2009 Grand Prix Chicago

He's done it again! Just one week removed from his Pro Tour-Kyoto victory Gabriel Nassif has done it again! He is your 2009 Grand Prix-Chicago champion. The title comes at the height of discussion amongst the world over who the best active player is. After a blistering past few months, the talk of the community has centered around Luis Scott-Vargas, but with a win over the American in the Kyoto finals and now a Grand Prix victory one week later, Gabriel Nassif lays a solid claim to the title.

From the beginning, Chicago was an exciting event. With over 1,200 players, it smashed the previous attendance records for North America as players were ravenous to take on the Legacy format. The deck most talked about on the weekend? Counterbalance/Top, a powerful combination of cards when joined by Force of Will and Tarmogoyf. But when all the smoke had cleared, the Top 8 was filled with multiple archetypes including Ad Nauseam Tendrils, Dragon Stompy, Threshold, and aggressive creature decks.

Of course, when the Top 8 had played out, it was Nassif's build of the CounterTop deck that emerged victorious. Congratulations to Gabriel Nassif, your 2009 Grand Prix-Chicago champion!



(1) Kowal, Brian J

(8) Mink, James C

(4) Nassif, Gabriel

(5) Caplan, David M

(2) Rietzl, Paul R

(7) Six, Brian D

(3) Kolowith, Tommy

(6) Probasco, Andrew


James Mink, 2-1

Gabriel Nassif, 2-0

Paul Rietzl, 2-0

Andrew Probasco, 2-0


Gabriel Nassif, 2-1

Andrew Probasco, 2-1


Gabriel Nassif, 2-0


  • by Event Coverage Staff
    Top 8 Player profiles
  • by Event Coverage Staff
    Top 8 Decklists
  • by Blake Rasmussen
    Gabriel Nassif vs. Andy Probasco
  • by Bill Stark
    Gabriel Nassif vs. James Mink
  • by Blake Rasmussen
    Andy Probasco vs. Paul Rietzl
  • by Duncan McGregor
    Gabriel Nassif vs David Caplan
  • by Bill Stark
    Tommy Kolowith vs. Andy Probasco
  • by Bill Stark
    Brian Kowal vs. James Mink
  • by Blake Rasmussen
    Paul Rietzl vs. Brian Six
  • by Event Coverage Staff
    Day 2 Blog: Featured Matches, Rogue's Gallery, Undefeated Decklists, and more!
  • by Event Coverage Staff
    Day 1 Blog: Featured Matches, Trial Decklists, and more!
  • by Event Coverage Staff
    Info: Day 1 Player List


1. Gabriel Nassif $3,500
2. Andrew Probasco $2,300
3. Paul Rietzl $1,500
4. James Mink $1,500
5. Brian Kowal $1,000
6. Tommy Kolowith $1,000
7. David Caplan $1,000
8. Brian Six $1,000

pairings, results, standings


15 14 13 12 11 10 9

8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1


15 14 13 12 11 10 9

8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1


15 14 13 12 11 10 9

8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Quarterfinals: Paul Rietzl vs. Brian Six

by Blake Rasmussen

Both Paul Rietzl and Brian Six have some experience on the Pro Tour and Grand Prix stage. This was Six's first Top 8 and Rietzl's third. Both players had come to Chicago with decks expected to crush the control decks of the format, with Rietzl sporting a nearly mono black list and Brian Six playing Red/Green aggro with a full boat of Price of Progress. Unfortunately for both players, they didn't find themselves sitting across from a Counterbalance deck, meaning the round really could go either way.

Both decks were capable of blisteringly fast starts. Rietzl was powered by Dark Ritual and cheap disruption capable of throwing any deck off balance from the start, while Six was capable of dealing tons of damage before an opponent could get their legs under them. Rietzl, for one, didn't like his chances.

“I need you to mulligan, and then I Hymn, Hymn,” said Rietzl.

Game 1
Rietzl's words turned out to be prophetic as Six started off mulling to six, and Pietzl made it worse with a first turn Dark Ritual into Thoughtseize and Hymn to Tourach. Pietzl chose Tarmogoyf and then hit Lightning Bolt and a land with the Hymn. Six could only play a Windswept Heath and pass.

Rietzl had the follow-up Nantuko Shade, which was promptly hit by Magma Jet. In turn, Rietzl's spent the next two turns destroying land while Six only had Kird Ape, pretty lonely at 1/1.

Rietzl, begging his deck for a creature, came up with Tarmogoyf one turn and Hymn to Tourach the next, prompting the quick concession.

“That was the way I can win, right there,” said Rietzl.

Paul Rietzl 1 Brian Six 0

Game 2
After Six stated his preference for playing first, Pietzl quipped “One more card for me to find Hymn. I think that's my best card in this match-up.”

Both players kept their openers, and Six led with Taiga and a Kird Ape.

“Classic start,” said Rietzl.

Rietzl had his own classic start with Dark Ritual into Thoughtseize (taking Grim Lavamancer) and a Hymn to Tourach to take Price of Progess and a land.

“Here we go again,” said Six.

Six had an attack and a second Kird Ape, but nothing else.

Rietzl had a Tarmogoyf to hold the fort while still at a healthy 16 life, and added a Nantuko Shade as Six played multiple lands while doing nothing much else. This freed Rietzle up to attack with both his creatures. Six declined to block, taking six, and was punished by Rietzl's second Tarmogoyf. Once again, Six was forced to pass with no play and no attack.

Rietzl again hit with Dark Ritual into Thoughtseize, and Six responded with Magma Jet, hiding the top two cards on the bottom. The Thoughtseize then took Fireblast, leaving only Price of Progress in hand. Rietzl used the remaining two mana to pump his Nantuko Shade, which was double blocked by Kird Apes. The Tarmogoyfs took Six to two, and facing a lethal army with few resources, he extended his hand.

Afterwards both players revealed their sideboard choices that, effectively, were nonexistent in this match.

Paul Rietzl defeats Brian Six 2-0

Quarterfinals: Brian Kowal vs. James Mink

by Bill Stark

“Do you play a lot of Legacy?” Brian Kowal asked his opponent as they shuffled for their Quarterfinals match.

“Yeah, from time to time.” James Mink replied. He then drew his opening hand, but was forced to mulligan. When that hand didn't pan out either, he sent it back as well, dropping to an opener of just five cards. The five became four as his opponent played Dark Ritual, Mesmeric Fiend trapping a Chrome Mox under the 1/1.

James Mink takes a turn in the Grand Prix spotlight. James Mink's Dragon Stompy deck failed to serve him the goods. He had Trinisphere, Taurean Mauler, and Rakdos Pit Dragon, but no mana to play them. A Thoughtseize from Brian nabbed a Blood Moon Mink had picked up since the Fiend, but Kowal was doing a poor job presenting a relevant attacker. His 1/1 Fiend was left doing all the work.

At three mana, the Madison standout used Vindicate to blow up his opponent's only land, and James Mink passed the turn at 17 life with no permanents in play. Brian significantly increased the size of his clock with a Tarmogoyf and piled on playing a Sensei's Divining Top in the same turn. James, trying his best to put up a fight, drew and played a Mountain before passing.

Brian attacked for 5, then dropped a piledriver: Tombstalker for a discounted price thanks to a well stocked graveyard. The next attack from the Midwesterner left Mink at 2 life, and when he didn't find a miracle on his next draw step, he was down a game in the match.

Brian Kowal 1, James Mink 0

A mulligan was again in the works for James Mink to kick off the second game, but he was able to stay at six, then had first turn Magus of the Moon. A second copy of the Future Sight card was forced out of his hand as Brian Kowal opened on Thoughtseize. James sent the version he had in play to the red zone, then played a Powder Keg.

Kowal started working on a Sensei's Diving Top to find himself some mana he could use, finally cashing it in for a free card. He played Dark Ritual, then had exactly enough cards in his graveyard to play a Tombstalker with only three lands in play. Mink checked the math to make sure the 5/5 could be played for so cheap, then nodded his head grimly. He played a Blood Moon to make sure non-basics stayed Mountains.

James got a bit of help in the form of a Gathan Raiders. At 12 life, Brian was forced to trade his Tombstalker for the face-up morph, then played Mesmeric Fiend in an effort to start getting ahead. It wasn't working, however, as the Moon effects wreaked havoc on his manabase and he furiously spun his Top trying to find a green source of mana. A second Mesmeric Fiend hit the board hiding an Arc-Slogger from Mink's hand, but when Brian had Duress the following turn James showed he had the second one. Short a mana to play it, James turned to his deck for some help.

Help he got, as a Mountain slid off the top to the table, and he flopped the 4/5 onto the board. Brian nodded with a frown and scooped his cards up. The Moon effects had kept his mana sufficiently tied up, and the players were on to the rubber game.

Brian Kowal 1, James Mink 1

Both players kept their openers for the final game, and Brian Kowal opened on Thoughtseize. He saw: Trinisphere, Simian Spirit Guide, Chalice of the Void, Arc-Slogger, and Magus of the Moon. Chalice was forced to the graveyard. Mink had only a Mountain for his first turn, meekly passing back. His Dragon Stompy deck was known for explosive starts, but this game he wouldn't be playing anything until his second turn at the earliest.

Learning from the last game, Kowal cracked a Windswept Heath for Plains, then dropped Dark Confidant. He wanted to be ready in case James decided to play Magus of the Moon on his second turn. Instead, Mink removed Simian Spirit Guide to make exactly three mana to drop Trinisphere. The artifact didn't seem as exciting in the match, but it did reap some rewards immediately forcing Kowal to pay three mana for his Sensei's Divining Top.

James missed a land drop, not able to play anything with a bunch of expensive cards in his hand. That opened up the opportunity for Kowal to play Hymn to Tourach, which nailed a Rakdos Pit Dragon and Arc-Slogger. “Sweet, blanks!” Brian deadpanned, commenting on the fact he had forced his opponent to discard two cards he couldn't play in the first place.

A City of Traitors came off the top to give James Mink enough mana to play Magus of the Moon, but Kowal answered with Swords to Plowshares. A second Magus was waiting in the wings, and came down for James the following turn. He was close to playing Gathan Raiders, but he needed to do something soon as his opponent played a second Dark Confidant to go with the first and the Sensei's Divining Top already on the board.

Brian Kowal tries to win his first Grand Prix. The Raiders was played face down, then flipped up with a discard as Brian tried to steal James' hand with a Mesmeric Fiend. Mink was living on the top of his library while Kowal followed up his Mesmeric Fiend with Tombstalker. The 5/5 flyer was a massive threat, and promised to end the match quickly in his favor if Mink couldn't come up with some type of miracle. He got a possible one as Kowal forgot to reveal for one of his Dark Confidants. He quickly realized his mistake, and turned the card over but because it was the second time he had made the mistake in the match, head judge Jason Ness was called in to make an official ruling on the matter.

There was a conference, and the final ruling was given. Because Kowal had made the mistake in the match already, and had a further warning earlier in the tournament, the ruling was strict: Kowal would be awarded a game loss. Mink had come up with the miracle he needed. Somehow he was walking out of a game he had little hope of winning with the match victory.

James Mink 2, Brian Kowal 1

The final ruling was explained in more detail. Ness said “There has to be a path for correction for players who make repeated mistakes. Because it was the third time [the mistake was made by Kowal during the Grand Prix], the penalty has to be upgraded to a game loss. The fact the mistake happened in a more public arena doesn't change that fact.”

Quarterfinals: Tommy Kolowith vs. Andy Probasco

by Bill Stark

Tommy won the die roll, an important opening for his Ad Nauseam Tendrils deck. He spent his early turns using a Brainstorm to set up his hand while Andy Probasco Pondered into a Tarmogoyf. Andy's Counterbalance/Top deck was a powerful and popular choice on the weekend, and it was favored against his opponent's combo deck, which played a significant number of spells that cost 0, 1, 2, or 3 mana.

At three lands in play, Tommy made Infernal Tutor to get a second copy of Dark Ritual, mirroring the one already in his hand. He didn't have enough to go off just yet, however, passing the turn. Andy tried to capitalize, playing Counterbalance, quite the back breaker in the match. That sent Tommy into the tank, and he opted to Mystical Tutor in response. The card he wanted? Duress, an indication he was ready to go off but wanted some protection.

The well respected Tommy Kolowith. The Counterbalance hit play, but without Sensei's Divining Top, it wasn't a lock. Tommy tried his Duress to see if the coast was clear, but Counterbalance revealed Ponder, countering the one-drop. That meant Tommy couldn't afford to play his Dark Rituals either, and he passed the turn. Andy played his Ponder, then cast a Sensei's Divining Top. That merited a response from Tommy again, playing Mystical Tutor to hunt up Ad Nauseam. The Tarmogoyf got in dropping Kolowith to 13, forcing him to go for it.

Lotus Petal hit play, and Andy decided not to reveal for Counterbalance. That was followed by Dark Ritual, again with no reveal for Counterbalance. “That's probably Force of Will...” Tommy said, motioning at the top card on his opponent's library. Kolowith played Ad Nauseam, and Andy responded with Brainstorm. That allowed him to put a Force of Will back on top, countering the card and ending Tommy's decidedly mediocre “big turn.”

After a single draw and facing down the soft lock plus Tarmogoyf, Tommy conceded.

Andy Probasco 1, Tommy Kolowith 0

Ponder was the first play for Tommy Kolowith in the second game, while his opponent Andrew Probasco had a Sensei's Divining Top. When Andy dropped Counterbalance on to the board on the second turn, Tommy responded with Brainstorm. Staring down the barrel of a Counterbalance/Top supergun on the second turn was bad news for Tommy K.

Attempting to clear the way for a possible big turn, Kolowith played Duress targeting Probasco. Andy responded by cashing in his Top to counter. The play freed Tommy up to resolve Vexing Shusher. The 2/2 would provide a small clock, but more important the ability to strongarm his spells onto the stack through the Counterbalance lock. To answer, Andy played Trinket Mage to find Engineered Explosives. The artifact would allow him to blow up the Goblin, but at the cost of his Counterbalance too.

It was a risk Andy was willing to take, playing the Explosives then popping it to hit his Counterbalance and kill the Shusher. When he followed up with Duress, Tommy Kolowith offered up some gallows humor: “I'm just actually dead. No outs...” Probasco answered his opponent's comment by playing a second Counterbalance, still with the complete lock as well as a mini-clock in the form of Trinket Mage.

Andy Probasco was favored in the Quarterfinals.Tommy worked on building up his board presence by sneaking two copies of Lion's Eye Diamond on the table, but Andy just hit land drop after land drop before playing Tarmogoyf. The plethora of mana access he had meant it would be very difficult for Tommy to resolve a spell through Counterbalance/Top. Tommy tried for a Burning Wish, but Andy revealed a two-drop on top of his deck to counter.

“How big is Tarmogoyf?” Kolowith verified. When the number was greater than his life total, Tommy extended the hand.

Andrew Probasco 2, Tommy Kolowith 0

Quarterfinals: Gabriel Nassif vs David Caplan

by Duncan McGregor

With full knowledge of their opponent's decks, the pregame chatter saw Gabriel asking David about his Canadian Threshold build. “What do you do if you don't have a creature in your opening hand?” David's shrug prompted another observation from Gabriel - “I guess it's okay.” “You get there,” agreed David.

Gabriel won the die roll and kept; David had to mull, and looked unhappy with his six, but whether that was actual displease or feigned was not apparent. Gabriel led with an Underground Sea and a Sensei's Divining Top, prompting a grimace and a pause from David. “Bluffing the Force?” Gabriel inquired when David finally let the Top resolve. David had only land on his turn.

Gabriel Topped during his upkeep and played a Polluted Delta. He passed the turn back, but when David Brainstormed at end of turn he took the opportunity to fetch up an Isola Tropicale to match David's, safe from Stifle but not Wasteland. David sent out for a Volcanic to complete his mana and played a Tarmogoyf, protecting it with Force of Will when Gabriel tried a Daze. Gabriel Topped again, and then tried for a Dark Confidant on his turn, which met a Daze from David. David replayed his Tropical and then attacked for 3. Gabriel played another Sea and a ‘Goyf of his own, but was met with a Spell Snare. David cracked in again after playing a Flooded Strand.

Gabriel Nassif makes it back-to-back Premier Top 8s! Gabriel played another Tarmogoyf, which stuck this time - briefly. David swung his ‘Goyf into Gabriel's, and then used Fire to finish off the opposing creature and ping Gabriel for one. A Nimble Mongoose finally drew the Force that Gabriel had been sandbagging, after he sent his Top onto his library for a Trygon Predator to feed it. The Ponder he saved by doing that finally dug him up the fetchland he needed to Swords to Plowshares David's Tarmogoyf, and the board was reset to Gabriel's replayed Top.

Dark Confidant from Gabriel met a Force of Will, but David continued to have nothing to do on his turn. Gabriel dug up another Bob on his next turn, but that one met with a Lightning Bolt before it could fill up Gabriel's hand. The turn after that a Counterbalance stuck, though, and while still ahead on life 21-10 David was definitely not in control of the game. The next couple turns were quick - or, as quick as turns can be when Sensei's Divining Top is on the table - and saw Gabriel dig up a win condition in the form of Tarmogoyf. David Wiped Away the Counterbalance in order to get his own ‘Goyf on the table, but when Gabriel replayed Counterbalance and Swords to Plowshared the blocker, David scooped up his cards.

Gabriel Nassif 1, David Caplan 0

David was a little miffed at not drawing any Wastelands or Stifles in Game 1, commenting “I had to play the way your deck plays - only worse.” David led with Volcanic Island, Brainstorming at Gabriel's end step and then Wastelanding his Tropical Island. The next turns passed with only land from each player, building up to two Volcanics and a Tropical for David across from Tundra, Tropical Island and two Flooded Strands, when Gabriel finally blinked and played a Top. The Top resolved without incident.

David dropped another land on his next turn and attempted a Tarmogoyf. Gabriel fired off a Flooded Strand, which was Stifled, but when he tried another fetch David balked at tapping out and allowed him to get an Underground Sea. The ‘Goyf finally resolved, after much Topping. Gabriel played a Polluted Delta on his next turn and a Counterbalance, but when he tried to fetch another land David Stifled. Unable to flip his Sensei's Divining Top to counter that without losing the Top, Gabriel allowed it and then Pondered. He finally left three cards on top, although he had to be reminded to draw from Ponder after that.

David Caplan puts years of Legacy expertise to good use. Now under the CounterTop soft lock, David swung in for the next couple turns with Tarmogoyf, but Gabriel eventually played one of his own. Gabriel blocked when David attacked, and when David tried to Red Elemental Blast the Counterbalance Gabriel just flipped over the top of his library to show a Blue Elemental Blast. David then tried playing Engineered Explosives with UUG, but Gabriel was ready with a Force of Will. David had to pass the turn back without having affected the board at all. Gabriel trumped that with an attack for 4, a second Tarmogoyf, and a Dark Confidant.

David again ran his Tarmogoyf into Gabriel's to start his turn, and tried a Brainstorm, but Gabriel showed that the Blue Elemental Blast was still on top of his library. David Submerged the Tarmogoyf that had attacked him, then fired a Lightning Bolt at the wounded ‘Goyf. With only one mana open Gabriel allowed it to die, but responded to another Bolt on his Dark Confidant by activating his Top to look at the top three. David tried to Stifle that, but Gabriel simply flipped the Top to counter that and save his Confidant, leaving David no cards in hand.

Gabriel replayed both his Top and his Tarmogoyf on his turn, and snuck Bob in for 2 damage. David had no action, and Gabriel was able to dig up a Plow for David's Tarmogoyf and start the attacks. David was unable to find anything relevant before dying.

Gabriel Nassif defeats David Caplan 2-0.

Semifinals: Andy Probasco vs. Paul Rietzl

by Blake Rasmussen

Game 1
Andy Probasco won the roll and kept quickly.

“Man that was really fast,” worried Paul Rietzl, who then was unable to keep his own and sent it back for six.

Rietzl led with Dark Ritual and Duress, in response to which Probasco hid a few cards with Brainstorm. The Duress revealed Spell Snare, Sower of Temptation, and Ponder, with three lands. Rietzl, who had talked about how good Spell Snare was against him before the game, took the counter. He used the last of his Dark Ritual mana to play a Nantuko Shade.

Probasco simply played Counterbalance before passing the turn.

“I really hope that's not a two on top. That would be a big blowout. I'd even rather see a Top right now,” said Rietzl as he ran out Tarmogoyf. Probasco knocked the top of his deck and revealed...Volcanic Island. Good thing Tarmogoyf doesn't cost zero. For all of us.

Probasco's response Tarmogoyf was hit with Snuff out, which allowed Reitzl to attack Probasco down to 8. A Wasteland, cutting off the Sower stranded in Probasco's hand, prompted the concession with a little shrug.

Paul Rietzl 1 Andy Probasco 0

Game 2
“The funny thing is, if you get a two off that Counterbalance, I just get blown out. Just a random two,” offered Rietzl.

Probasco played into Rietzl's game plan by throwing back his opener for six he could keep.

“Come on Hymn!” begged Rietzl before looking at his hand.

Probasco led with Sensei's Divining Top while Rietzl once again had Dark Ritual, this time for Hypnotic Specter. Probasco, though, had the Force of Will.

Rietzl's disruption wasn't done, however, as Sinkhole took an Island on turn two. Probasco had another land to replace it, and a Tarmogoyf to bolster his forces. Wasteland took yet another land, and Probasco was able to match with his own Tarmogoyf. Probasco, low on resources, was merely able to pluck a land off the top of his deck and pass.

Rietzl had yet more disruption in a Thoughtseize, taking Sower of Temptation, and a Seal of Primordium. As well as another Wasteland. Meanwhile, Probasco had a second Tarmogoyf and a Counterbalance in successive turns, despite getting hit by another Wasteland.

Rietzl was forced to play draw-go for a few turns as his single Tarmogoyf stared down two. His life total went down in chunks of four from the unblocked ‘Goyf for successive turns until he stood at one life. When Duress revealed only Sower of Temptation, Rietzl calmly scooped up his cards.

“It's allll on this,” said Rietzl.
“Well, it's all on the next match,” Probasco corrected, looking ahead to the finals.

Game 3
Rietzl started Game 3 with six cards after a mulligan, while Probasco kept his first seven.

Thoughtseize revealed Ponder, Brainstorm, Vedalken Shackles, and Counterbalance, snagging the Shackles.

“Pretty good hand,” said Rietzl, pondering his options. “Ugh, that's pretty sick.”

The players traded turns playing the best two-drops in the format, as Rietzl played Tarmogoyf and Probasco followed with Counterbalance.

An attempted Dark Ritual revealed a one on top of the library, and led Rietzl to simply pass after attacking for four.

Probasco followed with a Ponder into Relic of Progenitus, a handy tool for shrinking opposing Tarmogoyfs, which is exactly what it did the following turn. This gave Rietzl the opening to resolve a Sinkhole, setting Probasco back once more.

However, Sensei's Divining Top hit the table, giving Probasco his combo, but tapping him out post-Ponder.

Top jumped to the top of his deck to counter a Pithing Needle, and the Tarmogoyf was suddenly back up to 4/5, attacking for value once more.

As the match continued to see-saw back and forth, Probasco made a Trinket Mage. While the 2/2 might not prove more than a speed bump to the Tarmogoyf in play, but the Engineered Explosives it found could.

Rietzl fired back with Thoughtseize, which revealed Force of Will, Trinket Mage, Sensei's Divining Top, and the Engineered Explosives, which Rietzl took.

Seal of Primordium was countered by Force of Will, and a now five-power Tarmogoyf attacked Probasco down to 6.

The next turn, Trinket Mage jumped in front of the Tarmogoyf to buy some time. When Rietzl ran out a Tomstalker unimpeded, he seemed on the brink of a win.

“I just don't want to see running Sowers here.”

Naturally, the first Sower jumped off the top of Probasco's deck after one shuffle and a Top activation. The Tombstalker jumped in front of Tarmogoyf, and Probasco had the second Sower, just as Rietzl feared.

“I can't beat that draw,” he said. “We need a Snuff Out here.”

Instead he found only a land, and with a quick handshake Andy Probasco advanced to the finals of Grand Prix Chicago.

Andy Probasco defeats Paul Rietzl 2-1

Semifinals: Gabriel Nassif vs. James Mink

by Bill Stark

James Mink earned his berth in the semifinals off a miraculous series of events against Brian Kowal in the quarters. After a missed Dark Confidant trigger from Kowal, the third such mistake he had made on the weekend, the Madison player was awarded a game loss handing the match to Mink who was almost assuredly going to lose otherwise.

Sitting across the table from him was Gabriel Nassif, fresh from his Pro Tour-Kyoto title one week prior to the Grand Prix and the player with the second highest number of Pro Tour Top 8s in history. “Are tournaments easier in the States?” James asked his European opponent as they shuffled up for their match.

“Oh yeah...” Nassif responded with a smile. “Actually, everyone I played against this weekend seemed good.”

Could James Mink's Dragon Stompy march to the Finals?Chalice of the Void for one was the first play of the game, and it came on James Mink's first turn thanks to City of Traitors. When Mink followed the play up with Magus of the Moon on the second turn, Nassif responded by searching up an Island with Polluted Delta. Still, he had no counterspell, meaning the 2/2 resolved. With a deck filled with non-basics, Gabriel could very well be locked out of the match by the Future Sight rare.

When James played a Seething Song, he had exactly enough mana to drop Arc-Slogger, and Nassif was again without a counterspell to stop the monster from hitting the board. The next attack took Nassif to 9, and when he didn't find something unbelievable on the top of his deck, the players were on to the second game.

James Mink 1, Gabriel Nassif 0

As in the first game, Gabriel Nassif agonized over whether he should keep his opening hand or not. He needed an answer to a probable explosive start from his opponent, whether it was Force of Will, Daze, or even a Tundra + Swords to Plowshares to deal with Magus of the Moon. Finally he decided to keep, prompting an immediate mulligan from Mink. Showing some of his greenness in the Top 8 circle, James accidentally shuffled his hand into his deck facing the wrong direction.

“I must be tired...” He sighed before fixing the cards.

Content with six, the two players got under way with Nassif opening on Sensei's Divining Top. His opponent, as expected, exploded on Mountain and Chrome Mox, then removed Simian Spirit Guide to play Blood Moon. Gabe was ready, using Daze to counter and James was out of gas. Missing a land drop on the second turn, he simply passed while his opponent searched up a Tropical Island and played Tarmogoyf.

Trygon Predator was the next creature on the board for Nassif, and it was a threatening sight for James Mink, whose mana was coming in part from a Chrome Mox. Ripping a second Mountain, James attempted Seething Song, but Nassif used Daze to counter. Nassif all-ined on attacking, playing a second Tarmogoyf after bashing for 5 and blowing up the Mox, and James could only watch, helpless to protect himself.

The second Tarmogoyf ensured the next attack dropped Mink to 2, and he was drawing dead. After picking up his last card, he realized it and conceded.

“That Daze man. It's all about that Daze...” Mink said, reaching for his sideboard.

James Mink 1, Gabriel Nassif 1

On the play, Mink mulliganed his opening hand, before shipping his six-carder for five. Gabriel Nassif was clearly excited by the turn of events, but the explosive possibilities of Dragon Stompy meant he could still be staring down a first-turn Moon effect that could put him out of the game. It wasn't to be, however, as Mink simply played a Mountain and passed.

Nassif dropped Polluted Delta, then passed, waiting to see what his opponent would do. James dropped City of Traitors, then played a morph. Gabe allowed the 2/2 to resolve, but when Mink tried for Magus of the Moon the following turn, Gabriel was ready with Hydroblast. Tarmogoyf then hit the board for Gabe, and as a 4/5 it dominated the board. Nassif didn't even hesitate when James pulled the trigger on a Blood Moon, allowing the enchantment to hit.

Gabriel Nassif's Top 8 adds another variable to the ‘best player' discussion.Sower of Temptation came down next allowing the European to steal his opponent's morph, which naturally was a Gathan Raiders. Gabe took a deep breath, however, when Mink played Seething Song. Devoid of any counterspells, Gabriel couldn't stop an Arc-Slogger from hitting the table, and the 4/5 would actually be quite good at the moment. Instead, it was Rakdos Pit Dragon that hit play, something much easier for Nassif to contain.

After much consideration, and multiple readings of the Pit Dragon, Gabe turned his team sideways the following turn. When James opted not to block, the Pro Tour champion discarded Energy Flux to Gathan Raiders to unmorph it. That meant his 2/2 became a 3/3 and his Tarmogoyf got +1/+1 from the extra card type in his graveyard; Mink fell to 6 life.

Looking for help, James drew for the turn, then quickly checked his lands. He played a second Seething Song, exactly enough mana to play Gathan Raiders with hellbent, making it a 5/5. That forced Gabriel to carefully examine the board before figuring out attacks. Ultimately he decided on Tarmogoyf and Sower, dropping Mink to 4 and trading his Goyf for the Pit Dragon. When James wasn't able to draw a removal spell for the Sower, the 2/2 flyer was evasive enough to swing for the win.

Gabriel Nassif 2, James Mink 1

Finals: Gabriel Nassif vs. Andy Probasco

by Blake Rasmussen

For the second weekend in a row, Gabriel Nassif found himself in the finals of yet another high-level event. Standing in the way of a second straight title was Eternal specialist Andy Probasco. Both players came to game with Counterbalance-fueled decks and wound their way through both a massive field and a hate-filled Top 8.

Game 1
Nassif won the all important die roll and started on Tropical Island, while Probasco made a Sensei's Divining Top.

Nassif resolved a Counterbalance through Force of Will with a timely Daze. Both players had half their combo, and the race was on to complete it first. Nassif tried to take the lead in that particular race by running out Dark Confidant.

Probasco attempted to draw first “blood” with his Counterbalance, but Nassif had the lucky two on the top of his library to stop it.

“Random two for the win,” said Nassif. “Must be nice.” He then followed up with a Sensei's Divining Top of his own. Must be nice indeed.

Resigned at facing down a stiff lock, Probasco merely played draw go while Nassif activated Top, drew cards off Confidant, and attacked freely, taking Probasco to 13. Lock in place, Nassif was content to pass the turn. When Probasco attempted to Krosan Grip, Nassif had his own on top to once again halt any gains from the Atlanta native.

Nassif also cast and resolved a Trygon Predator, hoping to lock things up even further (if that was possible). When Sower of the Temptation was countered by its twin off a Counterbalance, Probasco conceded Game 1.

“That's good man,” he said while scooping his cards.

Gabriel Nassif 1 Andrew Probasco 0

Game 2
On the play, Probasco led with a Ponder, while Nassif mirrored the play. Probasco resolved his Counterbalance first, while, once again, Nassif did exactly the same (it resolved).

Nassif was able to dodge the Counterbalance flip with a Tarmogoyf, who only had Ponders and Polluted Deltas to feed him. The following turn, he dodged it again with Divining Top as Probasco was forced to reveal Krosan Grip on the top of his library. This allowed Nassif to plan ahead, stacking his deck with the Trygon Predator that helped counter the popular Split Second spell.

Probasco returned the favor the next turn when Trygon Predator fell victim to a revealed Trinket Mage. That did, however, grow Tarmogoyf to 4/5, allowing it to drop Probasco to 11.

The Trinket Mage, in turn, was countered by a revealed Threads of Disloyalty, which had jumped from Nassif's hand to the top of his library via Brainstorm the previous turn.

Probasco tried another mirror-buster in Sower of Temptation, but seemed resigned to his fate when Nassif played Force of Will. Another Tarmogoyf attack took Probasco to five, and a second Tarmogoyf, resolving through Counterbalance once again, looked to end the game the next turn.

Probasco knocked on his deck, as was his custom, checked the top card and...

...extended his hand.

Gabriel Nassif defeats Andy Probasco 2-0 and is the Champion of Grand Prix Chicago!