Grand Prix Philadelphia Coverage

Posted in Event Coverage on April 13, 2014

By Wizards of the Coast

Now we really get started. Yesterday's run through nine rounds of sealed and nearly 1,900 players feels like an appetizer for the main meal we and 220 talented Magicians will be consuming today. Two drafts. Six rounds. Eight players left standing. And you get to see and read about all of it.

Six players pace the field at 9-0, led by world No. 2 ranked Reid Duke. Christian Calcano, Mark Evaldi, Michael Baraniecki, Andy Tan, and Carl Mitchell round out the perfect records, but make no mistake, all eyes are going to be on Duke as he charges toward another potential Top 8.

But this crew is going to have plenty of competition in the scramble to reach the third draft. World no. 24 David Ochoa stumbled in the last round, but at 8-1 is very much in the thick of things. As are No. 11 Alex Hayne, No. 25 William Jensen, Hall of Famer Jon Finkel, and Shaheen Soorani.

Gods and Monsters will battle as we bid adieu to Born of the Gods/Theros and get ready to start cracking Journey into Nyx alongside the full block, but only one mage will be left standing when the battlefield clears. Stay tuned as we bring you all of the action from the first pick all the way to the hoisting of a trophy.


Round 10 Epic Match: David Ochoa vs. Joe DeMestrio

by Justin Vizaro

You might wonder why we even do these Limited format Grand Prix events so late in the season, and so close to the release of another set. The answer is pretty simple: we run them because people like to play Magic, and also because of people like Joe DeMestrio, who do their best to grind onto the Pro Train. His Grand Prix Tour has included all of the US Grand Prixs this season, as well as a trip to Europe (Paris, Valencia, and Barcelona) with a few members of his team. Sitting at 8-1 going into Day 2, Joe will be making a strong attempt to grind his way to a Top 16 finish and make Silver for next Season. Today's Grand Prix and Minneapolis mark his final opportunities to qualify for Atlanta, and with a strong deck from draft 1, he is hoping to make a deep run today.

If DeMestrio wants to keep the dream alive, he will have to do so against 24th-ranked David Ochoa. Needless to say, there was more than just a little riding on this match, which brought Joe's blue-black deck to the table against Ochoa's mostly black version of the same configuration. Demestrio's deck features Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver, and Ochoa's build packs two copies of many of his marquee spells, like Marshmist Titan, Insatiable Harpy, and Keepsake Gorgon.

Both players were off to a relatively slow start in game 1, with creatures that mostly intend to block in these types of decks against the faster decks in the format. While Ochoa struggled with a few 3-drops, trying to dig up a fourth land, DeMestrio cruised to a board of six lands, a decent position, and a late-game hand crafted with the help of a turn 7 Read the Bones. Griptide and Mnemonic Wall kept Ochoa's Felhide Minotaur on top of the deck, which frustrated him more than a little as he desperately tried to hold DeMestrio's board position at bay. Servant of Tymaret was putting in long hours, but Ochoa needed something to help him dig out of this position.

DeMestrio, upon releasing Ochoa from the Griptide lock on his land drops, promptly added Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver to the board, shipping a few of Ochoa's lands as he worked his way to an insurmountable board position.

"You're not making this easy on me, I can assure you of that," Ochoa said hesitantly, staring at the Ashiok, which he expected would soon ruin his day.

With Insatiable Harpy to keep Ashiok under control, Ochoa added a second Harpy in an attempt to bring the game back to his favor. The next reveal from Ashiok pushed Keepsake Gorgon to the Exile pile, giving DeMestrio a solid option and denying Ochoa a strong out. DeMestrio then proceeded to cast Retraction Helix on his own Mnemonic Wall, getting Griptide back from the graveyard, and sending Insatiable Harpy to the top of the deck during the next combat.

Ochoa's strong hand of late-game spells as a result of his early mana problems helped him pick apart DeMestrio's board, but a sudden flood of lands from the top of the deck left him in want of something more from the few cards left in his library. The final turn of the game showed Ochoa a Gray Merchant of Asphodel (his last card, and enough to push the final 5 points of damage he needed), but to his dismay, DeMestrio slammed a Nullify to seal the victory in an epic game 1.

DeMestrio mulliganed to 6 on the draw in game 2, and Ochoa decided to keep a much more stable hand than his first, with a good mix of lands and spells. Servant of Tymaret kicked off the game for Ochoa, putting in 8 points' worth of work while Pharika's Cure and Sip of Hemlock took care of Keepsake Gorgon and Forlorn Pseudamma from DeMestrio. Adding two Marshmist Titans to the table, Ochoa continued to apply strong pressure to DeMestrio's low life total. Guradians of Meletis enchanted with Baleful Eidolon helped DeMestrio find a stable board state with Horizon Scholar going to work on Ochoa's life total, and Griptide keeping Marshmist Titan off of the table.

Ochoa's Keepsake Gorgon turned DeMestrio's face to stone, as he frantically tried to work Ochoa down to a manageable life total with Horizon Scholar. Bile Blight and Lash of the Whip combined to take down Keepsake Gorgon for DeMestrio, who continued to apply pressure in the air with Horizon Scholar while Ochoa's deck was not too friendly in terms of answers. Facing his last draw, and finding nothing helpful, Ochoa extended the hand to DeMestrio, who is now one very convincing win closer to making silver and qualifying for Atlanta.

Again, if you want to know why we run these limited Grand Prix events so close to the end of the season, it's for times like these, when one player trying to qualify for the Pro Tour gets himself one step closer by ending a game in dramatic fashion against one of the best players in the world. Sometimes, the last card in Ochoa's library is a lethal Gray Merchant, and sometimes, the last card in DeMestrio's hand is Nullify.

Round 11 Feature Match - (11) Alex Hayne vs. (25) William Jensen

by Blake Rasmussen

Collectively, I've probably written introductions to these two players dozens of times, and you've probably read about them dozens more. Their fame, as they say, precedes them.

But that doesn't mean we don't get to bask in the meeting of two modern-day greats with their tournament lives on the line. Alexander Hayne—Pro Tour champion, multiple Grand Prix champion and 11th ranked player in the world—has his back against the wall at 8-2. William Jensen—Pro Tour champion, multiple Grand Prix champion and 25th ranked player in the world—has his back against the wall at 8-2.

Seems good.

Hayne's deck, well, you can see it here [link to drafting with Hayne]. He was really happy with his blue-green deck but really needed to 3-0 his pod to have a shot.

Jensen, on the other hand, was playing a deck that was pretty much the polar opposite. A fast, aggressively minded red white deck that could leave opponents spinning in their seats before they get comfortable.

Both players' tournament lives were on the line, so neither one could afford a mistake here, especially against a player standing opposite them who would be perfectly capable of punishing them for even the slightest misstep.

The Games

Jensen got aggressive right off the bat with a Deathbellow Raiders into Dragon Mantle, and yet, he was abysmally far behind by the time he started his fourth turn.

Hayne's start was, well, insane. Voyaging Satyr into Wavecrash Triton was nice and all, but when it turned out the Wavecrash Triton was Raised by Wolves—on turn four no less—Jensen was facing down an imposing board with a grip full of cards better suited for being aggressive.

Ray of Dissolution attempted to slow Hayne down, but Dissolve—one of Hayne's last cards to make the deck—kept him wildly far ahead.

But it turned out to be a mistake. More on that later.

No. 11 Alexander Hayne doesn't make many mistakes, but after the match he felt casting the Dissolve when he did might have been a subtle one.

But Hayne started slowing down just as Jensen's board was picking up. An Observant Alseid made Deathbellow Raiders massive and a Rage of Purphoros took out a wolf. Hayne, who had started so strongly, had clearly run out of gas. He did manage to make a Prescient Chimera, but he was stuck throwing it under the Deathbellow bus that was churning his way every turn.

Hayne threw out chump blockers as he could, but, eventually, succumbed to the giant Raiders.

Jensen, never really feeling in the game until he won, could only shake his head.

"Exciting one," he called off to a friend nearby.

The second game certainly was exciting. Jensen started dropping the beats on the second turn, curving creature after creature alongside tricks to bring the pain. Akroan Hoplite soon grew to pretty intimidating proportions on every one of Huey's attacks.

Hayne wasn't going quietly into the night, however. Agent of Fates picked up an Ordeal of Nylea and was joined by a Vaporkin.

Blocking wasn't on anyone's agenda, it seemed, as both players kept turning creatures sideways. By turn five, both players were at 9 and 11 life, with Hayne holding a slight lead as the Hall of Famer moved to his attack phase. Two creatures went through unblocked and Jensen fired of a flurry of Titan Strength and Dragon Mantle pumps to send Hayne all the way to just two life. That two life became none when Hayne tapped out to attempt a lethal attack, only to face a Lightning Strike leaping from Jensen's hand.

(25) William Jensen was Lightning (Strike) fast in dispatching Hayne in Round 11.

After the match, Hayne discussed the Dissolve with Hall of Famer (4) Ben Stark, who was nearby working on the coverage team.

"You're still a massive favorite if you let the Ray of Dissolution resolve there, and you can get more value out of the Dissolve later," Stark offered.

Hayne said his initial thinking was twofold. One, he was holding just lands and felt he just needed one more spell to put the final nail in the coffin. In other words, he wanted the scry.

Two, with Raised by Wolves, his attacks were lethal in two turns. Without it, it would take several more.

However, Stark pointed out that the extra turn or two wouldn't mean much if he could counter Jensen's next significant play that would keep him from winning. He admitted there was some combination of cards that might make Dissolve bad to hold, but that those were less likely.

"If you never get to scry off Dissolve, you're winning the game," Stark said.

Hayne worked through his thought process a few more times, but, given Stark's Limited prowess, eventually came around to realizing that he might have made a mistake.

"Yeah, you're probably right. It was a bad play," Hayne admitted, his chances at the Top 8 now effectively extinguished.

Sunday, 12:14 p.m. – Drafting with (11) Alexander Hayne

by Blake Rasmussen

"Gods are overrated," said 11th-ranked Alexander Hayne shortly after passing three of the mythic enchantment creatures in a draft. "They're not as good as people think they are. Even with the ones that are decent, they're worse."

He certainly better be right about that, as he passed on Mogis, God of Slaughter, Karametra, God of Harvests, and Erebos, God of the Dead.

Granted, his deck is awesome, so I'm sure he'll be fine.

"I really like my deck. I think it's very good."

The God-less deck in question, the one the 7-2 Hayne needs to 3-0 with, does look very good. It's a green-blue list with a strong creature base, several very good rares, a bevy of tricks, and some bestow creatures and mana acceleration. Basically, it's the script for the archetype.

But it didn't look like his path was easy. His pod, despite being buried at table 13, was full of ringers, including Hall of Famer and 25th ranked William Jensen, Todd Anderson, and Valentin Mackl. No pod had as much talent except table one. And Hayne needs to 3-0.

Left to right: (25) William Jensen, Todd Anderson, (11) Alexander Hayne, Valentin Mackl.

Hayne started on that path by first picking a Nyxborn Wolf over Perplexing Chimera and Archetype of Aggression, a pick he considered fairly clear. When he then took a second pick Kiora's Followers second—over Thunder Brute—and was passed a Retraction Helix and Raised by Wolves next, he was pretty solidified in his colors.

"Pack one was pretty good. The Raised by Wolves was a good signal, and so was Retraction Helix," Hayne said, never particularly wavering throughout Born of the Gods. It seemed like everyone was cooperating in his neck of the table.

But, as it turned out, not everyone was. Valentin Mackl to Alex's left slid into green. That made the second pack less than spectacular for Alex.

However, that didn't mean he didn't find some quality cards staring back at him. Prognostic Sphinx kicked things off, and he picked up one of his few removal spells with a sixth-pick Time to Feed.

He also made several interesting choices that shaped his deck in the second pack, in ways that would reverberate later on.

First, he chose Feral Invocation second over a Staunch Hearted Warrior.

"Even if you target it once, it's still just a 4/4 for four. You have to target it twice for it to be good," Hayne explained. "In Theros, you sometimes just have to play into their tricks to get them out of their hand, but Feral Invocation sticks around."

Hayne also took a Gray Merchant as early as pick four simply because the only payable card for him was a Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, a card he briefly considered but dismissed for "possibly screwing up my mana." He took the Gray Merchant because it was the card he felt was mostly likely to beat him and, as became his theme, he needed to not lose very much.

Alex Hayne needs to be perfect to hold on to any hope of another Top 8.

The third pack was, as Hayne thought it might be, very good. He picked up a pair of Vaporkin early to go with his second pick Master of Waves. Along with his two Nyxborn Wolf and Raised by wolves, Hayne had somehow managed to draft a deck with multiple tribal synergies.

Highlights of the third pack include a Voyaging Satyr, Triton Tactics, and his second Ordeal of Nylea, now at a premium thanks to his two Vaporkin.

The only truly interesting pick was a Wavecrash Triton over a Triton Fortune Hunter. While Fortune Hunter gets all of the press, in a tempo-oriented deck like Hayne's, he felt the Wavecrash made more sense, especially since he had so few ways to interact with an opponent's board.

"Plus, what is Triton Fortune Hunter going to do, draw me into an answer?"

Hayne was certainly happy with his deck, but knew he needed to be perfect with it in order to make any pro point progress. With the five Grand Prix cap, Hayne, who has won roughly a million Grand Prix in the last year (give or take), he really needed an exceptional finish this weekend—or bust.

Unfortunately for Hayne, the answer turned out to be bust in the second round of the draft when he lost a quick two games to (25) William Jensen. Top 8 was out of the question, but he was still in line for a strong finish if he won out.

Alexander Hayne Draft 1

Download Arena Decklist

Sunday, 12:40 p.m. – Journey to Nyx Early Favorites

by Justin Vizaro

Journey to Nyx official previews have begun, and players are already very excited to see some of their favorite colors getting some powerful new tools. For those truly devoted players, new Gods will join the party, opening the doors to deck construction in Standard, Commander, and other formats. Have you already seen the card that you were waiting to see? Of the cards that have been officially previewed, which are your favorites?

Silas Waltzer of Highland Park, NJ (6-0 going into Round 7) likes Keranos, God of Storms. He feels, like many of us, that either effect is absolutely incredible after turn 5, and he says that the card will probably help him win a lot of games in the future.

Erik Smith from Bloomfield, NJ (5-1 going into Round 7) is most excited about Mana Confluence, as it enables the kind of mana fixing that will allow him to take advantage of some of the format's most powerful spells without sacrificing efficiency.

Two players that made their way from Stockton College in New Jersey are in love with Godsend, but also have individual favorites. Tara Ricco is excited to see Kruphix as a strong addition to her current Commander deck, and as a creature she'd like to use as a general in the future as well.

Ryan Sontupe joins Erik Smith's camp as a player that is a huge fan of Mana Confluence, but mostly because he thinks it will give him the ability to play Maze's End correctly.

Judges like Magic just as much as we all do, which explains why they volunteer to mediate our finest moments. As it turns out, judges also like Athreos, God of Passage, who is likely the most flavorful of all of the gods to this point. In addition to being among the most powerful of the Gods so far, Athreos is the favorite card of GP Philadelphia Head Judge Chris Richter.

Judge Jason Lamahieu loves the flavor of King Macar, the Gold Cursed, mostly because of it was preceded by Gild in Born of the Gods. I'm not sure if Jason plans to build a pile of gold, but he definitely loves the card's design.

As it turns out, people like Gods, and they like making mana of any color. Journey to Nyx is a set that allows players to do a lot of both of those things, which bodes well for everyone.

Round 12 Feature Match – Stephen Berrios v. Samuel Tharmaratnam

by Blake Rasmussen

Back at Pro Tour Born of the Gods, I interviewed several players who were doing well in the Modern portion of the event, including one of our guests in the feature match area Samuel Tharmaratnam (say that three times fast—or just once).

When discussing the team and their preparation for the Pro Tour, one of Tharmaratnam's teammates boldly declared that Tharmaratnam was "the second best player in Canada, behind Alexander Hayne."

Tharmaratnam (which is as difficult to type as it is to say) demurred, but only just a bit. He said it was probably true, but that Jon Stern had better results.

An occasional Magic pro, Tharmaratnam is poised to start playing quite a bit more now that he finished his MBA—literally three days ago. In fact, Tharmar...hold on, he gave me permission to call him Sammy T, so we're going to do that. My fingers can only move so fast.

Especially when Sammy T (that's so much better) and his opponent Stephen Berrios are playing such fast decks—Berrios has a black-red Minotaurs deck and Sammy T has a low-curve blue-white Heroic build.

Berrios, a Chicago native, seems to know his Theros stuff. He's won two PTQs since Theros was released and has now started traveling to more Grand Prix now that he's qualified himself for several Pro Tours.

And his performance here this weekend certainly reinforces his talent, climbing to 10-1 and still very much on track for his first Grand Prix Top 8. Sammy T already has one GP Top 8—Miami, where he lost to (2) Reid Duke—certainly wants another as he chases Gold level on the pro circuit.

The Games

Sammy T—yes, we're running with this—led off aggressively with a Hopeful Eidolon into a Bronze Sable, but was stuck on only plains. Even when Berrios dropped a Two-Headed Cerberus, Sammy T just kept crashing in.

"No fear, no blocks," Berrios quipped.

Samuel Tharmaratnam may or may not be one of the best players in Canada, but his 10-1 record so far did peg him as one of the best players in the room.

Sammy T found his blue mana and used it to start pumping Hopeful Eidolon, crashing in for two as Berrios continued to respect a trick. The life totals were at 25-11, and Berrios was not making much headway. An attack for eight—thanks to pumping his double-striker—did get Sammy T back below 20 life, but only for a moment. Ordeal of Heliod continued to grow the littlest Eidolon toward Baneslayer proportions and pushed Sammy T further in the lead.

"Geeeeze. I'm guessing no blockers," Berrios said as Sammy T jumped to 20 life again.

But Double Strike is a heck of a drug.

Berrios showed just how bad it could get when he dropped Dragon's Mantle on the Cerberus and followed it up with a Titan's Strength. Oh, and Boon of Erebos.

That meant, um, math. Hold on. Carry the three. Multiply by two. Um.

Oh, it's a lot. 26 damage, actually. Sammy T had gained a bunch of life, but not that much life.

Two-Headed Cerberus
Titan's Strength
It might not have been what the Titans had in mind, but this combo has certainly been the bane of many modern mage's existences.

That was brutal.

Game two was just as brutal, as both players added aggressively to their boards on turns two, three, and four.

Berrios went for the eggs/basket approach with a Fearsome Temper on Felhide Brawler, but was punished when Sammy T re-upped him with Wavecrash Triton. By turn four, Sammy T had Berrios all the way to 9 life before passing with four mana open.

"Is the Verdict Divine?" Berrios called out.

"Maybe I have nothing."

"You can't have nothing. You were in the tank for a long time."

Sammy T didn't have the Verdict, but he did have Sudden Storm.

"That's much better than I anticipated," Berrios said, jumping back in the match with a Labyrinth Champion and Dragon Mantle, letting him kill a Traveling Philosopher without costing him a card.

But Sammy T fired right back, using Ephara's Enlightenment with Wavecrash Triton to tap the Champion down and a sweet, sweet one-mana Yoked Ox to bounce it back to be used again with Wavecrash Triton. One more turn, another tap with the Enlightenment and they were on to the final game. It's hard to block when the waves keep crashing every turn.

But everything kind of came crashing down for Sammy T in the final game. He mulled to 6 and kept a one-lander. He did draw two lands immediately, but he was constrained on white mana and faced Berrios' best draw of the match.

Stephen Berrios is new to the pro points game, but at the rate he's going, he'll be racking up quite a few today.

Rage Monger gave way to a cheaper Deathbellow Minotaur, followed by Archetype of Aggression and a Mogis's Fanatic. Ray of Dissolution kept Sammy T's head above water—but only until he threw two creatures in front of a Ragemonger and paid for it with Boon of Erebos.

"I didn't want to block," Sammy T lamented after the match, "but I wasn't going to beat a Boon of Erebos anyway."

Berrios 2 – Tharmaratnam 1

Sunday, 3:15 p.m. – Recapping Draft #2—In contention

by Blake Rasmussen

The second draft is where the rubber hits the road in every Grand Prix, and this particular one is proving to be particularly exciting and fraught with tension. Based on math by the unimpeachable Richard Hagon, a record of 13-2 will be absolutely necessary to make the Top 8, barring any wonkiness. And even then a 13-2 record might not be a gurarantee.

But none of these players are going to rely on wonkiness to get them anywhere. Dozens of players are in contention, but we grabbed seven to highlight that headed into the second draft with a ton to gain—and little room for error.

Christian Calcano

Christian Calcano is a player who has flittered in and out of the World Top 25 rankings, but currently sits on the outside looking in. Now at 33 points, Calcano needs to go at least 2-1 to make the Top 8 and, hopefully, sneak back into the Top 25. Calcano's done it before at the Grand Prix level, so there's no real reason to doubt he can do it again, especially since he thinks his draft went very well. It even contains, as he said "my favorite thing to do in the format." We'll leave that little nugget till the feature match area.

(2) Reid Duke

It's almost greedy for Reid Duke to go after another Grand Prix Top 8. He's already second in the Player of the Year rankings (though, to be fair, he's a distant second), and he's been on a tear since the World Championship last year. This time around he needs a 2-1 finish to make another Top 8. His nearly Mono Black deck certainly looks poised to accomplish just that.

Joe Dimestrio

Joe Dimestrio has been on a quest. A quest for a Top 16 that will give him enough points to qualify him for two Pro Tours. 2-1 won't guarantee that result, so he really does need to 3-0 to get there, a record that would also put him in contention for the Top 8. Unfortunately, he doesn't think his black-blue deck is very good, though it does have some bombs that could win a few games all on their own.

(24) David Ochoa

"My deck sucks."

Ok, moving on.

Kidding. David Ochoa wasn't happy with his deck, but at first glance it looked ok. Yes, his curve was too high, yes, he lacked a few key items that typically make blue-green tick. Yes, I'm trying to talk myself into this deck that Ochoa seemed to want no part of. He's another 3-0 or bust, so it's not looking good for the Ocho.

Shaheen Soorani

If Shaheen Soorani makes the Top 8, it will be his third draft in the format. That includes the other two he's done today.

"I wasn't planning on playing a lot of limited," he said.

Well, he might be playing a little bit more if he hits 3-0 in the last draft. His aggressive red-green deck looks strong enough to pull off the feat, so don't be surprised to see Soorani reading cards in the Top 8.

Jon Finkel

"Yeah, my deck is really good."

I won't give it all away, but as much as Ochoa was unhappy with his blue-green draft, that's how happy Hall of Famer Jon Finkel was with his. Ben Stark, who had been watching the draft, said it "drafted itself" and "on a scale of difficulty from 1 to 10, your draft was a -10." Jon didn't disagree.

If his path through his pod—which includes Soorani, Ochoa, Demestrio, as well as Jamie Parke and Samuel Tharmaratman—is as easy as his draft, Finkel could rack up yet another GP Top 8, but it's going to take yet another 3-0 from the master.

(25) William Jensen

Yes, we could have two Oath Brothers in the Top 8 if things break right for William Jensen. However, he was really unhappy with his deck. He didn't think he made any mistakes, he just never felt he saw good cards. It's possible the whole pod is in the same boat as Jensen's weak blue-white deck—which does at least have a bevy of fliers—but if not, Jensen could be on the outside watching close friend Reid Duke jump in. It's 3-0 or bust for Jensen.

Round 13 Feature Match - Retribution for Reid Duke?

by Justin Vizaro

To my left is a match between journeyman Joe DeMestrio and veteran Shaheen Soorani, and to my right is an opportunity for Reid Duke to get a little bit of retribution against the man who has thus far handed him his only loss, the last-remaining undefeated player (Mark Evaldi) at 12-0. Evaldi essentially needs to win only one of his next three rounds in order to make Top 8, and Duke is here to make sure that it won't be easy for him to do so.

Both Reid and Mark managed to draft blue-black, which is an archetype we've seen pursued quite frequently in these day 2 drafts. The presence of removal, strong finishers, and flying creatures makes for a nice mix of spells. While it is strange for two players to have a strong pile of cards in the same combination of colors, it is certainly not unlikely when the card power is as deep as it is in these two colors. Duke and Evaldi also sat across from each other, making the likelihood as high as possible for them to have a similar build.

Both players opened game 1 with what one would expect from decks like these: a slower first few turns followed by some excessively strong mid-game threats. Various species of Harpy hit the graveyard early, as both players understand the importance of removing the opponent's flying creatures from the table before too long. Evaldi managed to keep his Insatiable Harpy on the table to pad his own life total and slowly chip away at Duke's.

As both players continued to add power to the table, Evaldi's draws seemed to be providing more gas that Duke's, which were showing a steady flow of lands for multiple turns. After a pair of Gray Merchant of Asphodel pushed Duke through a few more draw phases looking for an answer to the Harpy, Evaldi was able to work him down slowly, and patiently took the win from Duke in game 1.

A transformational sideboard plan from Duke going into game 2 led him to cut blue in favor of green, and also to choose to be on the draw, assuming the potential benefit of the extra card in this matchup. The majority of the cards in Duke's maindeck are black, and he found support for the mostly-black strategy from two copies of Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Duke decided to mulligan on the draw, and watched Evaldi open with an attacking Restored Phalanx in the first few turns. After deciding to take the draw, a slow start is precisely what Duke hoped to see from Evaldi going into a critical game 2.

As the game dragged into turn 6 with Reid only at 14, his decision to give himself the option to mulligan became a clear boon for him. Evaldi's 6th turn showed Archetype of Imagination, however, a threat that Duke promptly hit with Lash of the Whip to avoid getting trounced by a team of fliers. Evaldi, with Duke rather low on life, pushed him into a corner with two removal spells (downfall and cure) and an attack for 5. Duke's Green Splash, Pharika's Mender, threatened to dig Duke's hopes out of the graveyard as Evaldi struggled to push the final points of damage through.

Pharika's Mender
Pharika's Mender is an excellent tool for decks battling against a large amount of removal

Duke eventually drew into Gray Merchant of Asphodel, which provided a safety net for him to re-establish his board position. Pharika's Mender #2 started an endless loop of Menders, which proved instrumental in containing Evaldi's larger ground game as he dug deeper into his library for answers. Evaldi's second copy of Hero's Downfall helped him eliminate Insatiable harpy from the mix, and push through a few points of damage from Siren of the Silent Song.

Duke wasn't going out easily, though, as he found a nice combat phase with Erebos's Emissary for 7 damage, and followed it with Rescue from the Underworld, sacrificing Gray Merchant of Asphodel to return both Merchant and Pharika's Mender, draining for 5 in the process. Gravediggers are very strong in these types of mirror matches, and Reid's sideboard change proved very effective in keeping him alive for game 3.

After a slow start to the third game and a Nullify for Reid's Servant of Tymaret, Pharika's Mender showed its power level again by digging up the servant, and eating a Bile Blight from Evaldi. Duke, sitting on a packed hand, watched as Evaldi tried to build a board full of relatively sizable vanilla creatures. The Servant of Tymaret, by blocking and regenerating to keep the Inspired trigger alive, effectively negated Evaldi's attacks with Marshmist Titan and Felhide Minotaur. After casting Shrike Harpy (which ate Felhide Minotaur), Duke sent the Servant into the red zone on the following turn, only to see Triton Tactics from Evaldi. With both players sitting on a mediocre board position, Reid added Returned Phalanx and Gray Merchant of Asphodel, then a quick hit with Marshmist Titan wearing Fleetfoot Sandals, which met Sip of Hemlock on Evaldi's turn. Duke promptly untapped and followed with the second copy of Gray Merchant of Asphodel to close the game.

Reid's sideboard plan of two Pharika's Menders was no accident, and he was ready for this type of matchup with multiple Gravedigger effects, which he cited as a key contributor to the plan in attrition-like matchups. "Because my deck was mostly Black, it afforded me the luxury of finding niche cards like that to help me against decks like these," Duke explained as he emerged from his revenge match like Manny Pacquiao- victorious, and fully rebounded from his loss last round.

Quick Question - What was the best play you made all weekend?

by Blake Rasmussen

Jackie Lee

"I was curving out on turns one two and three, and my opponent played a Setessan Oathsworn, so I was already pretty happy. Then he casts Feral Instinct and I could barely hide my amusement. So I attack in with everything and he blocks and then casts Triton Tactics. In response, I cast Fall of the Hammer and three-for-one'd him."

(11) Alexander Hayne

"I had a tapped Pheres-Band Tromper and my opponent had a Fabled Hero. He cast an Ordeal on it and attacked. I cast Crypsis and blocked, but he had Acolyte's Reward. So in response I cast Retraction Helix on my Tromper and bounced it. Then I untapped and bestowed Thassa's Emissary on the now 5/5 and attacked for 8. I won the game two turns later."

Christian Calcano

"On Day 1 my opponent had a few blockers and played Xenagos, the Reveler and passed the turn. In response, I cast Retraction Helix on my Wavecrash Triton, tapping on of his guys and bouncing another, then used Kiora's Followers to untap the Triton and bounce the other creature. Then I got to untap and attack with enough to kill Xenagos."

Conley Woods

"On like turn seven I cast Ragemonger, Kragma Warcaller, and Rageblood Shaman all in the same turn. I could have cast them sooner, but I had other cards to play and wanted to set up like 15 damage out of nowhere."

David Ochoa

"My most unexpected was when I was light on mana—three Forests and an Opaline Unicorn—and needed to kill a Sedge Scorpion. He attacked and I cast Breaching Hippocamp off of the Unicorn, used it to untap the Unicorn and cast Lost in the Labyrinth on the Scorpion. I killed the Scorpion without losing anything and I got to scry."

Sunday, 4:45 p.m. – Play the Game. See the World.

by Justin Vizaro

It is quite common for players to travel great distances for Grand Prix and Pro Tour tournaments and other high-value events like SCG and TCG open series. Most players have phenomenal stories from their travels, whether an overnight drive to a city a few hundred miles away for a PTQ, or a tale of Trains, Planes, and Hotel Rooms. In fact, the ubiquity of good stories spawned its own Twitter feed, with players, vendors, and friends posting to social media with #mtgstories tags.

These stories are the embodiment of the competitive Magic scene, and for many players, are the main reason to continue playing this game. It is, after all, called Magic the Gathering, and justifiably so; we gather anywhere and everywhere to play this game.

This weekend, a few players are on the last legs of a long series of travel that includes Grand Prixs that span the country, and some that have crossed international borders. One of these players is Joe DeMestrio, whose story has already been mentioned in feature match coverage. Joe has set foot in dozens of states, and has even ventured into South America questing for Silver this season.

Another group that has traveled quite a distance is a European team that has ventured across the Atlantic in search of Grand Prix events, as there has only been 1 Grand Prix in Europe so far this season. Valentin Mackl, Wenzel Krautman, Florian Koch, Andreas Ganz, and Bernhard Lehner are currently on a trip that includes Phoenix and Philadelphia Grand Prixs, and they have some great stories from their travels.

Valentin Mackl's anecdote is a bit of a comedic routine from his trip to Richmond for the Super-GP that took place there in March. While traveling with Patrick Dickmann, it was determined that the most favorable course of action would be to venture between New York, Richmond, and Montreal, spending down-time in New York. Patrick easily found a ride to Richmond, but unfortunately, only for one person, leaving Valentin with the conundrum of trying to get to Richmond without a car, and without access to the internet or his phone.

Fast forward to the point at which Christian Calcano helped Valentin find a ride, and further to the point at which he was lost, without internet, without a phone, weary from traveling, and extremely cold. He noticed, as he wandered from a bus station to a train station, that his bag slowly became lighter and lighter by the minute. Having scattered his belongings along the road, he was delighted to find a Taxi in the middle of nowhere to make his trip easier.

Upon arriving at the train station, Mackl still didn't have a clue how he was supposed to get where he was going, and was without a phone. He resorted to a pay phone, which he had no idea how to use. A homeless man at the train station was able to give him some much-needed insight, and later helped him purchase a bus ticket to Richmond. Good guy Mackl tipped the man $20 for his concierge services, which he says was $20 very well-spent.

Just after arriving in the wrong place at the end of the bus ride, Mackl found a Taxi that was able to take him to the hotel where he planned to meet Dickmann. Neither man booked a hotel room, because with nothing more than a 4000-player Grand Prix in town, they expected there to be vacancy everywhere. After finally settling into a hotel, they managed to sleep through the first 2 rounds of the event.

"That kind of thing would never happen to me; I'm the organizer," explains Wenzel Krautmann, champion of Grand Prix Warsaw (2013).

Wenzel provided a little bit of insight for those of you trying to assemble a traveling team, and it includes the use of Facebook to help you organize your trips. He says that there is a 40-50 person facebook group consisting of primarily German-speaking pro players that travel together to overseas tournaments. Rarely will one of them travel alone, so they use the group to coordinate everything. Krautmann says that the Facebook travel planning isn't fool-proof, however, and that some of the guys *ahem* Valentin and Patrick *ahem* probably would benefit from having a travel agent as well.

Both players said that their fondest memories of being on the road traveling to tournaments rarely come from the tournaments themselves. Even though they all love to play, they thoroughly enjoy seeing the world, meeting new people, and spending time devoted to Magic with friends. As for Atlanta, they've already coordinated their plans, and Krautmann and the rest of the team have agreed to chip in some help to make sure Valentin makes it to the house (and the tournament site) with little incident.

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