by Bill StarkRound 15: Feature MatchMatthias Hunt vs. Alexander West
by Steve SadinSunday, 4:26 p.m.:The Defining Features of Core Set Limited
by Steve SadinRound 13: Feature MatchRich Hoaen vs. Max Brown
by Steve SadinSunday, 3:13 p.m.:Drafting With Rich Hoaen
by Bill StarkSunday, 1:50 p.m.:Day 2 Photo Essay
by Event Coverage StaffSunday, 1:45 p.m.: Quick Hits
by Bill StarkRound 10: Feature MatchAndrew Noworaj vs. Reid Duke
by Bill StarkSunday, 11:45 a.m.:Draft Walkthrough With Reid Duke
Sunday, 11:45 a.m. - Draft Walkthrough With Reid Duke
After nine rounds of Swiss on Saturday, only four players stood with unblemished records. One of those players was up and coming star Reid Duke, who competed at the Magic Online Championship Series in 2010. He parlayed that performance into a gig writing for StarCityGames.com and has been working on putting up the numbers to demonstrate his abilities on the professional stage. This weekend he looks to be doing just that, and I tucked in behind him to watch his draft as Reid and his 127 fellow Grand Prix Montreal Day 2 competitors settled in for their first three rounds of Magic 2012 booster draft.
Things started off well right away for the up and coming star, whose opening pack contained the powerful Volcanic Dragon. The patient Reid shuffled through the rest of the pack before selecting and found four other cards of interest: Incinerate, which he shuffled to the front of the pack, Divination, Child of Night, and Auramancer. The white 2/2 is a hidden gem of the format, allowing for powerful rebuys of cards like Pacifism, Oblivion Ring, or Divine Favor. It was clear from Reid's positioning of the cards, however, that he was stuck deciding between the Dragon and the Incinerate. After using the full amount of time, Duke took the burn spell.
Red is one of the most popular colors in M12 draft, owing to the fact it helps create some of the fastest decks (particularly when combined with black), so Reid was taking a risk; passing the powerful Volcanic Dragon hinted to his neighbor that Reid might not be drafting red and potentially put them into fighting over colors for the second pack. They still had 13 more picks before we saw if that would be a problem, however, and Duke picked up his second stack to see what goods awaited.
His red plan continued to look good with a Fiery Hellhound and Crimson Mage promptly being shuffled to the front. Rather than auto pilot, however, he also took time to consider a number of blue cards in the pack. Their number included Phantasmal Image and Belltower Sphinx, and the cards he spent the most time deciding between were the Image and Mage. Ultimately the red two-drop was added to the stack.
From there the color of burn and Goblins flowed steadily to the fortunate Reid who picked, in order, Goblin Arsonist (over Griffin Rider), Blood Ogre, Fiery Hellhound, a late Goblin Fireslinger, Goblin Tunneler (though he considered a Coral Merfolk), and he even managed to sneak a late Greatsword and freebie Reverberate into his pile.
With approximately a minute for review, Reid shuffled through his picks to take stock of where he was at in building his deck. He had a great start to a powerful red deck, and seemed uncharacteristically solid in red considering how highly regarded the color is in the format. The question for pack 2 was whether his first pick Volcanic Dragon had put his neighbor into red, meaning he'd be cut in the second pack.
The second pack was not as kind to Reid as the first had been with his initial 14 devoid of red except for a lonely Goblin Bangchuckers. He flipped an Alabaster Mage, Gravedigger, Sorin's Vengeance, and Devouring Swarm to the front. With the countdown in the background from the judges, Reid spent the full time before plucking the Sorin's Vengeance to add to his pile. The sorcery was certainly powerful in an aggressive red-black deck, but could such a strategy get to seven mana?
With a fresh look at 13 cards, Reid's concerns about being cut from red seemed to be realized: the pack had no red save for a Manic Vandal. What it did have where plenty of juicy black cards including Child of Night, Devouring Swarm, Mind Rot, and Blood Seeker. He flicked through them before opting to take the lifelinking two-drop. With his Vengeance from the first pick it looked like Reid was positioning himself to draft red-black, one of the most powerful but highly sought after archetypes in the format.
The third pick revealed a Pentavus, which he quickly shuffled to the front, then a Tormented Soul and Drifting Shade. The innocuous seeming 1/1 Soul was actually a highly sought after member of the red-black team due to its ability to turn on bloodthirst with ease. After hesitating over the three cards, Reid eventually added the Tormented Soul to his deck
Up next was a pack full of green, white, and blue cards featuring only a single card each for red and black: Dark Favor and Goblin War Paint. Those are not the cards red and black mages dream of, but in a pinch they can be effectively utilized if necessary. Knowing this, Reid added the Goblin War Paint to his growing collection of cards hoping the remaining picks in the pack would be kinder.
And kinder they were! Up next for Duke was another Tormented Soul he nabbed after looking longingly at Sorin's Thirst, then Gravedigger over Consume Spirit. He finished the pack out with late-pick Distress and a Goblin Tunneler which would combo well with cards like Fiery Hellhound. By the end he looked as though he had cemented black as his second color and had managed to put together a very solid red and black build. What would the final pack yield?
Up first in the final pack of the first draft was a choice between Doom Blade, Shock, Goblin Arsonist, and Warstorm Surge. Reid made sure to note the Cudgel Troll and Merfolk Looter also in the pack before dropping the Blade into his deck. He then added a second-pick Blood Ogre over Goblin Fireslinger.
The third pick gave him the option of taking yet another Blood Ogre or Tormented Soul, but he found a special gift waiting for him that proved tastier: Sengir Vampire! The 4/4 flyer is a powerful bomb for any black player, and Reid was happy to add it to his collection over the Ogre and Soul. After that he got Diabolic Tutor, which could be a potent combo with Sorin's Vengeance, then Warpath Ghoul over Act of Treason.
With the draft winding down, Reid had a solid deck and it was a good thing; he soon found his possible picks drying up. After a pack devoid of red and black cards (Reid took Divination), he found another pack with no playable cards for his deck and took Trollhide. From there he got a few late picks like Zombie Goliath and Smallpox to close things off.
How did it turn out? Reid positioned himself well to take advantage of the (arguable) most powerful color combination in the format. He certainly benefited from the cards contained in some of the packs, and he managed to shore up his second color as black pack 2 after potentially putting his neighbor into red in the first pack. Overall Reid could be happy with his draft, though that didn't necessarily mean that he was.
"I don't know, there were some questionable picks there," he muttered as he moved to deckbuilding.
Round 10: Feature Match - Andrew Noworaj vs. Reid Duke
Reid Duke had put together a pretty powerful red-black deck after seeing some blessed picks in the first set of packs. His opponent's deck was unknown as they sat down to battle for the first round of Day 2, but one thing was certain: both players knew what they were doing. After all, they had each escaped the first day of competition with unblemished records, reaching perfect scores of 9-0.
"You must have had quite a day yesterday," Reid joked with his opponent as they prepared for their first game.
"I can't complain," Andrew Noworaj (pronounced Nov-oh-rye) was quick to respond.
Both players had one-drops in the form of Phantasmal Bear for Andrew and Goblin Fireslinger for Reid. Neither had two-drops, however, and Reid used Incinerate to kill his opponent's Bear lest he fall too behind in the race. His opponent played a Mountain, revealing him to be a blue-red mage, but had no three-drop and passed with an empty board.
While Reid worked on his opponent's life total with Goblin Fireslinger, Andrew worked on following suit. He cast his own version of the 1/1 but had a Kite Shield to turn it into a 1/4. He then cast Bonebreaker Giant while Duke had Goblin Arsonist.
Reid Duke had an edge on life, but he was losing any type of edge on the battlefield as his opponent cast a Chasm Drake to go with his Bonebreaker Giant and continued pinging away with Goblin Fireslinger. His first big attack with both Drake and Giant put the totals at 12-9 in Andrew's favor. Reid's team, by comparison, was tiny featuring two Tormented Ghosts and the Fireslinger.
An Æther Adept set Reid back a Tormented Ghost and that proved too much for the red-black player. His opponent's horde of flying fatties proved too much and he succumbed to a second attack from a Drake-backed Bonebreaker Giant sending the match to the second game with Noworaj in the lead.
Andrew Noworaj 1, Reid Duke 0
While shuffling for the second game, Andrew revealed that an article he had read that week had helped him play better on Saturday by helping him with mulligan decisions. The author of that article? Reid Duke, the man sitting across from him in the feature match.
The second game started off with Reid in the lead, opening on Crimson Mage. His opponent traded a Goblin Arsonist for the 2/1, then used Æther Adept to send a 2/2 Blood Ogre back to Duke's hand. That tempo swing was a significant one for Noworaj, who was able to buy time in order to Divination himself up two additional cards. They yielded a Shock he was able to use on the re-cast Ogre, but Reid trumped with a Sengir Vampire. Did his opponent have an answer for that?
If he did, he didn't reveal it immediately, instead holding back Æther Adept and passing the turn. When Reid sent the Sengir sideways, however, it was Turned into a Frog and promptly munched by the Æther Adept. Reid had no choice but to continue playing on, casting Fiery Hellhound and Tormented Soul while his opponent cast Warstorm Surge.
Æther Adept traded with Fiery Hellhound and the game looked poised to shift heavily in Andrew's favor. He cast a Lord of the Unreal, triggering Warstorm Surge, and left Reid to figure out a game plan. He came up with Sorin's Vengeance which put the totals 25-8 in Reid's favor.
Gorehorn Minotaurs for Noworaj made the need to win quickly even more dramatic. Reid was now facing 7 points of attacking damage from his opponent each turn and an active Warstorm Surge and had been whittled to no creatures on the battlefield.
Reid tried his best, but without any creatures and the big attacks, he was soon too far under the gun. The nail in the coffin was a second bloodthirsted Gorehorn Minotaurs from Andrew which served as a Lava Axe to finish Duke Off.
Andrew Noworaj 2, Reid Duke 0
Sunday, 1:45 p.m. - Quick Hits
What Innistrad Card Are You Most Excited to Play With?
Sunday, 1:50 p.m. - Day 2 Photo Essay
Yesterday we toured around the Day 1 Grand Prix Montreal hall. Today? We’ll be showing you what Day 2 looks like. Stay tuned for tales of lost bets, winning decks, and acquired sets…(of Empires).
Sunday, 3:13 p.m. - Drafting With Rich Hoaen
Earlier today we followed up and coming American pro Reid Duke during his first draft at Grand Prix Montreal, and now we're going to draft along with seasoned Canadian superstar Rich Hoaen as he tries to fight his way to yet another limited Grand Prix Top 8.
Hoaen opened up an unexciting first pack and took a Benalish Vetaran over Mana Leak, and Giant Spider. He then followed that up with an Arbalest Elite, and a Frost Breath out of similarly lackluster packs.
Hoaen thought for a moment before taking Æther Adept over Gorehorn Minotaurs, then rounded out the pack with an Aven Fleetwing, a sixth pick Armored Warhorse to reassure him that white was at least somewhat open, Coral Merfolk, Siege Mastodon, and a thirteenth pick Cancel.
Hoaen ended pack one pretty solidly in White-Blue – but a series of underwhelming packs left him with mostly filler, and role-players through the first third of the draft.
Unfortunately for Hoaen, pack two played out in a very similar way. After first picking Griffin Sentinel over Armored Warhorse, and Sorin Markov's Vengeance, Hoen took an Æther Adept out of a pack that also contained Stormblood Berserker, and a Stave Off over Ice Cage before closing out the pack with Griffin Rider, Solemn Simulacrum, Mana Leak, Ice Cage, Guardian's Pledge, a ninth pick Armored Warhorse, and Stonehorn Dignitary.
Hoaen continued getting paid off throughout the rest of pack three as he picked up Chasm Drake, Merfolk Looter, Timely Reinforcements, and a second Merfolk Looter (which he took over Phantasmal Dragon, and Skywinder Drake) sixth pick.
Despite the fact that the first two packs were exceptionally dry, Hoaen ended the draft with a serviceable, if not amazing, White-Blue deck.
Does the deck have its weaknesses? Sure.
Round 13: Feature Match - Rich Hoaen vs. Max Brown
"I still haven't won a die-roll this weekend" proclaimed Hoaen, who comes into this match with a 10-2 record despite giving his opponent's the choice of whether to play or draw at the beginning of every round.
"We played against each other last round," explained Max Brown, "Hoaen Cast Grave Titan on turn five both games. I lost."
Hoaen cast an Aven Fleetwing, but chose not to block when Brown swung in with his Sacred Wolf. Despite his strong start, Brown began to falter, and the best thing that he could manage on turn five was a Brindle Boar.
Realizing that things were quickly slipping away from him, Brown summoned a Stingerfling Spider with no targets. However this would be of little use as Hoaen looted, then cast a Mind Control to take the freshly cast Stingerfling Spider
Brown, who was no doubt setting up something powerful, allowed Hoaen to attack in unimpeded with his Aven Fleetwing, and Æther Adept for the next few turns. But Hoaen used a Frost Breath to make sure that Brown would never get the chance to execute his plan.
Rich Hoaen 1 – Max Brown 0
"Your Aven Fleetwing was really good for you that game." Said Brown.
"Aven Fleetwing is probably the worst flier in my deck, but it was definitely the best flier I could have played that game. It's funny how Magic can work that way sometimes." replied Hoaen.
Hoaen further built up his board with an Aven Fleetwing, and passed the turn.
Brown attacked with his Vengeful Pharaoh, cast a Brindle Boar and passed the turn to Hoaen who cast a Frost Breath to lock down his Brown's two blockers, setting up an attack that knocked him down to 10.
Desperately needing a blocker, Brown had to once again summon his Stingerfling Spider without a target. Æther Adept bounced Vengeful Pharaoh, and Stave Off saved Hoaen's Aven Fleetwing that had been blocked by Stingerfling Spider.
Brown drew for his turn, sighed, and conceded.
Rich Hoaen 2 – Max Brown 1
Sunday, 4:26 p.m. - The Defining Features of Core Set Limited
Over the last few months, a lot of attention has been given to the differences between Magic 2012, and past Core Set limited formats. While Magic 2011 limited was a slow and grindy format that rewarded patience and planning, Magic 2012 limited is an extremely fast format where players rack up wins by playing Goblin Pikers over Bonebreaker Giants.
But with Magic 2012 limited on its final legs, I wanted to take a look back at the last three years of Core Set limited to see what similarities can be found between these formats. In order to do this, I sat down with the cerebral pro Sam Black, and asked him for his thoughts on what threads tie these seemingly disparate formats together.
Sam thought about the question for a minute, before explaining that he thought that the defining feature of Core Set limited formats is the fact that they are less mechanically driven than Block limited formats.
"The relative lack of linear mechanics (such as metalcraft, infect, or tribal) in Core Set limited makes synergy less important than it is in most Block limited formats – and raw power found through individual cards more important."
If you're drafting an Infect deck in New Phyrexia/Mirrodin Besieged/Scars of Mirrodin, you're going to need to get a lot of infect creatures or your deck just won't work. But Core Set limited decks rarely hunger for specific cards in that same way.
"Synergy in Core Set limited means having a strategy and a bunch of cards that support your strategy in an abstract sense. You need a good curve, good answers, finishers, etc. Whereas synergy in a Block limited format tends to be more explicit.
Blood Moonthirst forces you to make decisions based on curve considerations, but it's far less restrictive than infect, or tribal mechanics. Must be an elf, must have infect, or must be an artifact place far bigger constraints on your deck than 'must be aggressive.'"
"When synergies are more explicit, they're usually much more powerful. Consequently, when you're drafting Block limited formats, it becomes worth it to give up a lot of raw power on individual cards in order to get cards that fit exactly within the theme that you are pursuing."
Cards change wildly in value depending on what cards they combine with, and how fast a format is. Sam highlighted Goblin Arsonist to demonstrate this point.
"Goblin Arsonist is pretty bad in Rise of Eldrazi limited, because there are not many relevant X/1 creatures, and you are not going to be able to win consistently by beating down. But Goblin Arsonist is actively good in Magic 2012 limited, since it's an aggressive creature that can trigger bloodthirst, and it's good on defense. Goblin Arsonist would have been fantastic in Onslaught block limited because it's a goblin, and it's also a relevant cheap creature."
Sam closed out our interview by explaining just how crucial traditional ways of gaining tempo, and card advantage tend to be in Core Set limited formats.
While these card advantage spells are better in Core Set limited formats than they are elsewhere, you still need to build your deck to take advantage of them.
"You can't just throw a couple of Mind Rots in your aggressive deck and expect them to be good. But if you have a ton of ways to trade, and some good removal spells – picking up an extra card here and there makes a really big difference.
A good way to think about it is that the more one for one answers that you have, the better your two for ones become. If both players have a ton of cards anyway, going up a single card won't make a huge difference. "
Round 15: Feature Match - Matthias Hunt vs. Alexander West
"Kansas City all over again," Alexander West sighed as he sat down to play the final round of Swiss at Grand Prix Montreal. The plucky pro was looking to breakthrough into the Top 8 stage after a half dozen near misses over the years. The Seattle player was squaring off against friend and Rookie of the Year contender Matthias Hunt who won the roll and opted to play.
West started the party early with a Llanowar Elves on his first turn while his opponent simply played lands and passed. On his third turn, Matthias Hunt finally cast a creature: Dungrove Elder, though the potentially powerful threat was only a 2/2 so early in the game. Hunt's manabase featured green and white sources, so his opponent felt comfortable tapping out to cast Cudgel Troll without regeneration mana up. A Pacifism calmed the Troll and forced West to come up with a different plan.
The plan he came up with was a Chandra's Phoenix to begin attacking in the sky. He also cast Goblin Arsonist, but was disappointed to see a Trollhide hit the battlefield on his opponent's Dungrove Elder. That made the Treefolk a whopping 5/5 and gave it the ability to regenerate, just in case hexproof wasn't enough.
Warstorm Surge hit for Alex's red-green deck, and the enchantment made his opponent sit up and take notice. It was potentially problematic for Hunt if Alex was sandbagging creatures to cast, but he had to press on in the red zone. He turned his Dungrove Elder to the red zone to make the totals 11-10 in his opponent's favor and used Arachnus Web to shut down Chandra's Phoenix.
Alex went to work abusing his Warstorm Surge with creatures, but couldn't remove his opponent's Dungrove Elder from the battlefield. That forced him to chump instead, but he began seriously hurting his opponent with the Surge. An Adaptive Automaton allowed him to deal 2, then Stormblood Berserker dealt 3. Matthias had a trump: Day of Judgment. The sorcery cleared the board of everything except a regenerated Dungrove Elder and a regenerated (but still Pacified) Cudgel Troll.
Luckily for West, the Day sent his Chandra's Phoenix to the graveyard. That meant when he topdecked Shock he had enough to serve lethal to his opponent. He sent the instant straight at Matthias' head, dropping him to 3. He then cast the 2/2 and dealt 2 with Warstorm Surge, dropping Hunt to 1. A hasty attack with the flyer was enough to finish the RoY contender off, and he conceded.
Alexander West 1, Matthias Hunt 0
"You know, I actually thought I had that one," Matthias said as they were shuffling for the second game.
"To be honest, I thought you did too!" His opponent replied.
The second game started off with a Llanowar Elves for Alex followed by Adaptive Automaton set to Elves. His opponent used Arachnus Web to tame the 1/1 mana producer and had Crown of Empires too, but was under the gun. He used a second Arachnus Web to stop a bloodthirsted Blood Ogre, but took 4 from an ensuing attack via Adoptive Automaton and a hasty Chandra's Phoenix
Really working to catch back up, Matthias Hunt cast Stingerfling Spider to kill the Phoenix and bought a reprieve as his opponent passed the turn without attacking. That allowed Matthias a chance to catch up by casting Stampeding Rhino, and Alex West found tempo no longer in his favor. He dropped Llanowar Elves and Goblin Arsonist to continue trying to push ahead, but the 1/1s paled in comparison to his opponent's green fatties.
What Alex had was a possible trump in the form of Fireball, but he needed to squeeze as much damage in as he could first. He used Shock to get his Chandra's Phoenix back and attacked all-in, losing most of his team but dropping his opponent to 9. The return swing from Matthias in turn dropped Alex to 10, then a second attack made it 4. Was he going to pull the trigger?
The West Coaster wasn't given the chance as his opponent's next attack killed him before he could get the X-spell to lethal.
Alexander West 1, Matthias Hunt 1
In between the second and third game the two players discussed the possibility of a draw. Without any information on what their potential opponents were doing, they couldn't be sure a draw would help them. With that reasoning at hand, they opted to play and moved to conclude the match.
Alex opened on a second-turn Llanowar Elves while his opponent had Garruk's Companion. A second Llanowar Elves soon followed the first for West while his opponent had a Jade Mage. The two Elves helped Alex accelerate out Inferno Titan, and that powerful mythic wiped Matthias' board of creatures.
"Do you have the Day?" Alex asked, worried he was going to lose his team to the powerful sorcery.
Alex West is headed to his first Grand Prix Top 8.
Alex West 2, Matthias Hunt 1