by Randy Buehler
One hundred two players, each with at least 6 Pro Tour points, converged on Neutral Ground New York for the first-ever Gateway tournament. The Gateway was a single-elimination "Meatgrinder" with the top two players advancing to this weekend's Masters series event. The Masters is a 32-person Extended-format tournament with a total prize purse of $150,000, including 25 grand for first place and a guaranteed two thousand dollars just for showing up.
Several go players got knocked out of the Gateway early - including Mike Long, who ran a white weenie deck and lost in the very first round to Patrick Mello, who was playing a Necro-Donate deck. There was rampant speculation before the event that Necro-Donate might still be the best deck in Extended even after the banning of Mana Vault and Dark Ritual. However, none of the players who ran Necro-Donate managed to survive even until the round of 16. Stay tuned to see if any of the pros in the main event have success with it. Mello's German friends Dirk Baberowski and Kai Budde in particular are rumored to be playing it.
The Top 16 players were all familiar names to anyone who follows the Pro Tour closely and decks based around Survival of the Fittest were the most popular. Five players ran Survival decks of various flavors while Sligh was the next most popular with four players. Other decks included a pair of Stasis decks (running Gush and Thwart but no Howling Mines), a pair of Counter-Sliver decks, one Draw-Go, one Stompy deck, and an Elf deck sporting not just Llanowar Sentinels, but also Pack Hunt and Overrun. Richard Jones (of Team THL fame) ran that rogue.
A really interesting thing happened in the Round of 16. The Survival decks destroyed the beatdown decks. I guess it's not that surprising, Survival should have the edge in that match-up, but 5-0/0-5 is still a pretty strong statement. Dave Price was on the losing end of one of those matches and he felt like he had simply chosen the wrong deck to play, saying "I had to get lucky to beat a Secret Force deck just to get this far."
The Top 8 saw Tony Dobson and his Stasis deck take out Noah Weil, who was running a red/green Survival deck that looked more like Angry Hermit than it looked like the other Survival decks. Frank Canu won a Survival on Survival mirror match against Jon Ormerod. Chris Senhouse stuck to his trusty Counter-Sliver deck and took out Craig Wescoe, who ran Survival. Senhouse - the newest Sensei of The Dojo - has been running for two Extended PTQ seasons in a row, eventually qualifying for the last Pro Tour Chicago and then running it there.
The last match came down to the wire. Manuel Bevand was playing Stasis against Dave Williams, running the 5th Survival deck in the Top 8. Williams got Quirion Ranger into play early in game 1 and used it to Tradewind lock Bevand after Bevand got Stasis into play! In game 2, Bevand answered with not one, but two copies of Cursed Totem. The players were running out of time as game 3 began so things looked good for Williams. Since the Gateway is a single-elimination tournment there must be a winner so life totals would be used to decide game 3 if time (and extra turns) run out. Williams made it interesting by tapping City of Brass twice on his first few turns, but in the end he managed to deal a full 20 points of damage by the 2nd extra turn and win the game "honest."
That meant Williams took on Frank Canu for one of the coveted spots in the Masers. Canu continued his winning streak in the Survival on Survival mirror match and claimed the spot, along with at least $2,000. Chris Senhouse took his trusty Slivers and a 2-0 lifetime record against Stasis with them into what he described as "the biggest match of my life." However, he made a couple of mistakes in game 1 and Dobson seemed shocked when he won a game that he should have lost. Dobson had a beautiful draw in game 2, including a turn 3 Back to Basics that reduced Senhouse to just attacking with the pair of Slivers that he had already gotten into play. Dobson took some damage and set himself up to play Stasis and lock up the game and the spot in the Masters. On the heels of his Top 8 at the last Extended Pro Tour, Dobson certainly seems to be a master of this format.
There were large crowds and palpable tension for these matches, but that was just an appetizer. Now it's time for the main course and everyone in town is looking forward to an amazing Magic tournament. Stay tuned to the Sideboard for live coverage of the $150,000 Masters tournament.