by Rich HagonSunday, 12:36 a.m.Round 11 Minute by Minute
by Nate PriceSaturday, 11:53 p.m.Team-Building Exercise
by Steve SadinSaturday, 10:56 p.m.Quick Hits: What's your favorite guild in Return to Ravnica Limited?
by Rich HagonFeature Match Round 8Tom Ma, Christian Calcano, Ben Swartz vs. Thomas Holzinger, Daniel Grafensteiner, Jonas Kostler
by Steve SadinSaturday, 9:15 p.m.Speak Up!
by Steve SadinFeature Match Round 5Josh Utter-Leyton, David Ochoa, Patrick Chapin vs. Brandon Scheel, Julian Booher, Ryan O'Connor
by Sheldon MenerySaturday, 6:29 p.m.Fearsome Foes
by Rich HagonSaturday, 4:39 p.m.Tales from the Floor in Four
by Steve SadinSaturday, 4:10 p.m.New School Nuclei
by Sheldon MenerySaturday, 2:41 p.m.Old School Renaissance
by Rich HagonSaturday, 12:11 p.m.Limited. Sort Of.
by Event Coverage StaffInfo: Fact Sheet
Saturday, 12:11 p.m. – Limited. Sort Of.
By common consent, the Pre-Releases for Return to Ravnica were fantastic affairs. As far as I know, there wasn't actually a vote for this, but I'd have voted five times, since that was the number of Pre-Releases I got through in the space of 36 hours of near non-stop gaming awesome. Traditionally, this much Sealed Deck action would have seen you in good stead for the opening of the Pro Tour Gatecrash Qualifiers, since Sealed Deck is the format for this season. At the Return to Ravnica Pre-Releases, however, there was a peculiar and rather wonderful wrinkle, namely the Guild Booster.
For the 99.999% of you who know about the Guild Booster, skip to the next paragraph. For the two of you who don't, you were asked to choose your Guild from amongst the five available: Azorius, Izzet, Golgari, Selesnya, and Rakdos. You were given a special Guild Box. This contained assorted goodies, but most significantly included a unique Guild Booster, packed with cards exclusively in your color combination. If you were Rakdos, for example, your Guild Booster was full of red and black cards. Simple.
What the artfully-designed Guild Boosters more or less guaranteed was that you'd be able to build a competitive deck in your guild colors. Since every Guild Booster also had a particular rare in it - Carnival Hellsteed was the Rakdos rare, for example - as you played your way through multiple Pre-Releases you started to understand what each guild archetype looked like, and where the automatic rare sat within that deck.
In the aftermath of the Pre-Releases, many players were quick to point to the power of Rakdos, with its super-aggressive curve of Unleash monsters. Plenty more were enamored with Selesnya, pounding out game-ending 8/8s. Anecdotally, this was fine, but what it wasn't was 'normal' Sealed Deck. Replacing the sixth conventional booster with a Guild Booster made for wonderful play experiences, especially for newer players who didn't know the fundamentals of Limited deckbuilding, and would have been confronted by vastly complex deckbuild issues with all the multi-colored cards. What replacing that conventional sixth booster also did is leave us with a slightly, yet critically, warped view of what the Return to Ravnica limited environment looks like.
Which brings us to RTR limited Part Deux. Today, hundreds of teams will use the cards from Magic's latest expansion to form 40 card decks. That makes those decks limited, right? Just like the Pre-Release, the real answer is 'sort of'. Here's why:
Today's teams have 12 boosters to work with, and they have to build three complete 40 card decks - sharing cards isn't allowed. That's twice as many total cards as for a conventional single sealed deck, which might make you suppose they would be weaker than the typical sealed deck built by a single player at any given PTQ. After all, there are only 'four boosters each' between your three players. In reality, it doesn't work like that. With three players sharing twelve boosters, it's possible to divide those cards extremely profitably, such that very few cards of high quality are left on your collective bench. Imagine, when you're playing a sealed deck on your own, opening Vraska the Unseen , but very few good Golgari cards to go with her, but a strong overall Izzet deck. You play Izzet, and Vraska goes into the highly-prized part of your trade folder. In teams, Vraska is almost always going to find a home, and that works for every good rare, every good uncommon, and every good common. They're all getting played.
So if the Pre-Release wasn't 'real' limited, and this weekend here in California isn't 'real' limited, where might we find such a thing?
Conveniently enough, there's a Pro Tour in Seattle next week.
Conveniently enough, there's six rounds of Return to Ravnica draft. No teams, no Guild Boosters.
Conveniently enough, we'll be covering both drafts live.
Want to know what Return to Ravnica limited looks like? You know where to come.
Saturday, 2:41 p.m. – Old School Renaissance
At 51, as folks around Magic go, I'm the oldest kid in this schoolyard. That's why I'm thoroughly excited to see some old school players and old school teams here at GP San Jose. Two of the teams that are capturing my imagination this weekend are the famed "Team Antarctica" of Jon Finkel and the O'Mahoney-Schwartz brothers Steve and Daniel, and Brian Kibler, Justin Gary, and John Fiorillo, guys who were all playing back when deck lists were written on papyrus and 571 team Grands Prix were a distant fantasy.
Jon Finkel and Brian Kibler are Hall of Famers and resurgent pros (both last seen at the Magic Players Championship in August) who have chosen to come to this event with compatriots from the olden days—but this isn't just a case of top line guys dragging along also-rans or leveraging friendships. The other four players on these teams have legit Magic resumes, and both of these teams have legit chances to do extremely well this weekend.
Before moving away from professional Magic, Kibler's teammate Fiorillo notched two Grand Prix Top 8s in Richmond and Toronto in 2006, and a Two-Headed Giant Pro Tour Top 4 along with Eugene Harvey (San Diego 2007). Justin Gary is a Pro Tour (Houston, 2002) and Grand Prix (Pittsburgh, 2003) Champion as well as racking up two additional Grand Prix Top 8s (Manchester, 2000 and New Jersey, 2002), two Pro Tour Top 8s (Rome, 1998 and New York, 2001), and a World Team Championship in Berlin in 2003, alongside Gabe Walls and Joshua Wagner. He's a legitimate candidate for the Hall of Fame, finishing sixth on the ballot in 2012.
Finkel's teammates are just as storied. Dan OMS played in 24 Pro Tours and three World Championships. Steve is a Hall of Famer himself, hosting two individual Grand Prix trophies (Madrid, 1998 and Zurich, 1998) as well as a Team Limited (St. Louis, 2000) and then coming back with a vengeance from a long absence to take down the Two-Headed Giant Grand Prix (Massachusetts, 2007) along with Matt Wang. He won Pro Tour Los Angeles in 1999 and is commonly regarded as one of the top Limited players of all time.
Magic is about more than just the game, about more than tournaments and travels. It's about friendships and collaborations that stand the great test of time to be just as strong and just as powerful now as they were more than a decade ago. These two teams, similar in history and similar in construction, bring yesterday into strong focus today, showing a new generation of players how to move into the future.
Saturday, 4:10 p.m. – New School Nuclei
Over the last 5 years, Team ChannelFireball has been The team to beat in professional Magic. Individually, they are all hyper-intelligent people who are very capable of solving problems, and building great decks. And under the leadership of Luis Scott-Vargas, they've become even greater than the sum of their parts -- a fact that can be evidenced by the seas of ChannelFireball shirts that can be seen in just about every Grand Prix and Pro Tour Top 8 that's taken place since 2008.
While Team ChannelFireball shows no sign of slowing down any time soon – there's a new generation of challengers who are doing their best to topple the juggernaut.
Massachusetts native Matt Costa, and upstate New Yorker Reid Duke are the two youngest players on the Pro Tour superteam SCG Black. Like many other players who have come to prominence Both Costa and Duke honed their skills on Magic Online, and have seen their hard work pay off with a steady stream of top finishes in professional tournaments. Costa and Duke have each posted 3 Grand Prix Top 8s (including a win apiece), Costa earned his first Pro Tour Top 8 at Pro Tour Dark Ascension in Honolulu earlier this year, and Reid Duke demonstrated the digital realm by winning the 2011 Magic Online Championship.
For this tournament the two young phenoms have teamed up with the relatively senior Ben "silver fox" Lundquist. While Costa and Duke have been at the tops of their respective games recently, four-time Grand Prix Top 8 competitor Ben Lundquist is just starting to rev things up again, and is hoping to re-qualify for the Pro Tour this weekend.
With Hall of Fame veterans like Jon Finkel, and top caliber deckbuilders like Sam Black to help mentor them as they prepare for events with Team SCG Black – Reid Duke, and Matt Costa are on pace to become two of the most successful players of the modern era. And with the stalwart Ben Lundquist at their side, there's no reason to think that they won't walk away with a trophy this weekend.
While Duke and Costa have been leading the new wave of northeastern pros, Shenhar, Michael Hetrick, and Ricky Sidher have been quietly making names for themselves on the West Coast.
Shenhar, Hetrick, and Sidher met at A-1 Comics and Games in Roseville, California where they quickly became friends... and rivals.
Their friendly rivalries have pushed the Californian trio to get better and better in order to keep up with one another. Over the course of the past three years they've gone from being feared competitors at their local store, to PTQ "ringers", to regular fixtures atop the standings of North American Grand Prix.
While Hetrick was the first member of the group to receive international attention (thanks to his successes on Magic Online as _shipitholla), recently, Shahar Shenhar has become the most successful member of the group – winning Grand Prix San Diego 2011, and Grand Prix Salt Lake City 2012.
In order to claim these titles, however, he had to dispatch Ricky Sidher in the Top 8 of Grand Prix San Diego, and Michael Hetrick in the Top 8 of Grand Prix Salt Lake City.
While they haven't posted any Top 8s at Pro Tours (yet) Shenhar, Hetrick, and Sidher's countless hours on Magic Online and at A-1 Comics and Games have allowed them to constantly improve their abilities, and their results -- and, much like Reid Duke, and Matt Costa, they show no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Saturday, 4:39 p.m. – Tales from the Floor in Four
So here we are in the thick of the action as round 4 gets under way. There are so many great teams here from across the United States, but the forthcoming Return to Ravnica Pro Tour next week means that every major Magic nation is well represented. Having won their first matches, an Austrian-German alliance of Thomas Holzinger, Daniel Grafensteiner, and Jonas Kostler took on the Swedish trio of Elias Watsfeldt, Kenny Oberg, and Ludvig Londos. That's a lot of European experience crammed onto three small tables.
Holzinger v Watsfeldt looked to be a Golgari mirror with Ogre Jailbreaker s staring across the table at each other. One of the classic matchups of the weekend saw Oberg with Rakdos facing the tempo of Grafensteiner with Azorius, the German using Azorius Arrester and Skymark Roc early in game one. That left Londos with the Swedish Azorius deck, facing Kostler with Rakdos, and it was Kostler who was using Civic Saber to great effect.
Less than eight minutes into the round, and Watsfeldt took the lead over Holzinger. His Korozda Guildmage helped him through. Meanwhile, Oberg had Guttersnipe in play against Grafensteiner, and with both Traitorous Instinct and Auger Spree in hand, he looked in good shape in his game one. Although Londos was also looking fairly even with Kostler, the German had added Desecration Demon to his board, and left unchecked that's an Abyss every turn.
A couple of tables down the way, one of the coolest teams of the weekend were in action. The 2010 Player of the Year, Brad Nelson, could have picked many possible team-mates. He went with not one, but two Pro Tour Champions in the form of Jacob van Lunen and Chris Lachmann, the winners of Pro Tour San Diego 2007. Van Lunen was down a game, thanks to a timely Traitorous Instinct stealing his Sphinx of the Chimes ...
Nelson, meanwhile, was mired in a Selesnya mirror, with his opponent looking to be edging ahead thanks to the 'two halves' of Armada Wurm . It looked like the Champions had plenty of work to do, since Chris Lachmann was also one down...
With only one game in action, it was time to move on again, this time to the 'young guns' trio of Reid Duke, Matt Costa, and Ben Lundquist - although maybe Ben isn't quite as young as all that these days! As I arrived, all three matches were shuffling for a series of game twos, with the hot favorites in the match all 1-0 to the good.
Lundquist was quickly under pressure in his second game, facing Rakdos Cackler on turn one, followed by Civic Saber , and then the mighty Pack Rat . Pack Rat , if you've not yet had the pleasure of one in your deck, is what we in the trade call A Bit Good. Put simply, it can win you the game without you ever casting another spell, and that's pretty impressive for a notional 1/1. To nobody's surprise, the Rakdos player simply spent his next turn discarding an unwanted land, turning both Pack Rat s into 2/2s. Reid Duke's opponent was handicapped meanwhile with a horrible five card hand that promised no good likely outcomes. Back in the Lundquist match, he now faced an Unleashed Spawn of Rix Maadi , the impressively aggressive uncommon as a 6/4. It looked like a long way back for Lundquist...
Over at the all-European clash, Elias Watsfeldt had successfully dispatched Thomas Holzinger, while Jonas Kostler had evened the score over Ludvig Londos. That left Grafensteiner v Oberg for the three points this round, with the German up 1-0. With Knightly Valor on Keening Apparition resolving successfully, it looked as if Kostler was going to blunt the Rakdos assault of Oberg. Not for the first, or the last time today, Traitorous Instinct changed the flow of the game. Rix Maadi Guildmage threatened to make Kostler's blocks extremely problematic. Back came Grafensteiner with Palisade Giant , the 2/7 providing quite the roadblock. It also gave the German the cover he needed to turn his remaining team sideways into the red zone. Oberg used Mizzium Mortars to transform the landscape once more...
Over in the PT Champion zone, Lachmann had finished, Nelson had finished, and that left Jacob van Lunen to finish out the round. His Bloodfray Giant was Unleashed, while his Frostburn Weird was met with Stab Wound from his opponent, Matt O'Brien. He had a Frostburn of his own - Weird! His board was completed by an Unleashed Rakdos Cackler . Across the hall, the European conflict was brought to a conclusion by Grafensteiner besting Oberg 2-0. Here, though, it was a case of whether van Lunen could survive...
He couldn't. A sixth land from the top of O'Brien's deck allowed him to aim Explosive Impact straight to the face, and another huge scalp had been claimed.
So what about Messrs. Lundquist, Duke, and Costa? Duke had already won his match, and with both the others tied at 1-1, a game win in either would seal the match for the US Pros. Lundquist was once again facing down Pack Rat , but this was turn four, and his opponent had yet to lay a third land. Costa's Selesnya/Golgari hybrid - Golnya, anyone? - looked in deep trouble against an Izzet deck that sported the mighty Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius .
Thankfully, it wouldn't matter. While Costa sportingly played out his now meaningless decider, that third land had cost Lundquist's opponent the game, and ultimately the match. With the clock ticking towards zero, the scoreboard read:
Holzinger, Grafensteiner, Kostler win.
Costa, Duke, Lundquist win.
Lachmann, Nelson, van Lunen lose.
More from the floor later on!
Saturday, 6:29 p.m. – Fearsome Foes
While traveling to San Jose yesterday, I had the opportunity to look over an early list of pre-registered teams. I was really excited about some of the absolute powerhouses on the roster. The first team that jumped out at me was SCG Black's lineup of Sam Black, Gaudenis Vidiguris, and Tom Martell. Then I saw Martin Juza, Ben Stark, and Shuuhei Nakamura. My excitement prompted me to do a fair amount of social media posting about all the teams, but the first question I asked returned me to the first names I had noticed: "Which team would scare you more to face: Black/Vidiguris/Martell or Juza/Stark/Nakamura?"
There was a great deal of respect for each one the players, and justifiably so. Shuuhei is already a Hall of Famer, and every one of the other five has a legitimate shot to someday be enshrined. Vidiguris and Martell are both on pretty good heaters, having won GPs in the last six months. Sam Black is recognized as one of the great creative minds in Magic. All three have popular streams, and one of the posters mentioned watching them as a significant factor in his choice to not want to face them. In the end, Juza/Stark/Nakamura were winners in this little poll, and what seemed to push them over the edge was the strength of perhaps the greatest Limited player of all time, Ben Stark.
The very first comment set the tone for many of the responses. "Juza/Stark/Nakamura because when it comes to limited formats it's Ben Stark and William Jensen 1 and 2 lifetime in win percentage," followed quickly by "Stark scared me period,"and "When Stark is an option, there is no other option."Our own Adam Styborski mentioned "Juza, Stark, and Nakamura are three I follow religiously for Limited. DI terrifying as a team."
Ben's skill as Limited player isn't just impressive to fans of the game and other pros, it's impressive to his own teammates. Last night while practicing against the equally titanic team of Shouta Yasooka, Tomaharu Saito, and Rei Satou, Juza enlisted the services of the coverage team's Nate Price to sit in his draft seat so that he could sit behind Stark and study with the master. The two quietly discussed each pick of each pack and how they would craft the strategy of the whole draft, which they ended up winning, setting a powerful tone for their performance this weekend.
Team Trios is clearly a format where the individuals need to work together, capitalizing on the best of the skills of each of them to make the whole team better. It's the time you're most likely to see great players look to other great players for guidance and direction. When one of your teammates is recognized as the best of the best, the sky's the limit.
Feature Match Round 5 – Josh Utter-Leyton, David Ochoa, Patrick Chapin vs. Brandon Scheel, Julian Booher, Ryan O'Connor
Team ChannelFireball members Josh Utter-Leyton and David Ochoa have been preparing for tournaments, chowing down at backyard barbecues, and travelling together for years. So when they found out that there was a team Grand Prix scheduled for this year, it only seemed natural that the two of them would pair up.
However, the soft-spoken duo still needed to find a third.
Enter the newest member of the Team ChannelFireball testing team: the boisterous Patrick Chapin.
While Chapin might have seemed like a somewhat unlikely third to go with Utter-Leyton and Ochoa – their entire team was confident that they would work well together, and complement each other nicely.
Across the table from them this round is a similarly unlikely trio. Stoic old school pro Brandon Scheel was dragged out of retirement to team up with the youthful Julian Booher, and the hirsute Ryan O'Connor to form a squad that even they weren't sure would work.
But despite their early reservations, Scheel, Booher, and O'Connor have gotten off to a quick 4-0 start and have (at least up until this point) avoided bickering (too much).
Josh Utter-Leyton vs Brandon Scheel
In game one, Scheel's Selsnya splash black deck offered up the blockers that he needed to stave off the initial assault from Utter-Leyton's Rakdos deck. But without any way to launch an offense off his own, Scheel could only sit and watch as Utter-Leyton finished him off with a Deathrite Shaman and a Rakdos's Return .
Josh Utter-Leyton 1 – Brandon Scheel 0
David Ochoa vs Julian Booher
Judging by how quickly he was able to slash his way to victory in game one – it seemed like Booher's aggressive Rakdos deck would be able to run away with the match. But a removal-light draw from Booher in game two allowed Ochoa to lock up the board with the much-maligned Armory Guard .
Without any creatures large enough to go toe-to-toe with even the meekest member of Ochoa's army, or any removal spells, it didn't take long before Booher was shuffling up for the third game.
David Ochoa 1 – Julian Booher 1
Utter-Leton vs Brandon Scheel (Game Two)
Scheel got off to an early lead in game two with Deathrite Shaman , Centaur's Herald , and a Centaur Healer -- but a barrage of removal spells left Scheel with nothing but a hand full of spells that he didn't yet have the mana to cast.
Utter-Leyton/Ochoa/Chapin 1 –Scheel/Booher/O'Connor 0
Patrick Chapin vs Ryan O'Connor
After Scheel lost first match of the day, Booher and O'Connor were put into a spot where they both needed to win in order to remain undefeated.
While Booher shuffled, O'Connor went to the air with a Sunspire Griffin , and a Runewing – however his aggressive aspirations were short lived as Izzet Straitcaster, Runewing , and Goblin Rally put Chapin in the driver's seat.
O'Connor kept tried to catch up, but the Izzet Straitcaster made blocking a nightmarish proposition for his deck that was mostly devoid of high toughness creatures.
And when O'Connor finally got the opportunity to cast a spell that might get him back into the game – Chapin was ready with an answer. Street Spasm , Izzet Charm , and finally a Dispel kept O'Connor exposed long enough for Chapin to hack his way to victory with his army of 1/1 goblins.
Final Result: Utter-Leyton/Ochoa/Chapin 2 – Scheel/Booher/O'Connor 0
Saturday, 9:15 p.m. – Speak Up!
"We would be undefeated if we weren't so bad." boomed Antonino DeRosa. "We have one player on our team who is good – but he's too quiet."
Too quiet? Could a player's ability to project their voice actually be a relevant factor in determining a team's success?
"During the match Gerard and I are both talking to each other, trying to figure out what to do – but we don't know. Then our other teammate (Pro Tour Kuala Lumpur finalist Mario Pascoli) sees the right play, but we can't hear him, so we mess up. Then after the match he gets mad at us that we didn't make the right play, and I tell him: dude, we can't hear you – how are we supposed to know what to do?"
So remember – when you're playing in a team event alongside animated and energetic players like Gerard Fabiano and Antonino DeRosa, being able to get your teammates' attention is just as important as figuring out the right play.
Feature Match Round 5 – Tom Ma, Christian Calcano, Ben Swartz vs. Thomas Holzinger, Daniel Grafensteiner, Jonas Kostler
Four rounds still to go on Day One, and nobody is certain of a berth in day two. These two teams, however, have a better chance than anyone else. 2-2 will see them get into draft action on Sunday, and the winner here will only need one win from their last three to return in the morning.
To the matchups:
Swartz - Izzet v Kostler - Rakdos
Calcano - Golgari v Grafensteiner - Azorius
Ma - Selesnya v Holzinger - Golgari
Kostler opened on Rakdos Cackler , the perfect turn one play, with a second on turn two. That's pretty good as well. Swartz worked his way back into the game, trading away a Runewing , before dropping the powerhouse Mercurial Chemister . Kostler needed the Chemister gone, and fast, but his next play was Hellhole Flailer . The Chemister shot it down, Swartz losing a Vassal Soul from hand to accomplish it. Annihilating Fire then took out the Chemister, leaving Kostler back in the game, with Swartz down to ten life.
Next door, Calcano was facing a considerable Azorius force from Grafensteiner, including Skymark Roc , and New Prahv Guildmage , together with an early beater in the form of Dryad Militant . The American had only an Dead Reveler , but things changed significantly when one of Calcano's power cards was revealed - Vraska the Unseen .
The Austrian Holzinger was also playing Golgari, and he too had good reason to do so on the battlefield against Ma. This time it was Jarad, the Golgari Lich Lord, and that was going to be tough for Ma, playing Selesnya, to deal with.
Back to Swartz, and the battlefield was now empty except for a very threatening Desecration Demon . No tapping if there are no creatures in play... Swartz attempted to craft a way out of the dangerous situation, but Kostler was ready with Explosive Impact to take the game.
Swartz 0 - 1 Kostler
Grafensteiner took the lead against Calcano moments later, and the German-Austrian alliance was in good shape early.
Calcano 0 - 1 Grafensteiner
Only Ma and Holzinger were still going in their opener. Ma found Trostani's Judgment for Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord , and that proved to be pivotal. With a growing army of populated assortments, he charged past Holzinger to get the American team on the board.
Ma 1 - 0 Holzinger
Swartz and Kostler were first into their second game, the American Runewing not quite matching up to Dead Reveler . Hellhole Flailer was next, and once again Swartz was under pressure. He attacked with Runewing - if it wasn't blocking, it might as well be attacking - and followed the attack with Voidwielder , bouncing the Hellhole Flailer , which Kostler replayed. Quite the tempo play for Swartz. Speaking of tempo, Grafensteiner was making the early running against Calcano, this time with Keening Apparition and New Prahv Guildmage . Calcano had a pair of Dead Reveler both Unleashed, with Trestle Troll looking to provide some cover. With Azorius Arrester and Stealer of Secrets , Grafensteiner continued to be all about the tempo plays, setting Calcano back repeatedly.
In truth, the European team had been very impressive throughout the day to date, and as the matches wore on it seemed that the American decks - not necessarily the players, but the tools they had to work with - were increasingly outmatched.
Kostler dropped Swartz to 5. Then he dropped Swartz to 2. Then he dropped Swartz to game over.
Swartz 0 - 2 Kostler
Now it was must win time for Calcano. He had a handful of powerful spells, but not a board full of powerful mana. That's never a good combination, and moments after Kostler had 6given the Europeans the lead, Grafensteiner ensured that the match between Ma and Holzinger would be purely academic.
Calcano 0 - 2 Grafensteiner
Game, set, and match to the European alliance.
Reid Duke – Rakdos.
Eric Froehlich – Selesnya.
Ben Stark – Selesnya.
Alan Comer – I don't think it's the best, but I enjoy messing around with Izzet.
Saturday, 11:53 p.m. - Team-Building Exercise
The game never stops. Regardless of whether players have dropped from the tournament or finished the full day of play, there is always more Magic to be played. Scattered throughout the many tables of the Public Events area, bars and restaurants of the surrounding city, and the hotel lobbies up and down the streets you can see players sitting in groups of six around whatever flat surface they can find, partaking of one of Magic's greatest traditions: the 6-person team draft.
The 6-person team draft has been a major part of the post-event festivities in the pro Magic community for over a decade. As an incredibly fun, skill-testing way to play the game, the team Booster Draft has traditionally been a great way for pros to continue to hone their Limited skills, but do so in a fairly informal format. Despite the seemingly lax nature of these drafts, players still take the sessions seriously. I mean, these are some of the most competitive players on the planet. Yeah, this may be friendly, but losing is out of the question...
The world of after-hours Magic at events, while dominated by a bunch of familiar faces, it's still a wonderful melting pot of players. You can watch Ben Stark, Paul Reitzl, and Paulo Damo Vitor da Rosa taking on Yuuya Watanabe, Shuhei Nakamura, and Martin Juza on one table before getting bored and then pack things up and wander over to watch Alessandro Potaro, Ivan Floch, and Daniel Grafensteiner mopping up Owen Turtenwald, Conley Woods, and Patrick Chapin. Players are so up to draft that all that matters is that they can get enough players to fill it. Team affiliations don't matter. Nationalities don't matter. You wanna draft? Sweet. Two in the queue.
This weekend is different. For this event, players are playing with the exact two players they want to. At the careful intersection of ability to win and desire to have fun, the whole pro community has parsed itself into teams of three, knowing that the queue will always be full. Sunday morning, this institution of after-hours Magic makes its way to center stage, as Return to Ravnica Team Booster Draft is the format of choice to determine the final two teams here at Grand Prix San Jose. As a veteran of late-night Magic myself (the coverage team doesn't get to play much Magic during the daylight hours), it will be a little weird seeing one of these bad boys fire before noon... I mean, you can't draft before five o'clock. That's the sign of someone with a problem.
And you don't have a problem, do you? I sure don't.
Sunday, 12:36 a.m. - Round 11 Minute by Minute
23:58 The final round of Day One begins. On 24 points - 8 wins and 2 losses - Paul Rietzl, David Williams, and Matt Sperling need to win this round to advance to Day Two...
00:02 Williams reaches seven mana, and casts Grave Betrayal . Rietzl says, "We didn't work out what that thing did until round 6. Not even kidding."
00:03 The Selesnya army mounts against Rietzl, who is down to 11. Matt Sperling turns his own Selesnyan army sideways against his Izzet opponent, who currently looks outmatched on the board.
00:04 The first discussion point between Rietzl and Williams over the cards to lose to Thoughtflare . They settle on a land and Spawn of Rix Maadi . Guess Rietzl must be keeping something good. He casts Goblin Electromancer , then aims Auger Spree at a Centaur.
00:05 In a Golgari mirror, Williams is struggling, and soon falls behind.
Williams one down.
00:06 Sperling takes Game 1 with Selesnya, following through with more powerful monsters against Izzet tricks.
Sperling one up.
Rietzl one up.
All three matches are now in sideboarding. These players have been building and playing their decks since 10am. More than fourteen hours later, they're trying to fight through a haze of fatigue. The prize? The chance to do this mind-breaking route march again tomorrow, only with more on the line, starting with more aches, more pains, less sleep, more tension. That's the prize for winning? The power of Magic once again on display.
00:10 The Game 2s begin with Sperling. His opponent opens on turn two Frostburn Weird into turn three Stealer of Secrets against an empty board for Sperling, who shores up early defense with a slightly clunky turn three Centaur token, thanks to a pair of uncooperative Selesnya Guildgate s.
00:13 If it's true that four toughness is a big deal, David Williams is in a good place, with a pair of Rubbleback Rhino . He slams down a Zanikev Locust to mirror the one on the other side of the board. Sperling again seems to be slightly bigger on board than his Izzet opponent, and he has Common Bond ready to go.
00:15 Against Keening Apparition , Selesnya Keyrune , and Martial Law , Rietzl develops a board of Hover Barrier (being detained by Martial Law ), Soulsworn Spirit (which you have to imagine may be detained by Martial Law ), and Unleashed Gore-House Chainwalker (which is relatively unlikely to be detained by Martial Law ). He displays customary Izzet trickery, utilizing the likes of Inaction Injunction to finesse his way to small edges here and there.
00:18 Williams heads for Game 3, followed moments later by Sperling. Williams passes on the 1-1 1-1 news. 'So it would be better for us generally if I won this match' deadpans Rietzl. There is a sincere nod from Williams in response.
Rietzl still one up.
00:21 Martial Law continues to work against Rietzl, but on a board full of unexciting creatures, Stealer of Secrets might benefit from some Izzet trickery for the Pro Tour Amsterdam champion.
00:23 Both Williams and Sperling are back in action, but it's in the Rietzl match that there's a big move, with Stealer of Secrets being joined by Pursuit of Flight . Rietzl's opponent drops to 8, and another card goes into Rietzl's hand.
00:25 Still in the early stages, the other two matches on which so much hinges are finely balanced. The Golgari mirror has no discernible edge, while Sperling has a slightly advanced board presence against his Izzet opponent.
00:26 "I'm going to Annihilating Fire you end of turn," announces Rietzl, and that can't be something you want to hear as you drop to five life. Williams has Golgari Decoy , but that's matched by the potential threat of Lotleth Troll on the other side of the board.
00:28 Rietzl finishes the job and gives his team a 1-0 cushion. One win from these last two games will take them into Day Two, now seven and a half hours away.
00:30 In the Williams match, trades occur. No Lotleth Troll any more, no Golgari Decoy any more. On a board that's relatively stalled, Williams has what should be a good threat in Golgari Longlegs , but which is currently bleeding at 2 points a turn from Stab Wound .
00:31 Sterling grows his Selesnya army, but Hypersonic Dragon is something of an army all by itself.
00:32 Williams Scavenges two counters onto his Rubbleback Rhino , turning it into a 5/6. "The race is on," he says. In comes the team again. Facing him is a Drudge Beetle and an Unleashed Dead Reveler . Williams drops his opponent to seven, falling himself to nine on the backswing. There are many permanents on display in the Sperling match, of which Hypersonic Dragon continues to dominate the skyline.
Williams wins, and that secures the match.
Seven hours and twenty five minutes from now, the ultimately winning team will face a draft, then two rounds. A draft, then two rounds. A draft, then two rounds. And then a draft, and either two or three rounds depending on whether the final goes the distance.
Will it be Rietzl, Williams, and Sperling?
Tick, tick, tick.
See you at 8am.