to me. About the only thing missing is some sort of zombification.
Looking closer to the cities and you see something that would change your mind one more time: the people. Descendants from many different lines of peoples, from European, Carribean, and Native bloodlines. Despite these differences, they have come together to carve a thriving city out of the wilderness. Their teamwork and desire to make the lives of the people who inhabit Costa Rica and their fierce national pride sound very Selesnyan to me. All for one, and one for all.
But then again, this carving out of a habitat from a feral exterior could be seen as domination over nature. You could take a look at the booming technology industry in Costa Rica, the trams that transport tourists through the jungles, and the towering buildings that stand in defiance of nature and declare them Simic. I wouldn't disagree.
After a bit more thinking, it became clear to me that there's a reason that Ravnica is divided into the ten guilds: every city has aspects of all of the guilds. Sure, they might have a district that is a little more dangerous, where things tend to be chaotic and disorganized (Rakdos). They might have a technological complex where daily experimentation strives to advance science, though it may come at a cost (Izzet). They have their centers for law and order, their courthouses and police stations (Azorius). They may even have their seedy underbellies, where everything has a price, most of all information (Dimir). They even often have centers for religious enlightenment, though most of them probably aren't as manipulative as the Orzhov.
The point is that every city is made up of all guilds, which means that each citizen of a city can choose to align themselves with whichever guild they feel suits themselves the most. Lawyers and police officers join Azorius. Scientists and students join Simic or Izzet. Crazy people join Rakdos or Gruul. It's up the them to determine where they feel at home. So the question now becomes where do you feel you belong? Which guild are you?
Saturday, 12:00 p.m. - Sealed Deckbuilding Exercise
One of the most informative things we can do during a Sealed Deck Grand Prix is to take a generic, unopened Sealed Deck pool and take it around to a collection of Pros to get their opinions on how to build it. We've had some great successes with this exercise in the past, getting distinct decks every time we've asked. We've had some hidden successes, such as a couple of decks that were four cards different, but they were so for very interesting reasons.
For reference, here is the Sealed pool for Grand Prix Costa Rica:
We'll be taking it around to get it looked at as the day goes on, getting different takes on it from various players around the room. Hopefully, getting insight into the different ways that they approach our pool can help you in Sealed Deck events in the future!
Saturday, 12:41 p.m. - Sealed Deck Exercise
Putting a seemingly mediocre pool in the hands of someone like Josh Utter-Leyton is one of the best things you can generally do. Though he can't make up cards that aren't there, "Rapter" knows exactly how to separate the good from chaff and how to lean on otherwise-lackluster cards to eke out wins where they don't belong. I found him shuffling and reshuffling his Sealed deck for the main event. He was drawing opening hands, playing out the first few turns of each imaginary game, then starting over again.
When I handed him the pile I had, he quickly started flipping through the stack, pausing only momentarily between each color. "Well, we're obviously not playing white. Maybe a splash for Oblivion Ring. Maybe." He put the O-Ring on the table and tossed the remainder of the white cards by the wayside.
"Blue definitely has some stuff." Though Utter-Leyton still didn't seem impressed, he recognized there was the critical mass of decent cards to form a main color. He pulled out nine creatures (counting Talrand's Invocation) that he definitely wanted to play, while making a small separate pile with cards like Scroll Thief, Harbor Serpent, Jace's Phantasm and Encrust as the "If-I-Have-To" Pile.
"Black has some reasonable commons but nothing to actually draw me to the color." Utter-Leyton continued, "It looks a lot like Blue, but without the rares. Talrand's Invocation is a rare, by the way." He put no black cards aside and moved to the next color, hoping to find something better to pair with his good-enough Blue. He barely paused at the red before declaring, "It's better than Black, but worse than the Blue." He liked Red enough to make a small pile of dragons and removal, while adding two Canyon Minotaurs to the "If-I-Have-To" stack.
After cycling through the Green Utter-Leyton declared, "aaannndd ... we have no deck. This is going to be tough." I asked about the green and he said, "There are seven cards that are playable and I'm happy about none of them. It looks like we're Blue-Red." He despondently made piles by converted mana cost and counted them up.
Goblin Arsonist, Welkin Tern, Mogg Flunkies, Dragon Hatchling, Artic Aven, Wind Drake, Watercourser, Void Stalker, Furnace Whelp, Firewing Phoenix, Bladetusk Boar, Faerie Invaders, Sphinx of Uthuun made up the creature base, with an Oblivion Ring, Talrand's Invocation, Essence Scatter, Searing Spear and Volcanic Geyser as support. "Eighteen cards." Utter-Leyton sighed. He looked into his also-ran cards and threw in Negate, Scroll Thief, two Ring of Evos Isle, Canyon Minotaur and Encrust.
He vacillated about the Encrust. It was the twenty-fourth card, and he said the deck could use it. "I'm not really happy to be playing these Rings [Ring of Evos Isle], but I think they're better in the deck than the Canyon Minotaur." He took out the 3/3 and kept the Encrust.
"I can win with this. My actual sealed deck is much better than this, thank god, but this can win." While making up a land split, he realized that and eighteenth land was probably better than the second Ring of Evos Isle. The deck had mostly blue cards, three greedy red cards (Dragon Hatchling, Furnace Whelp and Firewing Phoenix) and a white splash for Oblivion Ring. The eighteenth land would allow him to up his Plains-count to three, which made him feel a littler more comfortable.
The deck looked like this:
On the subject of any other possible builds with the pool, Utter-Leyton said that he could see some people wanting to use the unexciting black cards to fill out the holes with Blue, but other than that he was confident that this was the correct build. Is it? What do you guys think?
Saturday, 2:00 p.m. - Demographically Speaking
It is almost universally the case that the highest percentage of players in a Grand Prix is the locals. You see it occur from the US to Japan. Here in San Jose, things are no different. Of the 364 players in the tournament, 249 of them, that’s 68%, are Costa Rican. Beyond that, the three biggest sources of players are from neighboring Panama, Mexico, and the United States. As always, there are a few world-travelers in the mix as well, ranging from Germany and Spain to Japan. Here is the official breakdown:
Feature Match - Round 3: Misha Gurevich vs. Rodolpho Nunez
The World Magic Cup was an incredible opportunity for players from all around the world to compete on an international stage. Many players who went to Gen Con this summer had never even left their home country before. This was the case for Rodolpho Nunez, who before traveling to Indianapolis to compete on the Costa Rican national team, had never left Costa Rica.
Nunez said he really enjoyed the trip, other than missing two different flight connections, landing in Indiana three hours before he had to play, then going 2-5 and "losing it for my team." "Yeah. That part wasn't good." But Nunez was thrilled to play against so many talented players, to be able to work with great people from his home country and travel to places he wouldn't have even considered otherwise. "The 'free' part was very good for me." Nunez waltzed into round three with two byes thanks to Planeswalker Points, and settled in to face Misha Gurevich.
Gurevich is an American Magic mainstay. Hailing from Madison, Wisconsin, Gurevich was part of the crew who went zip-lining in the rainforest a few days ago, and was disappointed only by the fact that he wasn't able to rock both the protective zip-line helmet and his rather famous hat at the same time.
The two players readied for their match. A die was rolled and after Gurevich crit-failed, Nunez elected to play first.Misha Gurevich
Misha Gurevich started even faster with a Kraken Hatchling into a Void Stalker, then a Wind Drake into a Talrand, Sky Summoner. The Midwesterner attacked in with his lone flyer for the first damage of the game. But Nunez attacked back with everything, then used Prey Upon to take out the blue legend. After a Knight of Glory turned the Huntbeast into a 4/4, it took down the 0/4 kraken baby on the next attack. The scores became 18-18.
Over the next few turns Gurevich added only a War Falcon to the board. And though he was hitting for two every turn with the Drake, his board was falling behind. He blocked Nunez's Huntbeast attack with the Void Stalker the next turn and shuffled a new Aven Squire back into Nunez's library. The persistent Wind Drake made the totals 18-10. But Gurevich was still falling behind on the board and his lead looked unsustainable.
He made an Attended Knight to have seven total power on the board. But when a Mwonvuli Beast Tracker searched up a Sentinel Spider, things began to look grim. But Gurevich remained calm. What did he know? Nunez wondered the same thing, but in a moment, Gurevich revealed his secret. He had just be baiting out the win the whole time.
He took a second, counted up his damage, looked at his opponent and his hand and cast Sleep. Nunez looked at his pile of creatures and turned them all sideways. Gurevich took his opponent to 3. One draw step later, Nunez packed it up for the next game.
Misha Gurevich 1 – 0 Rodolpho Nunez
The Flinthoof Boar put immediate pressure on Gurevich and Nunez followed with a Odric, Master Tactician. That's a bit more pressure. Gurevich cast a Oblivion Ring on Odric before he cause any real harm, but Nunez was still blazing out of the gates. The Costa Rican cast a Flames of the Firebrand to take out almost all of Gurevich's early plays: both an Attended Knight and a Chronomaton. Gurevich was down to 11 and had only a Solider token to his name.
Captain's Call came out for both players and Gurevich supported his with a Faerie Invaders. But that's when Nunez pulled out the trump and cast an Oblivion Ring on Gurevich's Oblivion Ring. This brought back the Odric now supported by the Captain's Call tokens. On the next attack, all the creatures came in. And Odric's killer trigger stacked.
Though Gurevich had a Divine Verdict ready for the Odric, Nunez still was able to choose how everything blocked. Because he had a Warclamp Mastiff and another Captain's Call waiting in his hand, he made all creatures block everything. This totally wiped Gurevich's board. After combat, he made three more soldiers to join his war-hound and the Costa Rican looked far in the lead, even though the scores were 11-16.
Gurevich fought back into the game and used a timely Essence Scatter to stop a Vastwood Gorger, but a Predatory Rampage proved more than enough for the American who said, "Yeah that's it," and when to the third game.
Misha Gurevich 1 – 1 Rodolpho Nunez
This was the first game Gurevich played the opening land. He cast a sad Scroll Thief who had to just sit and stare at Nunez's early Elvish Visionary and Mwonvuli Beast Tracker (searching up the Sentinel Spider). Attacking into that seemed like a less-than-optimal play.
Again, the two players added Soldier tokens. Nunez had Captain's Call and Gurevich made one of those and raised an Attended Knight. The board continued to fill up and neither player could attack profitably. Because of Healer of the Pride on Nunez's side, he was a little up on life, but it was nothing that Gurevich's deck couldn't handle. Especially because he had the game-one-winning Sleep already in his hand.
At turn eight, Nunez sent everything in. a 1/1 Chronomaton, Elvish Visionary, Healer of the Pride, three Solider tokens and a Sentinel Spider. Hopefully sensing that a Safe Passage was coming as this was a rather awkward-looking attack, Gurevich blocked with only tokens but nothing substantive that could possibly die. He lost all the tokens, but only took three damage. When he untapped, his board was still formidable with the Attended Knight , Kraken Hatchling, Wind Drake, Scroll Thief and a 4/4 Chronomaton. But that formidability thing quickly left the field with a Predatory Rampage the next turn. Nunez sure had a lot of cards to mess-up combat.
Gurevich minimized the damage with Divine Verdict on the Sentinel Spider, Unsummon on the Healer of the Pride and a post-block pump of the Chronomaton, but he still went to 9 and lost a significant portion of his board. The score was 9-22 after Nunez got his turn back and cast the Healer of the Pride and a Primal Huntbeast.
He turned his BeastTracker, Visionary and three Solider sideways and said, "Again." He lost the two non-token creatures but took Gurevich to 6. On the Costa Rican's end-step, Gurevich made a Faerie Invaders and turned the Chronomaton 7/7.
The game was a series of ebbs and flows as Nunez made many aggressive attacks that lowered the amount of creatures on the board, then stalled and had to rebuild. The turns went back and forth without action. Chronomaton was now a 10/10 and a new Ring of Evos Isle started to build Gurevich's Wind Drake. If Nunez didn't make something happen, this game was going out of his reach. He sat and frowned at the board before saying, "Go." He had a Show of Valor in his hand, but could only take his opponent to 2. It wasn't enough.
Nunez untapped and frowned. It was a Flames of the Firebrand. If he had attacked and used the Show of Valor last turn, the red burn spell would have been able to finish Misha Gurevich off. But now, it was too late. Rodolpho Nunez surveyed the board, but had nothing that could save him from the rather of the double-digit Chronomaton.
Boom! Smash! Various other Robot Noises!
Misha Gurevich 2 – 1 Rodolpho Nunez
Round 4 Feature Match – Reid Duke vs. AJ Sacher
Here we are in the beautiful surroundings of Costa Rica, and its two Americans in the round's Feature Match. When asked why they had made the trip down to Costa Rica for Magic, Duke had a great answer ready.
"I need to rebound after the Players Championship," he told me with a wry, wistful smile.
Sacher was not as emotionally driven, at least not by his emotions.
"I was in Las Vegas with Shuhei Nakamura, and he convinced me to make the trip with him."
Duke won the die roll and chose to let Sacher play first, which netted a puzzled look from his opponent.
"I'm not sure what that means," Sacher slowly let out as he gave Duke a once over. Drawing is often a sign that your deck is heavy on attrition...or that your mana base is terrible. Duke's red/black deck turned out to be the former.
Despite allowing Sacher to play first, Duke was the first on the board, getting a Duty-Bound Dead to start attacking with. Sacher's first contribution to the board was a Watercourser on the third turn which kept the Dead at bay. Both players added cards to their sides, a Rummaging Goblin for Duke and a Bladetusk Boar for Sacher. When Duke broughtout the big guns with a Firewing Phoenix, Sacher stopped it with a Pacifism, perfect for the recurring threat.
Undeterred, Duke kept attacking for two with his Goblin. He used a Turn to Slag to kill the Boar and attacked Sacher down to 15. When Sacher passed the turn back to him with five mana open, Duke wisely chose to stop attacking. After Duke passed the turn, Sacher dropped the Faerie Invaders into play that Duke assumed he had. His attack with it was a futile one, however, as a Public Execution killed it and negated the attack from the Watercourser as well.
Sacher still had five mana up, but Duke wasn't buying the ploy, attacking in with his Rummaging Goblin. After combat, Duke used a Ravenous Rats and Mind Rot to drop Sacher to a single card in his hand, knocking a Talrand, Sky Summoner, and an Encrust that he couldn't cast with a lone Island from his grip. Sacher attacked with his Watercourser, and Duke threw his Ravenous Rats in front of it. After combat, Sacher emptied his hand, killing the Goblin with a Searing Spear and adding a Welkin Tern to his team.
Duke was on the defensive, but at least he had Sacher drawing off the top of his deck. He started using his Duty-Bound Dead as a regenerating defender, keeping the bleeding to a minimum. He also found a Hamletback Goliath, which would allow him to start attacking for chunks of life soon. Sacher had found a second Watercourser by then, and his attacks had dropped Duke to 6. Once again, the top of his deck gave him exactly what he required, an Unsummon, pushing the Goliath back to Duke's hand and sending his team across. It was good enough for Duke to scoop up his cards to head to Game 2.
Reid Duke 0 – AJ Sacher 1
For the second game, Duke was on the draw but made it to the board first. His first-turn Chronomaton was a threat to get quite large in the successive turns. It's a card that spent the first part of its life a bit underrated, but more and more players are warming up to the little robot that could. When Sacher attacked into it with his Watercourser, Duke was more than fine with a trade.
What he wasn't more than fine with was the Jace, Memory Adept that Sacher landed afterwards. It began the incredibly quick job of milling Duke's library out. Within a couple of turns, the highly unfair Planeswalker had done its job, giving Duke his first loss, and making his rebound a little bit more difficult.
Reid Duke 0 – AJ Sacher 2
Feature Match Round 5 – Sam Black vs. Marino Donato
As I walked over to the table Sam Black said, "So you want to cover me before I'm out?" I don't think he has too much confidence in his deck. I'd say over the last few days, he's had a great time, so it wouldn't be a total loss if his Sealed deck wasn't great. However, these pros are very good at self-deprecating their decks, so it's possible his deck isn't quite as bad as he's making it sound. I gave Marino Donato a look intending to question Black's claim.
Donato did not respond and remained silent. That could be because his deck is solid, or it could be because he's kind of a quiet guy. Donato was one of the representatives of the Costa Rican World Magic Cup team this year. However, unlike some of his other compatriots, this was not the first time he'd represented his country on the world stage.
Back in 2008, Donato was part of the Costa Rica national team and helped them to an undefeated finish. Though their individual results meant they didn't make the top of the standings, the Costa Rican team's performance did not escape notice.
An opening Augur of Bolas net Sam Black nothing and Marino Donato started with a Deadly Recluse into a Farseek. Donato had three colors of lands represented by turn five and made a Flinthoof Boar and an Elvish Visionary. Black cast a blocker with Roaring Primadox but the Boar and Recluse happily attacked into it. The Boar was taken down by the 'Dox, but Flames of the Firebrand and a Vampire Nighthawk followed. The red burn spell finished off the 4/4 monster.
Over the next two turns Black went to 13, then to 10. Black tried to catch up with a Silklash Spider, but Donato kept the hits coming with a planeswalker, Chandra the Firebrand and Black continued to drop in slow increments. Nighthawk would hit for two and Chandra followed for one. Black tried to take out the Chandra with a Silklash Spider and Augur of Bolas attack, but Arms Dealer (yes, Donato had also just played an Arms Dealer) blocked the Spider and then blew himself up to kill the Augur before any damage happened.
When Donato got his turn back he used Chandra and Nighthawk to make the totals 3-26. Black kept attacking Chandra to clear her from the board and take away some inevitability, but Donato kept chump-blocking to save her. When the Silklash Spider was about to trade with Deadly Recluse, that's when Black knew the jig was up. He said enough was enough and the two went to the next game.
Marino Donato 1 – 0 Sam Black
Black decided to put on some pressure for a change. He made a Prized Elephant, which, by itself was quickly blunted by double Recluse Spider from Donato, but a Tricks from the Trade let it get past the poisonous spiders and take the Costa Rican to 15.
However, it seemed Donato had this game all mopped up from the get-go. He calmly cast Murder on the unblockable Elephant, then used a Mind Rot to take out Black's last two cards. Black was handless and boardless, save a Jayemdae Tome. It took two turns until he laughed, looked at his hand and cast another Jayemdae Tome. Black then extended his hand.
Marino Donato 2 – 0 Sam Black
Feature Match Round 6 - Max Tietze vs. Miguel Gatica
We were warned about Miguel Gatica. Coming into this Grand Prix, we were looking for local players who would be threats to make a big splash on their home turn, and Gatica' name was the one that came up the most. As an alternate on the Costa Rican team from the World Magic Cup, Gatica wasn't even supposed to be on the squad. When one of the players couldn't make it, Gatica stepped up to the plate an accepted his role. And what a welcome addition he was. With multiple Pro Tours under his belt, Gatica's experience was a welcome commodity on the Costa Rican team, one that would serve him well in this match.
His opponent this round, Max Tietze, has become one of the more familiar names on the American Professional Magic scene. After a couple of impressive Grand Prix Top 8s this past season, as well as some great finishes on the StarCityGames.com Open Series, Tietze has become a name that we actively seek out when looking for matches of interest. Hailing from New York, Tietze was more than a few hours away from home, and was looking to take home a Grand Prix win on foreign soil.
Tietze won the die roll and chose to go first. Despite being on the draw, Gatica was the first on the board, and he tipped his hand about what type of deck he was running quickly. His first two turns brought a Duty-Bound Dead and a Knight of Infamy to the table, Exalted triggers and all. Tietze had the perfect counter, however, using a Knight of Glory and an Ajani's Sunstriker to keep Gatica honest. After playing a Goblin Arsonist, Gatica was more than willing to begin attacking, content to block with his Arsonist and kill the Knight. When Tietze gave him the chance on the following turn, he took it.
Tietze switched gears on the following turn, taking to the skies with a Bloodhunter Bat. When it got a Mark of the Vampire (as bats often do), Tietze had found himself an impressive way to win this race. Gatica made a Mogg Flunkies, which doesn't really combo well with Exalted, and was forced to keep Tietze's life total from getting out of control by just attacking with his Knight every turn. Still, each did nothing more than maintain the current state of Tietze's life. When Tietze used a Murder to kill the Knight, Gatica responded in kind, using Searing Spear to take out the vampire Bat.
Tietze had dropped Gatica to 6, but he was left with a puny board, only a Sunstriker with a Crippling Blight to face Gatica's Duty-Bound Dead and Mogg Flunkies. It was a real Costa Rican standoff, with neither player able to gain an edge. Tietze's only saving grace at this point was that he was comfortably at 18 with Gatica nearly dead. The parity came to a screeching halt over the next couple of turns, as Gatica continued to find nothing on top of his deck, while Tietze found an Oblivion Ring for Gatica's Dead and a Servant of Nefarox to enhance his Sunstriker. The Cat began to attack, three turns from killing Gatica. Then two turns. On the final turn, Gatica's deck still offered no avail, and the first game of this match went to Tietze.
Max Tietze 1 – Miguel Gatica 0
Down a game, Gatica couldn't have appeared more eager to come flying out of the gates in the second game of the match. He started with a Timberpack Wolf that quickly picked up a Rancor before adding a Goblin Arsonist and a Flinthoof Boar to his side as well. Tietze stemmed the tide some with a Servant of Nefarox to trade with the Boar and an Essene Drain to stop the Wolf, but the recurring Rancor just added too much beef to Gatica's side. After getting in a couple more attacks with a Rancorous Goblin Arsonist, Gatica evened up the score in a blazing two-minute game.
Max Tietze 1 – Miguel Gatica 1
Once again Tietze found himself in the favorable position of playing first. Unfortunately, he also found himself in the unfavorable situation of having to mulligan. Gatica made things worse with a pair of earl Chronomatons, which we had already seen grow to gargantuan proportions once during this event so far. Still, Tietze found a small exalted core, getting a Knight of Glory and a Servant of Nefarox to begin attacking for four. Gatica wasn't unarmed, however, and a Deadly Recluse threatened to put the brakes on Tietze, allowing his Chronomatons to grow unchecked. All Tietze could do was add an Ajani's Sunstriker and pass the turn.
At this point, Gatica was well ahead, up two cards on Tietze and with a considerable amount of long-term pressure on the board. With this advantage, he simply took the damage when Tietze attacked in with a 4/4 Sunstriker on the next turn, content with the 8-point life swing. His Chonamatons grew each turn. Tietze added a Zombie Goliath to his side. Suddenly, things didn't look as sure as they had a moment before. When Tietze used Essence Drain to shove the Recluse out of the way, they really didn't.
Gatica's Chronomatons had become 5/5 and 3/3 by this point, and they would soon be able to stand up to even a doubly-Exalted Goliath. He added a Timberpack Wolf and a Flintoof Boar, which immediately teamed up to kill the Goliath, but Tietze still had the Sunstriker. Fortunately, Gatica's first Chronomaton had just hit 6/6. Instead of leaving it back to block, however, he sent it in. After combat, he made himself a Spiked Baloth, which he was more than willing to trade with the Sunstriker on the following turn. Part of the reason Tietze was willing to let it go was his freshly-drawn Serra Angel, to which Gatica had no immediate answer other than "attack." He dropped Tietze to 15, but was sitting at a mere 12 himself, two turns from dying to the Angel.
Both players had seemingly great answers to the situation, with Gatica's Silklash Spider getting hit with a Pacifism so it couldn't block the Angel. It could, however, still use its ability, and Gatica used it on the following turn to wipe the Angel away. Tietze tried to find himself an answer to Gatica's massive robots with a Disciple of Bolas on the following turn, sacrificing his Servant of Nefarox. Gatica once more found his Rancor, putting it on his 6/6 Chronomaton and attacking in for a large amount. Tietze took the first hit, dropping to 10. A Bloodhunter Bat took him to 12 and dropped Gatica to 1. On his turn, Gatica used the Spider to try and kill the Bat, clearing the way, but a Safe Passage kept it alive. Gatica had literally no way to stop the Bat now, and with his last two cards in hand, Tietze had stolen the game back, keeping himself undefeated.
Max Tietze 2 – Miguel Gatica 1
Saturday, 6:30 p.m. - Fear and Loathing in Costa Rica (Minus the "Fear" and "Loathing" parts)
We all know Grand Prix events are great excuses to visit places you've always wanted to go. Taking a few days off of work is never easier than when you're traveling to some exotic locale with a group of your friends. But sometimes flying somewhere new can be a bit daunting. You don't speak the language, you don't know the culture; how can you get by? And that's where the tight-knit Magic community comes to the rescue.
Costa Rican Magic player Arianna Reyes took it upon herself to help plan some great tours for visiting players and a few of us spent the last couple days seeing the sights. Sam Black, David Ochoa Christian Calcano, Melissa DeTora, Jackie Lee, Misha Gurevich, Morgan Chang, Ryan Bogner, Pascal Maynard, Max Tietze, James Searles, Marino Donato, Mark Brezinski, among others all took part in the festivities and are quite indebted for her amazing efforts and hospitality.
The first tour started with a long bus trip out to Arenal, one of the ten most active volcanoes in the world. Amazingly, Costa Rica contains in its small area over twelve distinct types of forests. Arenal is in a cloud forest region which is marked by heavy vegetation and canopy cover. And due to the elevation, also persistent, low-lying clouds. The plant life is incredibly diverse and dense. Constant sounds of the forest could be heard from our bus and during our hike up to the view of Arenal. The only places without vegetation around are those areas in the direct flow of the lava. Barren expanses are a deathly reminder of the volcanic activity which happens here at least weekly. For those of us from urban areas, this was an immediate, stark departure from our normal lives.
Though the cloud forest itself was beautiful, the clouds decided to sit right between us and the volcano, so at times we had to make our own fun near the peak. After imagining a Lavalanche engulfing us all, making some bad-to-mediocre jokes about Fumerole, and watching some bad-ass ants carrying off insect corpses into their homes to devour, we were off to the next destination.
Here the group splintered, as a few of us went to zip-line through the forest before catching up with the others at the hot springs. I was a bit unsure about whether or not to do the zip-line, but Sam Black said, "When Dave Williams was here, he said this was the best thing he did. And Dave Williams knows how to have fun." I was sold.
After getting all suited up in our zip-line apparel, we climbed a tall platform seemingly in the middle of a field, hooked up to a metal wire that disappeared into the distance, and just stared. We were at least 100 feet up. The line was at least 200 yards long. Our guide simply waved his hand, saying, "Vamos. Pura vida." (Apparently, that's some sort of Costa Rican saying for, "You guys are being wimps" or something. I don't know; I never got the translation.) And as if we were commanded, we all followed him off the platform and into the air.
Soon, we were zipping from one platform to the next, hundreds of meters in between each one, suspended with nothing but a harness and a taught metal string. We reached impressive speeds, kicked treetops and yelled really loudly.
Right before the last track to ride, we came across a giant swing in the middle of the woods. It was pretty much the best tire swing in the world. To picture it, just atke your regular old tire swing, replace the tire with a harness, the regular fifteen-foot rope with an eighty-foot monstrosity, and the front yard with a cliff in the middle of a Costa Rican rainforest. At the apex of the swing, the view from all sides looked like something out of Zendikar, or Avatar, or Where the Wilds Things Are.
The most amazing part about the zip line was not how adrenaline-fueled it was. As Sam Black said, it was actually extremely relaxing. Of course the first two platforms were a little scary, but after that, it was pure joy.
Then we were ready for the hot springs. With a total of twelve multi-tiered hot pools (some complete with bars in the middle of them, 'cause you know, mise), this was the best place to end the day. We all wandered from pool to pool, from level to level relaxing our butts off. As you walk up the mountain, the pools getting hotter as they get closer the source of the spring. For a couple hours we grouped together and split apart as we floated and splashed. After a sweet dinner complete with local pineapples, strawberries and a chocolate fountain, that was day one.
Day two started earlier. The bus picked me up at 6:30am and there were plenty of people on-board before me. This would've have been a problem if the first stop weren't Doka Estates, a main supplier of Starbucks Coffee. On a tour of the estate we learned about coffee plant growth, coffee production and, yes, drank great coffee. I also chewed on some coffee beans for longer than I probably should have; they didn't taste very good.
Well, now I'm hopped up on coffee. What else can we do? Oh, I don't know, how about another volcano? This time, up Poás we went. This volcano was awesome because unlike the conical shape of Arenal, this volcano was similar to a crater. So the hike took us on top of the crater and looking down into the caldera, as opposed to gazing from afar. And a short hike past there took us to a lagoon overlook as well.
One of the best parts about these sort of hikes is being engulfed in dense forest, and then emerging into a clear-view on a cliff-top, looking down on something awesome. Botos Lagoon had a glorious view and other than hearing the distance sound of running water getting ever closer. It's kind of like that part in Predators, when the soldiers are running through the jungle, and then they come to the cliff and realize their actually on an alien planet. It's just like that, except minus the alien-planet and the predators-hunting-us part. Otherwise, it's the same thing.
All right, so another volcano and crap-tons of coffee down. That meant it was time for a gigantic waterfall, butterfly and orchid gardens, an amazing aviary where I convinced a toucan to fly onto my arm to eat some food, and a jaguar. Yup.
La Paz Waterfall Gardens was a little touristy, but quite frankly, who cares? We hiked around 120-foot waterfalls surrounded by rainforests and during that time our guide continually warned to look around for snakes. The second day might even have been better than the first, I'm not sure. We fed birds, walked through the largest butterfly garden in Central America (where I watched a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis) and saw some baby Ocelots. Tourist-y, schmourist-y.
I think Christian Calcano vocalized it, but most everyone there was already thinking it: "This Grand Prix is +EV already, and I haven't even been handed my Sealed pool."
When you put Grand Prixes in destination locations, you have an incredible time. The amount of North Americans here is rather surprising but I guess they all had the same idea I did. If you're going to take time off to be at a Grand Prix, it might as well be in Costa Rica. So the next time you're thinking about whether it's worth to get that plane ticket, this was just two days in Costa Rica. And I didn't even talk about the nights.
Feature Match Round 7 - Shuhei Nakamura vs. Carlos Pal
Carlos Pal is a staple name in Costa Rican Magic. Captain of the undefeated 2008 Worlds Team, Pal has steamrolled so far to a 6-0 start. He's got his sunglasses on, he's cool as a cucumber, but he's just run headlong into a Shuhei Nakamura. We'll see how long he can maintain that cucumber-like status now. Let's see how he does against Hall-of-Famer, former Player of the Year, eighteen-time Grand Prix Top-8er, you know I can just go on and on. Just check out Shuhei's stats yourself.
I was very happy to cover Shuhei Nakamura in text finally. He had been in the feature match area for two previous rounds, but we had chosen to cover other players. As we walked to the feature-match area next to one another I promised him that I'd actually watch his match this time. He was quite thankful.
The two players sat down as Nakamura hoped to knock those sunglasses right off of Pal's head. In classic Shuhei fashion – as meekly as possible, punctuated with bursts of laughter and huge smiles.
Carlos Pal started the party with a Duty-Bound Dead. Usually the dead aren't the best partiers, but there's some sort of sense of obligation in those bones that makes the 0/2 a stand-out at shindigs and hootenannies off all kinds. The Dead partied Shuhei Nakamura down to 17 before a Flames of the Firebrand took out the black creature and a 1/1 Chronomaton. Pal refueled with a Liliana's Shade, but a Crippling Blight quickly took that out as well.
Then Nakamura decided it was time to win. He cast a Bladetusk Boar, a Sentinel Spider and a Searing Spear to kill Pal's Giant Scorpion. The Costa Rican's board became just two Tormented Souls. That was unimpressive against a vigilant 4/4 and a nigh-unblockable 3/2. The scores went from 16-13 to 16-6, to 12-3. A post-combat Disciple of Bolas took out the Spider and drew Nakamura four new cards.
Since Pal was already at 3 life and the Bladetusk Boar would do that amount without the spider's help anyway, the Japanese player realized it'd be better as four cards. Pal drew his card for the turn and asked, "Sixteen?" He was referring to Nakamura's life total. Nakamura shook his head and Pal picked up his cards.
Shuhei Nakamura 1 – 0 Carlos Pal
Pal chose to draw and the two players dueled with Knight of Infamy. Shuhei debated as to whether to show his game plan this early, but he eventually said yes to the dress and cast Sands of Delirium on turn three.
Since Pal had mulliganed to five, he knew his only chance against the artifact was to race it. He cast his Servant of Nefarox and hoped for the best. He got a quick four damage in with the double-Exalted Knight. But that was about it.
Nakamura won thanks in part to a Sands of Delirium he never had to use. Man, that card's good.
Shuhei Nakamura 2 – 0 Carlos Pal
Shuhei joins AJ Sacher, Ben Stark, and Mexico's Carlos Urrutia at 7-0, and Carlos Pal picks up his first loss on the day.
Feature Match Round 8 - Karla Carmona vs. Jackie Lee
One interesting thing about when tournaments are just above the number of players required for a certain number of rounds is that there are inevitably a few players under X-2 that manage to squeak into Day 2. This tournament is one such example, where the late addition of a dozen or so players pushed it from seven rounds to eight. Riding this cusp, with 5-2 records but sitting in the doldrums of the standings are Karla Carmona from Costa Rica and American Jackie Lee. Whichever player wins advances to Day 2, while the loser is likely out of the running, their fate in the hands of chance.
Lee was the first on the board, making an Aven Squire and beginning to attack on the following turn. Carmona made a Goblin Arsonist on her turn, a good answer to the Squire if she could find a way to kill it. She made a Yeva's Forcemage on the following turn to enhance it and attacked Lee down to 17. When Lee made a Griffin Protector on her turn, Carmona went one step above with a Thragtusk. She then attacked Lee with both of her creatures, losing her Forcemage to the Protector.
Lee added a (UB unblockable) to her team on the following turn, enhancing the Griffin. Her source of blue mana was a Darkwater Catacombs in play on her side, which gave the Harbor Bandit unblockability, but kept them small. Carmona dealt with this by using an Acidic Slime to kill the Catacombs, making Lee's Harbor Bandit a little less useful. As such, she stuck them in front of the Thragtusk at her next opportunity. On her turn, fate smiled, as she was able to play a second copy, as well as an Island, to regain what she had lost and then some.
Still Carmona had a significant advantage. She was slightly down in life, but she had a formidable force in place. She added some Volcanic Strength to her Thragtusk and sent it in alongside her Arsonist and Slime. Lee blocked the Arsonist with her 3/3 Harbor Bandit and blocked the Thragtusk with her Aven. The Arsonist hit her for 1, dropping her to 13, after which Carmona se Searing Spear to kill the Harbor Bandit. This left Lee with the Griffin as her only protector, facing down a large and angry Thragtusk.
The Griffin attacked, knocking Carmona down to 11, and then Lee passed the turn with all six lands untapped. When Carmona attacked with her team, Lee Murdered the Thragtusk, leaving her to take only 2 from the Slime, knocking her to 11 as well. At this point, things were stuck at a sort of parity, with Carmona only attacking for 2 with her Slime and Lee for 2 with her Griffin. After one more turn of this, Lee decided to stop, using her Griffin to block. She then cast a Faerie Invaders during the end of Carmona's turn to take the advantage. A Talrand, Sky Summoner cemented that advantage. Carmona tried to stave off the inevitable with a Fog. She then tried to wrest victory from the jaws of defeat with a Thundermaw Hellkite, but Lee had the second Murder. One turn later, Carmona was dead.
Karla Carmona 0 – Jackie Lee 1
Carmona was the first out of the gates in the second game, her Goblin Arsonist getting in for some damage before Lee set up a defense. Unfortunately, Carmona's two-land hand stumbled a bit on mana, and she found herself behind a bit when Lee started to play creatures. Carmona attacked into a freshly cast Harbor Bandit, unaware that Lee had an Island in play, costing herself her only creature. Things became worse when Lee made a Talrand, Sky Summoner on the turn right after. Carmona made a good show of things, though, finding a fourth land that allowed her to get a Bladetusk Boar into play. Sign in Blood got Lee a couple of cards and a 2/2 flying Drake (which is totally fair for two mana), putting her foot down one more time. A Divination had the same effect (which is much more fair with the extra mana in the cost). Lee attacked with both her 3/3 Harbor Bandit and the Talrand, which Carmona quickly traded her boar with. When she made a fifth land, Carmona finally had enough to cast the Thundermaw Hellkite she was holding, which she did after a fair amount of hesitation. Lee held an entire grip full of cards and was sitting on a fairly impressive board position to boot. Still, the attack was enough to drop Lee to 10. The attack back from Lee knocked Carmona to 7, one attack from death. Lee then passed the turn with all of her lands untapped.
Carmona thought hard about the play on her turn, tapping and then untapping mana before deciding to pass the turn. She eventually passed the turn. At the end of Carmona's turn, Lee held a Public Execution for the Hellkite, and everyone was invited. While Lee was tapped out, Carmona aimed a Volcanic Geyser at the Harbor Bandit, killing it. Unfortunately, it still wasn't enough to stop the Drakes from flying over and finishing her off over two more turns. Try as she might, she couldn't find an answer, and Talrand, dead as he was, finally got the last laugh. With this win, Lee guarantees herself a spot in Day 2, while Carmona will have to leave things up to chance.
Karla Carmona 0 – Jackie Lee 2