Grand Prix Denver Day 2 Coverage

Posted in Event Coverage on February 20, 2011


Sunday, 10:00 a.m. – Day 1 Undefeated Decks

by Event Coverage Staff

Martin Juza

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Lokman Chen

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Paul Cheon

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Gaudenis Vidugiris

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Feature Match – Round 10: Conley Woods versus Brad Nelson

by Bill Stark

Teammates Conley Woods and Brad Nelson are two of the biggest stars in the Magic scene today. Conley is a hometown hero of sorts, living a short drive from the tournament site in Denver, Colorado. Brad is the reigning Player of the Year, the first American in a decade to hoist that title after his dramatic playoff against Guillaume Matignon during Magic Weekend Paris. The two chatted amiably before getting the game underway.

With an opening of Swamp, Forest, Plague Stinger Conley loudly proclaimed that he was playing infect. His third turn was spent on a Cystbearer while his opponent used Gold Myr to accelerate out an Ogre Resister. The two began exchanging blows with their creatures, a shatter from Nelson taking out a Trigon of Corruption from his opponent.

Plaguemaw Beast from the poison deck traded for the Ogre Resister, and Conley made good use out of his Plague Stinger, bashing turn after turn to slowly increment up his opponent's total of poison counters. Brad finally trumped by casting Indomitable Archangel, only to see his creature in turn trumped by a Phyrexian Juggernaut from Woods.

Brad Nelson

The pace of the game was lightning fast, each player whizzing through their turns in a flurry of cast spells and attacks. Kuldotha Flamefiend allowed Brad to turn an Ichor Wellspring into a 4/4 while crisping his opponent's Plague Stinger and Cystbearer. It was an utterly backbreaking turn in tempo, and with only the Juggernaut left as a creature and unable to block his opponent's attackers, Woods soon found himself packing it in for the second game.

Brad Nelson 1, Conley Woods 0

"Man, you must have got some goodies," Nelson smiled at his opponent and friend as they shuffled for the second game.

"Yeah, I got some goodies..." Woods replied.

The tempo of the second game was no slower than the first. Conley opened on Blight Mamba before adding a second a turn later. Across the table his opponent cast Ichor Wellspring, then Myr Galvanizer and Spin Engine. The 2/2 Galvanizer chumped a Blight Mamba twice, but couldn't trade for the 1/1 due to regeneration.

A second Spin Engine for Brad traded for a Contagious Nim from his opponent, but a Trigon of Rage for the poison deck meant the Blight Mamba's were a serious force to be reckoned with. Because they regenerated, Brad had few means of dealing with them permanently and Woods was a high caliber player; there was no way he would risk losing his 1/1s to not having enough mana up to regenerate.

With the writing clearly on the wall, it was Brad's turn to scoop as Conley evened the match.

Brad Nelson 1, Conley Woods 1

After a back-and-forth affair in the first two games, the third slowed in pace as Conley was forced to mulligan to six cards. He hesitated over keeping the second grip, but opted to. Brad wasted no time coming out with Perilous Myr and Spin Engine over his first two turns while Conley had no creatures, his first spell being a third turn Strata Scythe.

A second Spin Engine for Brad put a huge clock on his opponent, and the pace of the game picked right back up. Was there a way for Conley to draw out of his early mulligan and get into the game? He cast Trigon of Corruption, and if the artifact survived it would help a great deal, handling the Spin Engines on back-to-back turns. Unfortunately for the Coloradan, his opponent was ready with a Shatter.

Conley Woods

Finally the creatures came for Woods, as he cast a Blight Mamba and Contagious Nim on 8 life. Brad replied with a Blade-Tribe Berserkers on metalcraft, then sent most of his team to the red zone. When the smoke cleared Conley was back to zero creatures while Brad was missing a Spin Engine and had a Blade-Tribe that was a 1/1 due to infect counters.

Down but refusing to be out, Conley cast Tel-Jilad Defiance on his opponent's creature to cantrip. He passed without casting any other spells and sent Brad into the tank to try to figure out what plays Woods might have left to keep himself alive. The answer? Grasp of Darkness on Spin Engine, allowing Woods to survive for one more turn though he fell to 3 life to do it.

A Cystbearer for the infect player bought him yet another opportunity to remain in the game, but the 2/3 was felled by Turn to Slag. That was enough to do it, and Conley revealed his grip of nothing and extended his hand in defeat.

Brad Nelson 2, Conley Woods 1

Sunday, 11:30 a.m. – Power by Numbers

by Nate Price

Scars of Mirrodin Sealed Deck provides players three boosters of both Scars of Mirrodin and Mirrodin Besieged to become the card pool from which they must build their decks. Considering the equal contributions both sets have towards the Sealed Deck pool, you would expect the compositions of the Sealed Decks that are built to be roughly the same. Since most players consider Mirrodin Besieged to be a slightly stronger set, I was curious as to whether or not the perceived difference in power level could be noticed when looking at some of the winning Sealed Decks from the weekend.

After breaking down both the undefeated lists from Day One of the Grand Prix, as well as the winning Grand Prix Grinder lists, I noticed some very interesting things. First, the composition of the decks purely based on set was effectively equivalent. There were 179 cards from Scars of Mirrodin and 172 from Mirrodin Besieged. This showed that the number of quality cards available in the average (or I guess above average) Sealed Deck pool are roughly equivalent. If there was some sort of sense of increased power level in Mirrodin Besieged, it must be coming from something else.

Phyrexian Rebirth

Digging a little deeper, I took a look at the spots where most of the perceived "power" of a Sealed Deck comes from—the bomb rares and the removal. In the winning decklists, there were 18 bombs from Scars of Mirrodin to 22 from Besieged. This was the first place that Besieged started to pull ahead. It wasn't a big lead, but considering it was slightly behind in terms of raw cards played, it was a start. The most played bomb was the Mirrodin Besieged card Phyrexian Rebirth. The absurdly powerful mass removal spell was the centerpiece of three of the Grinder lists. If anything, the difference in bombs can really be attributed to the rest of the cards available to fill the players' decks than anything. For every two Slagstorms, there were two Contagion Engines. For every Bonehoard, there was a Sword of Body and Mind. Maybe the removal would show something...

For this section, I included any rares that also functioned as removal, such as Phyrexian Rebirth and Contagion Engine. I also included any creatures that double as removal, such as Perilous Myr and Leonin Relic-Warder. After breaking things down, Besieged came out on top once again by a margin of 40 to 33. Again, this is just a slight ten percent lead by the cards from Besieged, but it lends just a little more credence to player's observations. I think one major thing to note is that while the number of the cards may be similar, the power level is where the real difference lies. There are equivalent cards across both sets. In place of Galvanic Blast, Slice in Twain, and Revoke Existence, you have Burn the Impure, Viridian Corrupter, and Divine Offering. Black goes from having Grasp of Darkness and Skinrender to getting hard removal like Go for the Throat and Spread the Sickness. It's just a slight increase in power level, but a bunch of slight increases across the set lead to a larger noticeable difference in power.

I think that one of the most important things to note about this relates to the impact that Mirrodin Besieged has had on the format. With the sliding of certain cards into new colors and functions, Besieged has opened up color combinations and strategies that would previously have been unavailable. Having the support for more color combinations makes it so that less cards sit unused in sideboards because they couldn't be fit into a deck. This has led to generally richer decks, featuring more removal and bombs, and it happens to be thanks to Mirrodin Besieged. Perhaps this opening up of the format has led people to the conclusion that it's a stronger set. Regardless of players' observations, the numbers for the decks show that things are fairly equivalent, which goes to show how well designed and put together this block is.

Sunday, 12:00 p.m. – AJ Has a Posse

by Bill Stark

One of the stories we wanted to get to Saturday but ran out of time for was the tale of AJ Sacher. You might know AJ from his Pro Tour and Grand Prix finishes or his columns for a number of different websites online. For Grand Prix Denver AJ brought something special to the event: a posse.

A posse? A crowd of people wearing "Team AJ" shirts were following the young pro everywhere he went at the venue, and I had to find out what was going on. I cornered three of the four team members to find out what was up. It turns out the whole thing was the brainchild of one Sam Sacher, AJ's older sister (that's her on the far right in the picture). A big supporter of AJ's professional gaming career, Sam happens to live just up the road in Boulder, CO and wanted to take the opportunity to get out and support her little bro'.

"We used to play Magic together," she explained when I asked how AJ got started gaming. "AJ always beat me though, so I quit playing!"

With Sam were her friends and coworkers from the radio station she manages: Sally Boyle and Michael Odbert. For Sally and Michael, the world of competitive Magic was entirely new. "I didn't know the Magic scene at all, so I came to learn about it," explained Sally. "It's really fun!" Michael expressed a similar sentiment, saying, "This is completely new to me, but I think it's the coolest thing ever. I wish I was a part of this culture!"

So what does being a member of a posse actually include at the Grand Prix level? "They keep bringing me snacks and water," AJ pointed out. Anyone who has experienced a two-day Magic event like a Grand Prix knows hydration and food can be huge factors in one's mental game, and ultimately one's final finish. In addition to the food, the group could also be found marching behind Sacher like a scene straight out of West Side Story (complete with finger snaps at one point during the day) in an effort to intimidate potential opposition, and of course cheering him on from the peanut gallery during feature matches.

So does having a posse make a difference? We'll see after the trophy is hoisted on Sunday, but for AJ Sacher it seemed having one certainly didn't damper his spirit for playing.

Sunday, 1:15 p.m. – Drafting with Paul Cheon

by Nate Price

"So many pictures," Cheon joked as I stood across from him trying to get a good shot. An upper echelon player, who lived in Denver for the better part of his Pro Magic career, he was a perfect face for us to follow over the course of the event. Add in the fact that he's been away from the game for a couple of years now and still managed to go undefeated on Day One, and you've got yourself someone worth keeping a close eye on.

Yes, this is ANOTHER photo of Paul Cheon.

"My first draft with this format was last night," Cheon laughed when I asked him how much experience he had. "LSV helped me draft the deck last night, and the most important lesson I learned was to not draft that deck ever again. It was basically mono-green with a bunch of fat monsters. I couldn't win a game. He said he wanted to try it because infect is weaker now, so the non-infect green cards should be around to draft. It didn't work out too well for us."

Taking the wise words of Luis Scott-Vargas to mind, Cheon set about drafting the first of his decks for Sunday. His opening pack offered him little in the way of options. Besides a Mortarpod and a Skinwing, the pack was a nightmare. Twelve cards of very little value, except for maybe a Phyrexian Rager, which made Cheon's choice an easy one. He ended up deciding on the Mortarpod over the Skinwing. Killing one-toughness creatures is really good in this format. In addition, Cheon revealed after the draft that he wanted to try to go infect, despite LSV's warnings. His logic was actually quite sound.

"I figured I was at a pretty decent pod. I recognized all but two of the players in my draft. Since most of the good players don't like infect nearly as much anymore, I figured this might be a good chance to take advantage of that and draft it."

He started this strategy off with a Blightwidow, one of the best infect cards in the format. In addition to being larger than your average bear, the spider deals with the aggressive white fliers deck, which traditionally puts up a pretty good race against the infect decks. His next pick gave him a Plaguemaw Beast out of an otherwise uninteresting pack. When his fourth pack held no infect creatures, he was forced to pick a Phyrexian Rager despite passing two others already. The next pack put him to the test.

The pack held no infect creatures and very little of value in green or black. The best card in the pack by far was a Divine Offering. This was the first white card he'd even seen, let alone passed. For a card of this caliber to still be in the pack this late, it was a strong signal that white was open. Taking a chance that his read was right, Cheon snapped up the powerful instant.

The rest of Mirrodin Besieged was fairly unkind to him. The only cards he picked up of note were a Priests of Norn and an eighth pick Septic Rats. The late rats gave him some pause, as he wasn't sure whether or not it was a signal that infect was actually open, and the packs just didn't really have the cards for it. He took it just in case that proved correct as the second pack got started.

His first pack of Scars of Mirrodin definitely pointed him solidly in a direction. In addition to a Glimmerpoint Stag and Cystbearer, Cheon opened the very powerful Elspeth Tirel.

"Take whatever bombs you see, LSV said. So I did."

At that point, he switched gears. He abandoned the infect strategy and started running in a different direction. His next picks gave him a Glint Hawk Idol, a couple of Copper Myrs, and an Origin Spellbomb. He'd gone from infect to metalcraft in the blink of an eye. The final pack of the draft gave him some more all-stars for his newly-minted metalcraft deck. He opened the incredibly powerful True Conviction, giving him one more sign that moving into white in the first pack really was a Divine Offering. His next pack gave him a tough decision. Considering his new metalcraft status, he had to choose between the powerful removal of Slice in Twain or the big and burly Ezuri's Brigade. While Slice in Twain is obviously an incredible removal spell, an 8/8 trampler is nothing to pass over idly. He thought for a few minutes with the Brigade on top before settling for the removal spell.

Prime birding real estate.

"That was actually a tough one. I really wanted the Brigade, but I just had no removal, so I ended up having to take Slice in Twain. Besides, I thought there might be a chance that it would come back since it's not anything special if you aren't metalcraft."

The next two packs gave him some interesting things to think about as well. He passed a Shatter pick three for a Gold Myr, perfect in his GW metalcraft deck as both an enabler and some acceleration for his bombs. When he was faced with a second Shatter in the next pack, he paused for a minute and took it.

"I took it first because I'm metalcraft and the only other option was another mana Myr. I don't really want to play four of those. Also, I'd passed a couple of Iron Myr at that point, and I figured I might get lucky and have one of those come back."

The rest of the pack was pure metalcraft treasure. He picked up a Glint Hawk, Snapsail Glider, Rusted Relic, and Chrome Steed. Despite starting off shakily, his deck seemed to be coming together quite well.

Laying his cards out on the table after drafting, his deck really came into focus.

"I really want about fourteen artifacts to be metalcraft. I have...thirteen, and that's with the Dross Ripper in as a Hill Giant and this Neurok Replica. I'm going to be cutting it close. Missing those early picks in the first pack really hurt me. I'm going to be playing a couple of cards that I really don't want to be. I do have Elspeth and True Conviction, though, so there are going to be games that I just win."

As he pored over his deck, he kept glancing back at the Shatter in his sideboard.

"I really wouldn't mind playing this. I don't have a whole lot of removal, so having a little more would really help. But...the mana is going to be rough. I want like nine or ten white sources for this True Conviction. I do have a Gold Myr, I guess. I have to watch out for Slice in Twain, too. These two Copper Myr should help there. I guess I can add a couple of Mountains and fit it in."

This is what his second deck ever in this format looks like. Not too bad.

Ultimately, his deck ended up just a couple cards shy of where he would have liked to end, mostly thanks to his early attempt at infect. Fortunately, he'd come around to white and metalcraft at just the right times to salvage his draft and give him a deck that has a chance to finish 2-1 or so.

"Yeah, I think I can win a match with this."

He did better than that. After the first pod was complete, Cheon emerged with a 2-0-1 record.

"I'd say that I'm pretty pleased with this result for this deck," he said with a generous amount of implied understatement.

Paul Cheon

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Feature Match – Round 12: Josh Mitchell vs. Paul Cheon

by Nate Price

"You did say Josh Mitchell, right," he asked as he sat down to the Feature Match area. The Las Crusas, New Mexico native and former New Mexico State champion was fairly new to the spotlight. He had sat at table one for most of the day yesterday, having feature matches called all around him. Today, it was his turn.

"I watched your last game, so I know what you have," Mitchell told Cheon as he sat down to the table.

Mitchell was watching you Cheon. Closely.

"You probably saw me throw the game away, then," Cheon sighed.

"Nah, I had to go to the restroom before that," Mitchell said with a laugh.

Cheon won the die roll and chose to draw first. Mitchell made a Sylvok Lifestaff on his first turn, but didn't have a creature on the following turn to give it to. On the other side, Cheon had a Copper Myr. It lasted all of one turn, as Mitchell blew it away with a Red Sun's Zenith.

"Yesterday, I drew it four times against Conley," Mitchell admitted.

"So that's the plan? I don't like it," Cheon deadpanned.

Red Sun's Zenith, eh? I don't like it.

Cheon simply rebuilt a second Copper Myr, a Blightwidow, and a Bladed Sentinel over the next couple of turns. Mitchell simply added a second Lifestaff and an Infiltration Lens to his side.

"Two Lifestaffs? I do not want to kill whatever creature those end up on," Cheon mused out loud.

Mitchell finally made a Kuldotha Ringleader to put his equipment on. Cheon played a Viridian Revel and passed the turn to the impending attack. After untapping, Mitchell put all his pants on the Ringleader and attacked in. Before blockers, Cheon Shattered the Lens, drawing a card from the Revels, and stuck his two 2/4s in front of the Giant Berserker. After Mithcell gained his six life from the Lifestaffs, Cheon remarked, "There goes all my damage."

Mitchell is well equipped to handle this situation.

Cheon kept adding to his team. A Rusted Relic and Dross Ripper joined his side over a couple of turns, joined by a Mortarpod. Mitchell Crushed the Mortarpod and Turned the Relic to Slag. He also managed to find a Leonin Relic-Warder to get rid of the Bladed Sentinel and pick up all of his equipment. The players traded blows over the next couple of turns, with Cheon hitting alternately with his Dross Ripper and a flying Snapsail Glider. Mitchell made a Myrsmith to block off the ground. Cheon found a Divine Offering to get rid of one of the Lifestaffs, making the lifegain keeping Mitchell alive a bit more manageable.

Mitchell traded his Myrsmith for Cheon's Dross Ripper, ready to replace it with a more powerful and reliable Myr Turbine. Despite Mitchell's lifegain and increasing army of creatures, Cheon kept his Snapsail Glider chipping away at Mitchell's life. He dropped to six with Cheon still at twelve. Then he fell to four. Then two. Cheon, meanwhile, dropped to ten from two consecutive attacks. Holding his breath, Cheon tapped his Snapsail Glider for the final attack.

"Fireball," he asked?

"Good game," Mitchell said as he packed up his cards. He'd have to wait until next game to draw his Red Sun's Zenith a second time.

Josh Mitchell 0 – Paul Cheon 1

"I saved all my topdecking for this game. And the next one," Josh said with a huge grin on his face.

Both players had an early artifact parade. Cheon started with an Origin Spellbomb and a Copper Myr, which Mitchell matched with an Infiltration Lens and an Iron Myr. Another mana Myr joined Cheon's team the turn later.

"Let's go! Army of 1/1s!"

After playing a Dross Ripper, Cheon sent his Origin Spellbomb token into Mitchell. Having passed his turn with three mana still up, Mitchell had a Master's Call to trade for the token. On his turn, Mitchell took advantage of his metalcraft to play and send a Blade-Tribe Berserkers at Cheon. Before blocking, Cheon used Divine Offering to kill the Lens the Berserkers were holding and traded them with his Ripper.

2-0-1 with a deck you thought you'd barely get a match with? I'd smile, too!

Once again, Mitchell passed the turn without a play. Cheon kept pressing. He added a Glint Hawk Idol to his side, sending it in alongside his mana Myrs to attack. Mitchell chose to ue Turn to Slag to kill Cheon's Copper Myr, leaving him with one green source. Cheon just played a second Forest and added a Carapace Forger to his team. A Banishment Decree sent the