Day Two of Grand Prix Tampa is underway! The field started with 832 Zendikar Sealed Deck players and just 128 of them returned to sit down to draft the newest release of Magic this morning -- including a handful of grateful players with 6-3 records. Sitting atop the field were Jan Ruess, Conley Woods, and Gaudenis Vidugiris with 9-0 records. Looking to bloody them were a cadre of Player of the Year hopefuls including the preposterous Yuuya Watanabe and Martin Juza and future first ballot Hall of Famer Gabriel Nassif at 8-1. Stay tuned throughout the day as the game’s best players dispel the fog of war that still hovers over the Zendikar Booster Draft format. After six more rounds of Swiss play the party will be reduced to eight adventurers. One final draft will determine who takes home a priceless artifact -- the Grand Prix Tampa Championship trophy.
by Duncan McGregorFeature Match Round 15Jan Ruess vs Gabriel Nassif
by Brian David-MarshallSunday, 5:16 p.m.Everything is Better with Cake
by Brian David-MarshallSunday, 5:15 p.m.In a While Crocadile
by Brian David-MarshallSunday, 5:13 p.m.Draft Tech: Going Infinite with Conley Woods
by Marc CalderaroFeature Match Round 14Boccio vs. David Pargh
by Duncan McGregorSunday, 4:42 p.m.Opinions on Equipment
by Brian David-MarshallFeature Match Round 13Ben Stark vs Martin Juza
by Marc CalderaroSunday, 2:45 p.m.Drafting With Gaudenis: Max EV
by Duncan McGregorFeature Match Round 12Gaudenis Vidugiris vs. Martin Juza
by Marc CalderaroSunday, 2:16 p.m.Birthdays Abound!
by Brian David-MarshallSunday, 1:56 p.m.All Good Things Must Come to an End
by Brian David-MarshallSunday, 1:36 p.m.OMG Crab Traps
by Brian David-MarshallSunday, 12:36 p.m.Draft Tech - Going Green with Conley Woods
by Marc CalderaroFeature Match Round 11Kazuya Mitamura vs. Olivier Ruel
by Duncan McGregorFeature Match Round 10Jan Ruess vs. Conley Woods
by Marc CalderaroSunday, 10:56 p.m.Draft One, Pod One - Drafting with Juza
by Duncan McGregorSunday, 10:52 a.m.Draft Tech - Yuuya Watanabe
by Event Coverage StaffDay 1: Event Coverage from Day 1
by Event Coverage StaffInfo: Fact Sheet
Sunday, 10:52 a.m. – Draft Tech: Yuuya Watanabe
If you have read any Magic coverage over the past month Yuuya should be very familiar to you by now. His Top 8 in Austin last week, combined with his string of high GP finishes, have propelled him into the lead in the Player of the Year standings as the race moves towards the finish line. He was at 8-1 coming into Day Two and in an excellent position to repeat his finish from GP Melbourne, which would go a long way towards cementing his place at the top.
Yuuya headed right to the end of his first pack to check the rare, and found Rampaging Baloths. A quick flip through the rest of the pack turned up only one other card that was anywhere near that in power level -- Hideous End. Yuuya took the rare in the end and shipped the removal to his left. His next pack had no decent green cards, and after considering a Murasa Pyromancer for a few seconds he went with Windrider Eel. Pack three had Paralyzing Grasp, Pitfall Trap and Timbermaw Larva; Yuuya elected to stake his claim in green with the Larva. Greenweaver Druid was the obvious best card in the next pack, but the fifth pick took some time. Green was absent and blue had only Kraken Hatchling among playables; instead the pack had Nimana Sellsword and Geyser Glider. After a pause Yuuya elected to stay out of black and took the Glider. He was tempted further into red on his next pick with either Highland Berserker or Goblin Shortcutter, but neither could match a second Greenweaver Druid. Paralyzing Grasp followed, then Frontier Guide over Kraken Hatchling. A pair of Soaring Seacliffs - potentially useful with Yuuya’s fatties, or as removal, in combination with Oran-Rief Recluses if he could get them - rounded out pack one.
Yuuya again headed to the back of pack two, but Elemental Appeal was not what he wanted. He snagged Territorial Baloth over Adventuring Gear or Reckless Scholar. Scholar was again featured in the next pack, alongside Nissa’s Chosen and Oran-Rief Recluse, but none of them could stand up to Baloth Woodcrashers. Pack three had Whiplash Trap and Primal Bellow, but Yuuya found Harrow and didn’t look back. Yuuya chose creatures over bounce, shipping Whiplash Trap for Territorial Baloth and Into the Roil for Nissa’s Chosen with his next picks, but his next pack diverted him somewhat. With his green choices being Zendikar Farguide or Khalni Heart Expedition, Yuuya elected to snag a Kor Skyfisher instead. He returned to the blue plan then, though, as he picked up three Reckless Scholars in his next four picks, finishing off the pack with a Tajuru Archers and an Ior Ruin Expedition.
Kalitas, Bloodchief of Ghet stared back at Yuuya from his third pack, and after several longing glances at it Yuuya shipped it to his left, taking Oran-Rief Survivalist over Timbermaw Larva. Another Larva went on its way in the next pack, as Yuuya took Into the Roil. Pack three had almost nothing in Yuuya’s colors, and he took the powerful Hideous End instead of fixing his mana further with Expedition Map. He took Nissa’s Chosen over Sky Ruin Drake next, but the good cards were drying up. Vastwood Gorger and a second Ior Ruin Expedition followed before he finally snagged an Oran-Rief Recluse to go with his Seacliffs. His eighth pick of the pack was Summoner’s Bane, and the remainder of his cards were sideboard material and hate-drafts.
Yuuya’s draft has given him a lot of ability to ramp up his mana and filter through his deck for his fatties, but with almost no removal he will have a hard time disrupting his opponents. If any deck can win just by playing large dudes and swinging, Yuuya has it, but by all Pro accounts this has not seemed to be a viable strategy so far in this set.
Sunday, 10:56 p.m. – Draft One, Pod One: Drafting with Juza
Czechspert, Martin Juza, basically danced himself through Day One with an 8-1 record, even though he had no voice. Juza’s had a great 2009 so far, putting up consistent finishes all year. He’s one of Yuuya Watanabe’s biggest threats for the Player of the Year crown – especially after his Quarterfinals finish last week in Texas.
His solid finish yesterday put him in draft pod one this morning, alongside all the undefeated players, Conley Woods, Jan Ruess, and Gaudenis Vidugiris, and transnational pro Gabriel Nassif. Plus his warm-towel neck-wrap, put him in a good position to talk to me about that draft.
From the first pick, Juza looked to go aggressive and stay the heck out of green. “I can’t even imagine a green rare I’d pick over a Steppe Lynx,” he mused. When his first pack gave him a choice between Gatekeeper of Malakir and Journey to Nowhere, Juza chose the lower-costed, less mana-intensive removal. He followed with a smattering of blue and white evaders, Umara Raptor, Kor Aeronaut, AEther Figment, Windrider Eel, but kicked himself when he passed two consecutive Ondu Clerics, before being gifted a sixth-pick Seagate Loremaster. The rest of his draft was filled with solid picks – double Kor Skyfisher, Steppe Lynx and Kor Sanctifier – with a few counterspells and a Roil Elemental for support.
He felt confidant as he spread out his newly constructed deck in front of me, though he couldn’t help but notice the distinctly lower section of the curve his white occupied. “This is why white is good, and white-blue is not; look at this.” The visual was strikingly hard to deny. With the exception of Raptor, Cancel and a Reckless Scholar, not a blue card in his deck cost less than four. And other than his two Kor Sanctifiers, not a white card cost more than three. Even the second Scholar was sideboarded for being too slow.
Martin expects to do well with his concoction, and understandably so. “I saw so many Mosquitoes, but the Summoner’s Bane should deal with them.” Also, his Stonework Puma is there to help against all the Intimidators – whether they be Bladetusk Boar or Surrakar Marauder. And he hopes his Makindi Shieldmate and Lethargy Trap out of the ‘board will keep the Red-Black deck in check.
Even with a mediocre Pod-One performance, Martin Juza is still poised to finish very well this weekend, inching him ever closer to the Player-of-the-Year leader – the one they call, Yuuya “Match-Loss” Watanabe.
Feature Match Round 10 - Jan Ruess vs. Conley Woods
This match pitted two of the three remaining undefeated players against each other. Conley had his breakout performance earlier this year at PT Honolulu, while Jan has a more storied career, highlighted by his finals appearance at PT Hollywood last year. Both have hit Level 4 Pro status this year but are looking for more.
Jan won the die roll, allowing his Surrakar Marauder to beat Conley’s Nissa’s Chosen onto the battlefield. Jan’s third Swamp let him swing in for two, and he put his walls up with Giant Scorpion. Conley also had three of one land, but Frontier Guide threatened to change that, and he also played a Scute Mob. Jan missed his fourth land drop, but had enough for Vampire Nighthawk, one of the premiere three-drops of the format. Conley had another Forest to turn on his Guide but passed the turn with no other play.
Jan continued to be short on land, swinging in and dropping Quest for the Gravelord. Conley sent out for a Plains during his end step, starting his Scute Mob on its way to gigantism. He dropped a second Nissa’s Chosen on his turn, and then Nissa Revane herself, snagging six life in the process. Jan denied him a second activation, though, as Vampire’s Bite let the Nighthawk take down the planeswalker. Conley got his revenge on the next turn, kicking up Oran-Rief Recluse to bring down the flyer, but shook his head at the timing, commenting “Why couldn’t you be a turn earlier?”
Jan finally turned up another land, dropping a Mountain to let the forlorn Surrakar Marauder fulfill its purpose in life and swing for two. Crypt Ripper joined his team as well. Scute Mob grew again, but was still being held back by an almost visibly nervous Giant Scorpion. Conley declared his attack, but held back the Mob, swinging with the two Chosens and the Recluse. Jan thought for a minute but decided not to assume he was bluffing, only blocking the Recluse with his Crypt Ripper. Conley had no additional play, dealing four damage and passing the turn.
Another Swamp turned on Surrakar Marauder, and Jan suited him up with Goblin War Paint before swinging. Conley took it, but sent out for another land and dropped World Queller. More land for Jan let him hit Conley to 12, and he played Hagra Crocodile, but the Queller forced him to sacrifice an enchantment during Conley’s upkeep. He decided to toss the Quest, leaving the Marauder a 4/3, but with the Scute Mob now up to 21/21 Conley sent it to the air with Soaring Seacliff. An alpha strike delivered Conley the first game.
Conley mulliganed to six for the second game, but had a Graypelt Refuge for turn one. Jan started with Surrakar Marauder, answered by Frontier Guide. Jan hesitated on his third turn long enough for Conley to ask “No land again?” Conley didn’t get that lucky, though, as Jan dropped Teetering Peaks and swung for four. Conley swung back for one and dropped a Turntimber Basilisk, but Jan came back over the top with a kicked Goblin Ruinblaster. Conley tossed his Refuge into the bin, muttering “That’s a beating,” and declined to block, dropping to 13. He swung back on his turn and added an Oran-Rief Recluse to his team, but while it held back the Ruinblaster, Jan recruited a Crypt Ripper to join his Marauder in the red zone. Conley chumped the Shade, falling to 11.
Conley was now stuck at three land, and could only swing for one and play Nissa’s Chosen. Another Teetering Peaks sent the Marauder in for 4, and Jan passed the turn with no other plays. Conley finally dug up another land, played it, and sent out for one more, triggering his Basilisk twice. He attacked with it, trading for both of Jan’s untapped creatures, but Jan hit him with a kicked Unstable Footing during his end step, and flashed the land when Conley asked.
“I have never boarded this card in in my life,” Conley sighed while swapping one of his Recluses out for a Noble Vestige. Jan looked mildly interested, but declined comment. Conley continued shaking his head at how much the Ruinblaster had spoiled his game plan for the second game.
Conley took another trip to France, mulling to six before keeping. He had the Graypelt Refuge again for turn one, and a turn two Frontier Guide, but that was held off by Jan’s turn two Vampire Hexmage. Conley tried for defences of his own with an Oran-Rief Recluse, but Jan foiled that by suiting the bloodsucker up with Adventuring Gear and playing a third Swamp, smashing in for four. Conley returned fire with both of his creatures, then played another Guide and a Nissa’s Chosen. He took some comfort from the fact that Jan’s three Swamps meant he wouldn’t be facing a kicked Ruinblaster yet; in fact, Jan had no land at all, just dropping a Vampire Nighthawk. Conley sent it on a Journey to Nowhere, also sending the Chosen in for a quick hit.
Jan found a fourth land - Teetering Peaks - and sent the Hexmage in. Six damage prompted Conley to chump with a Guide. Conley swung in again with the Chosen and the remaining Guide, and also played World Queller, but Jan used Hideous End to remove that before it could trigger. Another Swamp pumped the Hexmage enough to swing past the Recluse, leaving the life totals at 13-11 in Jan’s favor, but Hagra Crocodile doesn’t make much of a blocker. Conley checked that Unstable Footing requires double red to play with kicker (it does) and also pulled a judge away from the table to check an interaction with Adventuring Gear before making his attack. The Frontier Guide/Nissa’s Chosen tag team again smacked Jan for three, and Timbermaw Larva threatened a significantly greater attack on the next turn.
Jan thought for a while on his turn before dropping Surrakar Marauder and enhancing it with Goblin War Paint. He sent it across the table, along with the Hagra Crocodile, but had not found a land, allowing Conley to trade his Recluse for the Croc. Conley swung back, getting through with his Chosen while the Larva was chumped by the Hexmage. The Guide stayed back to block, but Jan tried to get around that. Suiting up the Marauder with the Gear, he played a Swamp and then enchanted his lone beater with yet another Goblin War Paint. He attacked, trying to win the game on that turn, but Conley’s sideboarded Relic Crush ruined that plan, blowing up both of the enchantments. Jan had nothing to stop the return strike from killing him.
Conley Woods defeats Jan Ruess 2-1.
Martin Juza, who had showed up for the endgame, asked Conley about allowing the Gear to be equipped instead of blowing up the Gear and the on-board War Paint when Jan tried to suit up the Marauder. Conley admitted that it might have been a mistake, but he had also had Vines of Vastwood back to stop any pumps like Slaughter Cry, and had been willing to take four instead of two to hold his mana up longer.
Feature Match Round 11 - Kazuya Mitamura vs. Olivier Ruel
A quick double-keep from the two combatants, as Kazuya Mitmura’s black-white started off with a Adventuring Gear Cliff Threader, and a Kor Outfitter into a Pillarfield Ox. “A White-Black Ox Deck?” Olivier Ruel asked. “Yeah, it’s not so good.” the Japanese-native replied.
Ruel’s White-Red started strong with a Kor Skyfisher, Kor Hookmaster, a kicked Goblin Ruinblaster (nuking a Kabira Crossroads) and a double-countered Zektar Shrine Expedition. Though Mitumura’s Outfitter traded with the Hookmaster, while sinking the Frenchman to 14, Mitumura simply replaced it with a second equipment-loving two-drop and kept chugging along.
Ruel finally decided to fully charge his Expedition while using the land to cast a Shatterskull Giant. But at that point he was behind eight points (16-8), and 3/3 Nimana Sell-Sword was on the offensive. It traded with the fresh skull-shattering monster, but Oli continued to bleed to four from the still-evasive, still-geared-up Cliff Threader.
When Ruel placed another token the Shrine Expedition he asked, “Two tokens?” Mitamura, disgruntled, shook his head. Oli frowned, and quickly thought. He had one out; he had to go for it. He put only one 7/1 Elemental into play and attacked with his whole team, including the Ruinblaster and Skyfisher. The Mitamura blocked effectively, but that was exactly what the European was hoping. A kicked Bold Defenses wiped the other side, while a Burst Lighting killed the Threader in response to Mitmura’s next land drop. Oli had quickly turned the tables for himself, but he barely clung to four, and could only pray Mitamura didn’t have a strong follow-up. A few turns laters, Oli’s prayers were answered, and they were shuffling up for Game 2.
Kazuya Mitamura 0, Olivier Ruel 1
Both kept and started a similar Game 2. Going first gave Kazuya a distinct advantage as he Adventuring Gear his Kor Outfitter (off a turn-one Kabira Crossroads). Olivier quickly ensnared it twice with two concurrent Kor Hookmaster. And the war of the Hooks began. The next Kor Hookmaster from Mitamura hooked the hooker, but a Kor Skyfisher returned Oli’s hooked Kor Hookmaster for further hooking. You good so far? Good, because Oli’s first Kor Hookmaster (not the previously returned, previously hooked Kor Hookmaster) attacked in, but its days of hooking were ended by a Pitfall Trap.
After a Hagra Crocodile, the board slowed down to its previous pre-Kor Hookmaster state. The Black croc, an Kor Outfitter and an Kor Hookmaster faced off against a mirrored Kor Hookmaster, Kor Skyfisher and a single-countered Zektar Shrine Expedition. Oli waited for the opportunity to use a Mark of Mutiny to steal a second game out from under the confidant Mitamura. It never came. A few turns later, Oli sunk to three (aided by that sturdy black Hill Giant, Nimana Sell-Sword), and then to nada.
Kazuya Mitamura 1, Olivier Ruel 1
Another seven-carder for both, and more familiar cards paraded out. But in this deciding battle, Ruel got the all-important first land in there. And though Cliff Threader (with his Gear, of course) came quickly from Mitamura, Oli’s Zektar Shrine Expedition gained counters quickly – especially with the help of land-bouncing Kor Skyfisher.
The boards built back and forth, but when Ruel sent his Shatterskull and Skyfisher into Mitamura’s Kazandu Blademaster and Kor Aeronaut, the former World Champion sunk to two. Just the opportunity Ruel needed to sneak in the final Burst Lightning.
In a absurdly fast-paced three games, Olivier Ruel takes the round.
Kazuya Mitamura 2, Olivier Ruel 1
Sunday, 12:36 p.m. – Draft Tech: Going Green with Conley Woods
In draft two of Pro Tour Austin Conley Woods drafted a green-white monstrosity that featured double World Queller, Nissa Revane, and a handful of her Chosen. I had been hoping to feature the deck as a Draft Tech in the Tournament Center but the pod went poorly for the PT Honolulu Top 8 competitor. He double mulliganed in the third round to post a 1-2 record and I assumed that any chance of featuring the deck and its Stax-like combo was lost forever. After all, what are the odds that a player would be able to draft the same specific rare, mythic rare, and pivotal combos for two consecutive drafts?
Pretty good actually. Conley was down one World Queller but has a similar deck for the first draft of Grand Prix Tampa with a Scute Mob thrown in to make up for the missing white rare. Obviously this was not something Conley set out to do -- rather he was just looking to capitalize on the prevailing attitude among the other Pros that green is unplayable.
“I first picked a Journey to Nowhere out of a very weak pack,” explained Conley about his route to the green-white deck he was running to start Day Two. “I second picked Scute Mob, obviously if the guy shipped Scute Mob he is not going green. I think there was a Torch Slinger in the pack but I don’t like red-white very much and I know green is underdrafted. Next up was Nissa’s Chosen, which isn’t a very exciting card but is very solid in this format. I got fourth pick Turntimber Basilisk and fifth pick Timbermaw Larva. I think I also got an eighth pick Larva as well.”
I asked Conley about the commonly held perception that green is the worst color in Zendikar draft.
“That works to my advantage if I want to go green,” smiled Conley. “I like four color green and this (nearly) mono-green. I have three Timbermaw Larva with a Soaring Seacliff, Nimbus Wings, and Savage Silhouette. Those guys just win games by themselves. I got shipped a third pick Terra Stomper in pack two and a sixth pick Nissa Revane, which I took because I already had the Chosen. I got another Chosen in pack three and then I got a World Queller in pack three. I am splashing for Journey to Nowhere, World Queller, and Nimbus Wings -- which is insane with Terra Stomper and the Larvae. I got a thirteenth pick Oran-Rief Recluse -- that card should never go thirteenth.”
There is little removal in Conley’s deck although he can gerry-rig some with Soaring Seacliffs and the Recluse. He had the opportunity to do that in his first round of Day Two but needed to save his Seacliffs for other purposes.
I had to save my Seacliffs for my Scute Mob. He had a Giant Scorpion and I let my Scute Mob get to 21/21 and then fly it over for the win. I had the Recluse and could have used it but he had a Vampire Nighthawk and that was the best creature anyway so I just naturally killed it,” Conley recounted. “I can also do it with Nimbus Wings. It is a little more expensive but I am green and a little light on removal. I like green a lot but only because it is underdrafted. If other people are drafting green it is really bad.”
While the combination of the Nissa Revane engine with World Queller feels like a Constructed combo with Stax-like implications even the notoriously rogue Woods did not think it would see any sixty card action. But as long as people keep shipping it to him he will keep playing it in his forties.
Sunday, 1:36 p.m. – OMG Crab Traps
If you were going to draw up your dream Hedron Crab deck what would be in it? You would probably want an Archive Trap and some Crabs -- maybe even five Crabs if you could. If you are going to have the Trap you may as well be able to search it up with Trapmaker’s Snare, right? How about a couple of fetch lands to speed up the clock? And a Harrow to boot? That is exactly the deck that Justin Newberger drafted in the first draft of Grand Prix Tampa. He started off 2-0 before running afoul of Tomoharu Saito in the last round before the next draft. In Game 1 Justin had Saito racing against two Crabs with a Harrow in hand but he could not find a Forest in time. In Game 3 a timely post-combat Mold Shambler took out the Spidersilk Net that had been equipped to a blocking Crab. Saito won both games one and three with one card in his library.
“I think this deck was my only chance of ever beating you,” sighed Newberger as he and Saito shook hands before departing to the draft tables looking to restock his Crab Traps.
Sunday, 1:56 p.m. – All Good Things Must Come to an End
After six straight Top 8 appearances in Premier Events -- four Grand Prix, Japanese Nationals, and Pro Tour Austin -- Yuuya Watanabe’s streak appears as if it will come to an end this weekend. After an 8-1 start yesterday, the former Rookie of the Year went 0-3 in the first draft of the weekend. Barring some sort of calamitous event for the players ahead of him an X-4 record is not going to make the cut to Top 8. Watanabe is still fighting on hoping to top off with as many points as he can muster while both Nassif and Juza are drafting for Top 8 berths at the first two pods with only one loss for Nassif and two for Juza.
The question remains; was his six straight Top 8 appearances a Pro Tour record? We think so but will have to wait until some people can head back to Seattle and confirm. Check my column next Friday -- and the @MagicProTour feed -- for the answer.
Sunday, 2:16 p.m. – Birthdays Abound!
So it’s not just Steve Sadin whose celebrating an annual tradition today. Local player Michael Strunk, currently in 41st after Round 11, turned 22 today(or as I call it – 21+)! This makes him exactly 364 days older than Sadin, and a few years younger than me – if any of you care about me at all.
Strunk won himself a second-day birth this weekend the hard way; he had zero byes and lost round one. But being on the back foot is not a unfamiliar position for him. Strunk ended up in the Top 8 of a Florida Regionals a couple years back even though he started 0-0-2. The lesson in that? Don’t give up hope, kids. Though he’s come from behind, he’s also celebrated too early. Back at the first Pro Tour-Honolulu, Strunk called his friends after round three, gloating, “I just beat a terrible Red-Green deck.” Well, that certain terrible deck belonged to a certain terrible Mark Herberholz. And by the end of the weekend, that deck had navigated Mark to the top of the tour. Strunk, however, lost his next two rounds promptly ending his weekend.
So, when I asked about what he was doing for his birthday, he said he’s going to 3-0 the next draft pod and Top 8. Good plans, good plans; just don’t call your friends preemptively, Mike. It’s coincidental GP-Tampa fell on his birthday, but oddly enough, large-scale Magic events on a special day is a tradition for Michael. Back in 2008, a PTQ happened on his wedding day (he and his wife starting dating in sixth grade, by the way – true story). He said that though he had to wrestle the best man away from the tables that day, many of the Floridians missed the qualifier to attend the his and his wife’s ceremony. However, one notable exception still attended the tournament. A reasonably younger Charles Gindy decided to go. And he used that opportunity to snatch up a PTQ win and jump start his Magic career. To this day, all Strunk’s friends say the only reason Gindy won was the lack of adequate competition.
Michael Strunk’s been having a superb time so far this weekend, and he’s thrilled at the idea of going further. As the Florida Magic scene continues thriving, the names and faces are becoming more and more familiar. Speaking of familiar names – for a year, Michael lived underneath local standout, Megan Holland, who was featured yesterday in our coverage. Proving yet again, a good community breeds good players.
Happy Birthday and Happy Anniversary to everyone out there! Perhaps next year, you’ll be celebrating in Magic luxury like Michael Strunk.
Feature Match Round 12 - Gaudenis Vidugiris vs. Martin Juza
The two veteran competitors spent the pregame time discussing the other people they’d played in the pod, and talking about whether they’d ever played before. The consensus was no, which is a little surprising considering that they’ve each had a number of strong finishes recently. Martin’s Top 8 in Austin last weekend put him into second in the Player of the Year standings, closing in on Yuuya Watanabe. Gaudenis fell off the pace a little in Austin, but still sits at 13th on that list, and is a Level 6 mage until at least 2011. He was also the last undefeated player at Tampa, entering the round at 11-0 to Martin’s 10-1. The two players were outwardly relaxed, chatting about playtesting together, and had a chuckle at the die roll to see who goes first. Gaudenis rolled three dice and got 5; Martin came in under him with 4, ceding him first play.
Gaudenis had to mulligan once to find a workable hand, and led with a pair of Mountains for Zektar Shrine Expedition. He drew first blood on his third turn with Goblin Ruinblaster, but Martin joined him on the board with a Stonework Puma. Undaunted, Gaudenis dropped Savage Silhouette onto his Goblin and attacked. He didn’t have regeneration mana up, but didn’t seem worried that Martin’s blue-white deck would take advantage of that window. Martin actually blocked there - as he commented later, “That’s the first time in my life that I chump-blocked at 18 life.” His only play to follow that up was an Island, though.
Gaudenis played a land and swung in, not remembering about the Expedition trigger until it was too late. His post-combat Ruinous Minotaur ran into a Summoner’s Bane, and the token smacked him around for two. The next attack of the Goblin met the Into the Roil that Martin had telegraphed with the chump-block, and Gaudenis could only replay it before passing the turn. Martin played an unkicked Kor Aeronaut, leaving his Illusion back on defence, and Gaudenis declined to attack. Martin did not - both of his creatures crashed into the red zone. The groundpounders traded, and Martin added to his board with a kicked Kor Sanctifiers. Gaudenis hadn’t been making any plays, so it was unclear whether his failure to get the Expedition up to three counters was mana problems or a slow-roll, but either way, he had missed his chance to attack for 7.
Gaudenis tried for an Obsidian Fireheart, but that was Cancelled. Martin swung in and gained a life off Ondu Cleric. Gaudenis got Baloth Woodcrashers to stick, but Martin dropped Roil Elemental and borrowed the huge beast. Gaudenis drew, flashed a hand of three land at Martin, and snagged his Baloth back to shuffle into his deck.
Gaudenis mulled again, and started under the gun when Martin had a turn one Steppe Lynx. Gaudenis summoned a turn three Ruinous Minotaur, though, and traded it for the feline. His attempted turn four Obsidian Fireheart met with a Cancel, though, and Martin dropped Merfolk Seastalkers. For once not having to worry about countermagic, Gaudenis fired Turntimber Ranger out. Martin thought for a while on his turn, finally playing both Kor Aeronaut and Kor Skyfisher. Tajuru Archer had something to say about that, shooting down the Aeronaut and providing another Wolf. Merfolk Seastalkers’ three toughness was enough to hold back Gaudenis’ team, though.
This began a long time where nothing much happened. Martin continued to make land drops and tap Gaudenis’ creatures, and even started to attack with the Skyfisher. Gaudenis’ next Ally, Oran-Rief Survivalist, was stopped by Summoner’s Bane, but a Highland Berserker a turn later let him shoot down the flyer. Umara Raptor hit the table briefly, but was taken down by Oran-Rief Recluse. During this time Gaudenis accumulated a couple Allies and eventually another Skyfisher, and Gaudenis a couple Plated Geopedes, but the game didn’t really change again until Martin drew and played a Sea Gate Loremaster.
The mana tapped for Loremaster let Gaudenis get in with his two Geopedes, but Ondu Cleric meant that Martin was still above twenty. An extremely well-timed Burst Lightning had come off the top of Gaudenis’ deck, though, and he bolted the Loremaster before Martin could gain any card advantage. A second Burst Lightning arrived the next turn to take down the Seastalkers, and suddenly Martin’s vast array of land offered him no advantages. He tried to buy some time with a couple trades and an Into the Roil, but Baloth Woodcrasher also joined the army hungry for his flesh. Once Gaudenis found a land to turn on his Baloth, the Geopedes and a newly-played Adventuring Gear, Martin was finished.
Martin played first, but had only Plains and Island on the board when Gaudenis dropped a Plated Geopede. Martin had Plains and Kor Aeronaut for the next turn, raising the question of which one he had just drawn, but whichever it was the effect was the same. Gaudenis swung in for three and played a Ruinous Minotaur. Martin responded with an aerial assault and an unkicked Kor Sanctifiers. Gaudenis got in with the ‘Pede again, leaving the Minotaur at home, and showed why with Grappling Hook.
Martin smacked the top of his deck, drew, and sighed. He had another land and an attack in the air, but passed the turn with no spells. Gaudenis played a land, suited up the Minotaur and attacked, but Martin kicked up Into the Roil to return the equipment to his hand. Gaudenis had Primal Bellow to save his Minotaur from the Sanctifiers, though. Martin swung in again and played a second Kor Aeronaut.
Gaudenis tried for Savage Silhouette on the Minotaur, but Martin was ready with a Cancel. He swung in with both creatures anyway, letting his Minotaur trade for the Aeronaut this time, and replaced it with another Minotaur, drawing a snort from Martin. Martin left his other Aeronaut back to trade with the second Minotaur on his next turn, but Martin hadn’t missed a land drop yet, and the Geopede hits had dropped Martin to 5. Gaudenis replayed the Grappling Hook before passing.
Martin turned up a Steppe Lynx on his next turn, but that wasn’t the defence he was looking for. Still, Gaudenis didn’t play a land or equip his creature before attacking. Martin took the hit, falling to four. Gaudenis passed the turn, then aimed a kicked Burst Lightning at his face during Martin’s upkeep, in case of countermagic. The precaution wasn’t needed.
Gaudenis Vidugiris defeats Martin Juza 2-1.
Saturday, 2:45 p.m. – Drafting With Gaudenis: Max EV
Perhaps you’re familiar with the concept of “Max EV”. The phrase gets thrown around Magic a lot. Getting the maximum expected value out of whatever situation you might find yourself in. It’s a concept that all the good Magic players have been familiar with. Sometimes it’s getting the most out of Magic board states, sometimes it’s getting the most out of Magic draft picks, and other times still, it’s getting the most out of your Magic Grand Prix weekend. And that’s exactly what 12-0 Gaudenis Vidigiris did. Sitting at the top of the standings, it would take a “tactical meteor strike” (to borrow a BDM phrase) to keep Vidugiris out of the Top 8. So for his final draft pod of the day, he maximized his value in the tournament; he rare-drafted.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Vidugiris is talented enough to still draft a better deck than most of us can even with his eyes closed. Not to mention, his mid-range Blue-Green deck is still a solid build. But I have a nagging feeling that he would not taken a double-off-color Marsh Flats in the first pick of pack two if he wasn’t feeling confident about the his place so far in the tournament.
Aside from the Scalding Tarn and two, yes, two Marsh Flats he picked a little higher than usual, he grabbed a couple good swingy rares that just so happened to fit perfectly in his deck. Turntimber Ranger, Sphinx of Lost Truths, Scute Mob, Lullmage Mentor and a Rite of Replication all found their way into his pile of money. And fighting with that golden team is a bevy of more common, but a little more consistent, draft hits. Double River Boa, double Oran-Rief Recluse and Glazing Gladehearts with the assistance of a Living Tsunami, Umara Raptor, Welkin Tern and Japanese-favorite, Greenweaver Druid, all help to make a good enough deck. While Gaudenis certainly feels his forty cards can win a few rounds, he couldn’t keep from smirking just a little bit at his three-dual draft. “Most of those picks were good picks. But maybe that Marsh Flats was a little excessive.” It sure is good to be king.
As long as Gaudenis can avoid a meteor strike in the next few hours, he’ll be gracing the top tables again. And with just a few extra dual lands in his grip, he will have maximized the expected value of the weekend.
Feature Match Round 13 - Ben Stark vs Martin Juza
As Floridian Ben Stark sat down to play against Czech superstar Martin Juza, Ben inquired about the history of Martin. Ben, who had a Juza-like run through his PT tenure from around 2001 to 2004, has only recently returned to high level play and was still getting the lay of the competitive landscape.
Martin Juza“I don’t know your whole resume,” said Ben. “But I think you are one of the best players in the world right now, right?”
The two players compared their finishes and found they had a fair amount in common. Martin recounted his two recent Top 8s on the PT and his early exits from both.
“We share the same pain,” said Ben who has made Top 8s in San Diego and Kobe. “Two for two with quarterfinal losses.”
The two players fumbled for something to randomize with and finally Martin fished a quarter out of his jeans. “If you can guess which state it is you get to choose.”
They flipped the coin and Ben called heads, which prompted Martin to remember he is not familiar with American currency. “Heads is the side with the head?”
The card spun for what seemed like a full minute -- much to the amazement of Ben: “Why do you play cards? You could be a professional coin spinner.”
Finally it stopped and Martin announced, “It came up rider.” It was a Delaware coin.
With all of the pregame out of the way Martin finally got things started with a Soul Stair Expedition and Vampire Hexmage while Ben mustered a Blood Seeker. Martin followed up with Surrekar Marauders. Both players had only shown black to this point but it turned out they were both playing black white as Martin played Kabira Crossroads and Ben played Plains with no play. Martin Disfigured the Seeker and attacked for four -- topping off his Expedition with three counters.
Ben played Kor Cartographer (aka The Kortagrapher) and passed the turn under pressure from Juza. Martin played Nimbus Wings on the Hexmage and attacked for 5. Ben had yet another Kortagrapher and Martin anticipated what might happen with all that mana. “So the Mosquitos are coming? Sweet.”
“How about the Steppe Lynx,” Ben sighed. “Slightly worse than Mosquito.”
Ben StarkMartin attacked into the Lynx and Kortagrapher without any landfall. Ben had sent one Kortographer in on the previous turn and debated trading with the Marauder. “All right I will take it.”
Ben swung back with everyone -- the score was 18 to 4 in Martin’s favor -- and Martin was considering a block with his freshly cast second Marauder. He opted to do nothing and shrugged, “Take 6?”
Ben nodded and played Kazandu Blademaster and passed the turn with five mana open. Now Martin pondered the likelihood of an Arrow Volley Trap. The only way to play around it would be to not attack or -- as Martin chose -- to attack with just one intimidating Marauder. Ben took two and Martin dropped Felidar Sovereign. Ben could not find a counter attack that would get him through the 4/6 creature and had to just pass back to Martin.
“I can’t win.”
“I think your cards are better than mine,” said Ben as he did a quick mental contrast of the two black-white decks. “I like the Marauders a lot and the Felidar Sovereign. I think that guy is amazing.”
“I remember reading in the Pro Tour Austin coverage that you like to draw so that is what I am going to do,” said Ben as they shuffled for the second game.
“You are going to draw?” confirmed Martin who had chosen to draw in Austin to get maximum landfall out of his triple Steppe Lynx deck.
“Yes,” grinned Ben. “Solely because of that feature match”
Ben had a naked Stonework Puma and went to work on Martin’s life total in four point chunks. Juza -- who had a slow draw -- played a fifth land and Mind Sludged Stark for two Swamps. He tried to hide behind a Giant Scorpion but Ben locked it away for a turn with Kor Hookmaster.
“How many cards?” asked Martin.
“Is it a good one?” Martin winced as he played the Felidar Sovereign.
“It sure isn’t,” Ben admitted and said, “Go.”
Martin sent in the Sovereign and played his other white rare -- World Queller. Ben had Nimana Sell-Sword but the game was spiraling away from him. Martin named enchantments and got back the Skyfisher that had been exiled on the Journey. He returned the Crossroads and climbed to 12 life. He chose not to attack since he wanted to be able to name artifacts on his next turn and not let Ben chump block with his Puma. He did play Crypt Ripper.
“Judging by the way all the spectators walked away from behind you I have to assume you have nothing in your hand,” laughed Martin as the small crowd that had gathered behind the Florida player had dispersed shortly after Ben’s draw step. “I guess no Day of Judgement?”
“I would have played that last turn if I had it.”
Martin bashed in with the whole team and the Hookmaster/Sell-Sword tag team took out the Queller while the Lynx chumped the Ripper. Martin attacked with everyone again. Ben played Vampire’s Bite on the Hookmaster and Disfigured the Guul Draz Vampire. Lifelink -- and the M10 rules changes -- meant that Ben would get another draw step but there was nothing that would help on top.
“I had the Vampire’s Bite and Narrow Escape in Game 1,” said Ben about Martin’s intuition that there was some kind of trap laid for him if he had pushed all his guys into battle. “If you had attacked all out I might have been able to steal a game. You played around everything perfectly of course -- not that I could win once you played the Felidar Sovereign.”
Sunday, 4:42 p.m. - Opinions on Equipment
After the second draft today, stories began to circulate about where someone got Trusty Machete as a fifth pick. It soon became clear that this phenomenon had actually occurred in two separate pods. One player commented to us that he had to pass it late because his deck was extremely short on playable creatures, and he’d rather have one more creature than have a piece of equipment with nothing to equip it to. Armed with this, and having heard differing opinions on other pieces of equipment, I set out to find what the pros thought about some Zendikar equipment: Trusty Machete, Adventuring Gear, and Explorer’s Scope.
Explorer’s Scope was the one with the most common opinion: it isn’t good in most decks. I spoke to nine pros from four different continents, and they were unanimous that it should only be played in very specific decks: ones with cheap evasion creatures, and also a way to abuse either landfall or the extra mana. There were many stories told about playing against opponents who misused it - for example, equipping it to Surrakar Marauder, then attacking in the hope of making landfall. Any way you look at that, your odds are at best a coin flip that you’re going to hit the landfall, and as soon as you miss it once, you’re down a creature.
Trusty Machete had nearly as unanimous a reaction, in more ways than one. Every time I mentioned to a pro that there were two different pods where one went fifth, their eyes would glaze over, their heads would cock to the side, and they would pause for a moment while they tried to figure out how that happened. Most pros stated that the only things they would take over it were bomb rares or cheap removal - Burst Lightning, Journey to Nowhere, or Hideous End. Conley Woods even gave a minority opinion that he would take Machete over the black card, because he believes the best decks in this format are the black ones, and Hideous End won’t harm its own. A couple players spoke about the importance of signals - both sending and receiving - but in a vacuum, there is almost no way a Machete should go fifth.
That brings us to the artifact that produced the largest range of reactions - Adventuring Gear. As mentioned yesterday, Manuel Bucher doesn’t like the card, as he feels it’s a win-more card. The draws where you get land are your good draws anyway, so the Gear helps you when you should already be winning. This seems to be the low end of public sentiment on this card. Moving up, Brian Kibler thinks that it’s useful in the right deck. He thinks that the decision on when to draft it, and if to run it, should be deck specific. Diego Ostrovich thinks it’s good, Shuuhei Nakamura gives it a thumbs up, Rich Hoaen rated it the fifth best common in the set, and Gabriel Nassif called it nuts. Tim Aten had perhaps the best opinion on it - he says that it’s too good not to take, but dislikes its inherent swinginess.
Zendikar is still settling in as a high-level draft format, and the varied opinions of the pros represent this. I, for one, take this as a good sign: when even the pros are divided, there is room for anyone to find their own way. Try the Adventuring Gear out for yourself, and see what you think. Hopefully it will lead you to priceless treasures, and not deadly perils.
Feature Match Round 14 - Boccio vs. David Pargh
With so many players on the bubble for Top 8 contention in these final rounds, how does a coverage staff decide who to cover? Each player who’s made it this far clearly has a competent command of the game and of the tournament scene. And you can’t just showcase Yuuya Watanabe or Conley Woods every round, so what’s a coverage team to do? Well sometimes, when you’ve got two friends who’ve been grinding all day, and taking down players with much larger names than their own, just sometimes, you’ve got to give them time in the spotlight. And Upstate New York’s Daivd Pargh, and Downstate New York’s Matthew Boccio both fit that description to a tee.
Raised on the JSS, BDM’s Manhattan friend Matthew Boccio has had success in many other card games, and was in the crew who helped to usher Steve Sadin to adulthood. David Pargh, from Ithaca, is an old friend from my college days. Battling in the strong, but insular Ithaca community, Pargh made his first Day Two in Boston not too long ago.
Covering these two strong competitors, I had a smile on my face this whole match.
BoccioBoccio’s impressive Red-Green Allies cast the first stone with a turn-three Stonework Puma – the humblest of the Ally team. Pargh answered with an on-time Nissa Revane, going up to four loyalty counters, then used it to search out two of her Nissa's Chosen over the next two turns. This impressive play was surprising to me, as Pargh had kept a six-land, no-spell hand. “Going down to five on the play in this format rarely works.” he remarked.
Boccio thought for a second, then dropped his fifth land and took down the Nissa with a kicked Burst Lighting. Unphased, Pargh hit a turn-six Baloth Woodcrasher – again impressive considering his six-land start. Boccio shook his head and decided it was time to turn up this Ally party, and cast a Turntimber Ranger.
Pargh kept the endless little animals in check by sending the Woodcrasher into certain death just to Grim Discovery it again, but the stream wouldn’t end. It didn’t take long for the limitless wolf-creators to end Game 1.
Matthew Boccio 1, David Pargh 0
David ParghAfter no mulligans from either player, and presumably something other than a seven-land hand from Pargh, the New Yorkers were off to the races. A naturally cast Nissa’s Chosen from Pargh faced off against a dreaded two-turn Survivalist. And dreaded for good reason, as Pargh quickly watched the Bear turn 3/3 thanks to a Tajuru Archer. However the “dreaded” adjective soon switched over to a Timbermaw Larva, threatening to attack Pargh for six very quickly.
Mold Shambler and two uncommon quests – one for Quest for the Gemblades and one for the Quest for the Gravelord – joined the Nissa’s Chosen. But a timely Primal Bellow left the Quests all alone, while binning and bottoming the two green monsters. Pargh tried to play catch-up against Boccio’s growing Green meanies with a Surrkar Marauder.
Speaking of Growing Green Meanies, the Timbermaw Larva soon grew even more when Boccio Gigantformed it the following turn. When the Green team swung in, Pargh calculated, consulted his hand, then packed it in.
Matthew Boccio 2, David Pargh 0
Both players did their coverage staff proud, just some more prouder than others, as Boccio secured himself a spot in the Top 8. Congratulations, Matthew!
Sunday, 5:13 p.m. - Draft Tech: Going Infinite with Conley Woods
“I drafted Martyr Proc,” laughed Conley Woods after the last Swiss draft of Grand Prix Tampa. He had drafted a Stax-like combo in the first pod around Nissa Revane and World Queller and once again drafted a combo deck around the white rare -- two white rares to be precise. Conley’s deck had a white allies package that consisted of 2 Makindi Shieldmates and 3 Ondu Clerics -- which could add up to a lot of life gain. He also had Felidar Sovereign on top of that to cash in all that life gain for a possible win. And just in case that was not enough he could also set up a life gain cycle where he was playing allies, sacrificing them to his World Queller, and returning them to play with Emeria, the Sky Ruin.
The deck worked fine for Conley in one round -- he got a scoop and an ID in the next two -- which was good enough to earn him a Top 8 berth. He did point out that he sided out a Mountain and the Shatterskull Giant for one Plains and the Landbind Ritual for every sideboarded game. I cannot wait to see what Conley will draft in the Top 8.
Sunday, 5:15 p.m. - In a While Crocadile
Daryl Wing is one of the 831 players who came to the Grand Prix and still had a great time despite being eliminated on Day One. He has been hopping around the event collecting autographs from his favorite players, judges, authors, and illustrators. He pulled one special card for reigning PoY Shuhei Nakamura based on his adventures earlier in the week when the Japanese player attempted to pet a wild alligator.
Sunday, 5:16 p.m. - Everything is Better with Cake
Steve Sadin had a rough Day Two after a rough evening before Day One -- which was his 21st birthday. He was feeling blue about his 0-3 finish in the last pod but brightened considerably when he received a birthday delivery of cake and a book from a friend who lives nearby.
Feature Match Round 15 - Jan Ruess vs Gabriel Nassif
Gabriel got to his 12-2 record in an unconventional way - he received a concession from Gaudenis Vidugiris in Round 13 that put him on top of the standings, then conceded in turn to Conley Woods in the belief that he would be able to draw his way into Top 8. The vagaries of Swiss pairings within the draft pod, though, have matched him up against Jan Ruess, who at 11-3 points cannot afford a draw. Gabriel will need to win this match the old-fashioned way to make it into the elimination rounds, while Jan must win and hope for tiebreakers to go his way for the same chance.
Jan won the die roll, but did not appear pleased with his seven. He eventually chose to mulligan, keeping six. He led with Goblin Bushwacker, attacking for three on the second turn thanks to Teetering Peaks. Kor Outfitter from Gabriel put the brakes on the 1/1, though, and Jan had no turn three play. Gabriel returned the beating on his own turn three, adding a Cliff Threader before sending it back, but missed his third land drop. Jan played a hasty Goblin Ruinblaster and attacked with both of his creatures. Gabriel declined to trade his unblockable dude, going to 14.
Gabriel NassifGabriel swung back with the Threader, and found a third land to play Kor Sanctifier as a vanilla 2/3. Jan had a fifth land to kick up Torch Slinger and off the Mountainwalker, but couldn’t attack past the Sanctifier. A fourth land ramped Gabriel into a fifth thanks to Kor Cartographer. Jan had a Molten Ravager, but neither player was attacking. Gabriel added Armanent Master. Jan finally threatened to break the standoff with Bladetusk Boar.
Jumping into action, Gabriel sent Cartographer and Outfitter into the red zone. Trying to decide which trick (or tricks) to play around, Jan tossed both Ruinblaster and Slinger in front of the Cartographer and Ravager blocked the Outfitter. The trick turned out to be Screaming Fury to take down Ravager, while the 2/2s traded. Gabriel restocked with a second Sanctifiers.
The Boar smashed in for five, thanks to another Teetering Peaks, and Jan added a Highland Berserker to his team. The two Sanctifiers smashed in for four damage, though, and Gabriel took control of the game with Magma Rift on the Board and a third Kor Sanctifiers. A third Peaks let Bushwacker trade for the Outfitter, but Gabriel continued attacking with his 2/3s and earned the scoop.
Jan RuessJan again debated for a while about his hand, but chose to keep this time. Gabriel was first on the board, though with Cliff Threader. Jan smashed in with Goblin Ruinblaster on turn three, and Gabriel thought for a while before trading. The reason for his hesitation was revealed when he had no third land, passing the turn with no play. He took two from a second Ruinblaster, but found land for a Kor Sanctifiers the turn after. Jan dropped Adventuring Gear and suited up his Goblin, prompting Gabriel to tease “Kept it in? No fear?” about his multiple Sanctifiers. Marsh Flats allowed a large attack, though, and Gabriel’s fourth land allowed Kor Cartographer and not a kicked Sanctifiers.
Jan used Goblin Shortcutter to clear the way and attacked Gabriel down to 8, but Gabriel cleared Jan’s board with Seismic Shudder and fired out a Stonework Puma. Jan came back with Tuktuk Grunts, though, prompting a length thinking session from Gabriel, who finally elected to chump block. Gabriel was finally able to kick up Kor Sanctifiers to take out the Gear before the Grunts could be too much of a problem.
Torch Slinger from Jan took out the Cartographer, but the game was slipping away from him. Ruinous Minotaur from Jan traded for Tuktuk Grunts, and Gabriel was able to Magma Rift Jan’s Grunts, leaving him nothing that could stand up to a 2/3 in combat. The Sanctifiers began nipping in for damage, and Gabriel followed him up with Hellfire Mongrel. Jan had no play, and succumbed to Gabriel’s army.
Gabriel Nassif defeats Jan Ruess 2-0.