Top 5 Moments from Grand Prix Houston 2016

Posted in Event Coverage on February 29, 2016

By Meghan Wolff and Marc Calderaro

5. The Texas-Okinawa Connection

Some of these moments are big, but some of the best ones are small.

Two and a half years ago, Brett Smith and Nelson Velez Santiago said their goodbyes in Okinawa, Japan. They had been stationed there together, and as Magic players had forged a friendship playing together at the local store.

But as is common in the armed forces, they had to say goodbye with no idea when or if they’d see each other again. Both eventually returned to their respective homes, and thought little of it.

However, in the last year Smith and Velez Santiago each moved to Texas independently. Neither knew about that until they spied the other sometime in Round 3. They spent much of the rest of the day catching up, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they start playing together again in Texas.

The Grand Prix is about Magic, but it’s also about so much more.

4. Taking a Moment to Remember Christopher Rush

They were the first tables past registration, the ones so big and so colorful and often so crowded that you just couldn’t miss them—the Artist Alley. And at this particular Grand Prix, there was one table larger and more crowded than the rest, where Christopher Rush’s agent Jeff Ferreira stood amid mountains and mountains of artwork by the late and fondly remembered artist.

There were prints and playmats, dice bags, and bags for carrying playmats, all carrying images from Rush’s most iconic works. But more moving than the Black Lotuses and Lightning Bolts was the palpable way in which people, both behind and in front of the table, cared about one of Magic’s most iconic artists.

3. Hardened Scales—The Worst-Kept Secret

Coming into this weekend, many players thought 4-Color Rally was the only deck to beat. But starting early in the tournament, it was revealed that a huge number of pro players were actually on an as-yet-unseen green-white deck based around Hardened Scales, sporting cards like Managorger Hydra, Nissa, Voice of Zendikar, and Draft standout, Abzan Falconer.

The deck, only played online a week ago by designer Matt Nass, had already made the rounds through the bigger teams before Friday. And in some cases, it was even reverse-engineered by people who’d been destroyed by the deck online. Many teams working independently all got their hands on the list one way or another.

Pascal Maynard bought a last-minute ticket to Houston on Tuesday, the day he started playing the deck. And other players literally picked up the deck yesterday. There was nary an available copy of Abzan Falconer to be found on-site.

It was the water-cooler talk all weekend, and put two players, Mark Jacobson, and Chapman Sim, into the Top 8.

2. Team East West Bowl’s Mark Jacobson Killing His Idols

Team East West Bowl already had fantastic success at both Grand Prix Vancouver and Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch. This new team, made of many familiar faces, has been looking to carve themselves space as one of the real up-and-coming teams.

This weekend, eventual semifinalist Mark Jacobson helped that cause by going 13-0 and clinching the Top 8 with two rounds to go. But he didn’t stop there.

In Round 14 Jacobson could have drawn against Pro Tour Hall of Fame member (10) Eric Froehlich, one of the game’s masters. But Jacobson saw an opportunity. Not only could he get better seeding into the Top 8, in a format that rewards going first, and not only could he help knock an extremely difficult opponent out of the Top 8 before it began. He could help solidify the idea that East  West Bowl is not just a flash in the pan, not just some fortunate grinders. They are here to stay, and are only getting better.

Mark Jacobson went on to beat Eric Froehlich, and as a consequence, Froehlich missed the Top 8. It was an understandably sad moment for Eric. But perhaps one day this moment will be something different. We’ll speak about Team EastWest Bowl the way we speak about ChannelFireball, of which Froehlich has been a major part. And perhaps we’ll look back at this moment and say it started here. Perhaps.

1. The Sequel to the Pantheon Showdown

Twice now in as many months, two ChannelFireball: The Pantheon team members met in the finals. And just like fourth-ranked Reid Duke playing Hall of Famer Ben Rubin in the finals of Grand Prix Oakland, the Houston finals were another new-school representative versus an old-school one. (1) Owen Turtenwald faced Andrew Cuneo in a titan clash I’m sure Pantheon would like to make traditional.

It already seems to be becoming a tradition of sorts. In the semifinals, after fellow teammate Brock Parker lost to Andrew Cuneo, Parker said, “Aw. I thought I would get to be the crusty old veteran in the finals!”

But third time’s the charm, so we’ll soon see if this practice truly gets entered into the team’s canon, or as some might say, their pantheon.

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