by Tobi HenkeSaturday, 10:26 p.m.Quick Questions: Regarding Pro Tour Preparation
by Frank KarstenSaturday, 10:25 p.m.The Path to the Finals: Rounds 7-9
by Tobi HenkeRound 8 Feature MatchMarco Orsini Jones vs. Tom Harle
by Frank KarstenRound 7 Feature MatchMatteo Orsini Jones vs. Daniel Antoniou
by Frank KarstenSaturday, 7:56 p.m.The Path to the Finals: Rounds 4-6
by Tobi HenkeRound 5 Feature MatchSveinung Bjørnerud vs. Ben Stark
by Frank KarstenRound 4 Feature MatchJackie Lee vs. Elias Watsfeldt
by Frank KarstenSaturday, 4:10 p.m.The Path to the Finals: Round 1-3
by Tobi HenkeSaturday, 4:02 p.m.Putting Cyprus on the Map
by Frank KarstenSaturday, 2:57 p.m.American Players Looking for Pro Tour Points
by Tobi HenkeSaturday, 1:59 p.m.On the Hunt for Pro Points
by Tobi HenkeSaturday, 12:25 p.m.No Lapse in Judgment
by Frank KarstenSaturday, 11:29 a.m.Sealed Deck Building Exercise: Killer Deck of Doom
by Tobi HenkeSaturday, 10:29 a.m.Trials and Tribulations
by Event Coverage StaffInfo: Fact Sheet
Saturday, 10:29 a.m. – Trials and Tribulations
This fine morning, the action is just heating up, with players momentarily poring over their Sealed pools, but for a lot of them the weekend already started yesterday with the Last-Chance Grand Prix Trials. A lucky few were able to clinch victory in one of these grueling single-elimination tournaments and earned themselves a little breather, three byes for the main event.
While Grand Prix Manchester itself is Limited, GPTs can either be Limited or Constructed. So, whether you prefer Sealed or Standard, take some inspiration from the people listed below, bring a deck, or don't, and start your next GP weekend on Friday! It's worth it.
Saturday, 11:29 a.m. – Sealed Deck Building Exercise: Killer Deck of Doom
This weekend 1031 players from all over the world have made their way to Manchester to show their skills in Dark Ascension/Innistrad limited. Were you unable to make it to Manchester this weekend, while you'd still want to build a sealed deck just like the players here in Manchester? Then check out today's Sealed Building Exercise: the Killer Pool of Doom.
To be perfectly honest, we did not just randomly open this pool. You'd have to be unrealistically lucky for that, as this pool is one of the best pools that you could theoretically open in this format. It also leads to near-impossible choices. For example, Lingering Souls and Huntmaster of the Fells are both excellent, but can you fit both into a single deck? At the same time, this pool with all of its great rares and uncommons provides a nice greatest hits retrospective on the format. After all, this weekend is the last hurrah of Dark Ascension/Innistrad limited.
So, build your deck and share it on the forums to compare your deck with what others have created! Later today, we'll try to get an opinion on how to build this pool from one of the pro players in attendance here.
Saturday, 12:21 p.m. – No Lapse in Judgment
About a week ago, a new version of the so-called Infraction Procedure Guide went into effect. This document covers what is to be done in a competitive tournament setting when people don't follow the rules. The biggest news is a change in the handling of triggered abilities (abilities starting with "when", "whenever", or "at"). The change is twofold:
For one thing, players are no longer responsible to watch out for triggered abilities controlled by their opponents. They don't need to worry about those abilities, they don't have to remind their opponents, and they'll never receive a penalty for failure to do so. "Now these abilities have become a real skilltester," said Italian level-five judge Riccardo Tessitori. "The change increases the competition. The more focused, concentrated player will win more often, as it should be. The level of attention people have to put in is higher than it used to be."
The other thing is the introduction of a new term: lapsing abilities. Lapsing abilities are those commonly considered all upside, like gaining life or untapping one's own permanents. If an ability has an effect like that (and no other) a player who controls this ability, but misses its trigger will not be able to get its effect, but he will receive no further penalty either. "If you miss a triggered ability like 'When this creature enters the battlefield, you gain 2 life' the penalty for that simply is: you don't get the life", Tessitori said. "There's really no need to add insult to injury."
There is a definite list of effects an ability could have which make it lapsing. The creation of tokens is among them, but Tessitori warned about a common error: "The living weapon ability on, for example, Batterskull may seem like it would be lapsing. But the ability does two things: it creates a token and it attaches Batterskull to it. Only the first of these things is lapsing, so the whole ability is not lapsing and will not be gone for good as easily."
Saturday, 1:59 p.m. – On the Hunt for Pro Points
My colleague Frank Karsten will check in later with the American players who traveled thousands of miles on the quest to get additional Pro Points. Meanwhile, I'm doing a little number crunching here for the Europeans.
First, the facts: 25 Pro Points get you to Gold-level status in the Pro Players Club, 40 to Platinum. Those points are due on May 13, the final day of Pro Tour Avacyn Restored in Barcelona.
A Top 8 at a Grand Prix is worth four points, Top 16 is three, Top 32 is two, and Top 64 still adds one point to a player's total. The Pro Tour on the other hand gives out a lot more Pro Points, starting with three for everyone, four for the Top 100, five for the Top 75, six for the Top 50. After that, the progression becomes even steeper all the way to the winner who receives a whopping 30 points.
The only tournaments left till May 13 are this Grand Prix in Manchester and the aforementioned Pro Tour in Barcelona. It's the homestretch of the season.
Arguably the biggest story is French Hall of Famer Raphaël Lévy who in the past couple of months traveled around the world to rack up an equally impressive and disappointing 35 Pro Points. The number's impressive for obvious reasons, close to the Platinum threshold, especially once you add the guaranteed three points from the Pro Tour. It's disappointing because he's still missing two extra points. Currently he needs to make it to the Top 75 in Barcelona. If he ends up in the Top 64 here in Manchester, a Top 100 will do, and a Top 32 at this GP effectively gets him to Platinum already.
Lukas Jaklovsky from the Czech Republic is one step closer to the same goal. But on 36 points, he also needs to either make it to the Top 64 here or to the Top 100 in Barcelona.
Meanwhile, Switzerland's Matthias Künzler and Sweden's Elias Watsfeldt have their sights set on Gold. With currently 21 points, the Top 64 at the GP or the Top 100 at the PT will be enough for them, and a Pro Tour Top 8 may even catapult them all the way to Platinum. One player who's already demonstrated his ability to Top 8 a Pro Tour is Swiss pro Nico Bohny. He is sitting on 20 Pro Points, as are GP London winner Daniel Royde and Finland's Markku Rikola. A PT Top 75, a GP Top 32, or a combination of PT Top 100/GP Top 64 will get them to Gold.
Last but not least, rising French star Elie Pichon may have only 19 points so far, but he already has proven his dedication to the game by traveling to US Grand Prix and already has proven his prowess at the game by making the Top 8 of Pro Tour Nagoya and the Top 8 of Grand Prix Amsterdam last year. As of right now, he still needs a Top 50 at Pro Tour Barcelona. At the end of this weekend, though, that may very well have changed.
Saturday, 2:57 p.m. – American Players Looking for Pro Tour Points
Besides the many European players attending the Grand Prix today, there are also four brave American pro players (Ben Stark, Craig Wescoe, Jackie Lee, and Melissa DeTora) who are desperately trying to score the final few Pro Points they need to make Gold or Platinum Level in the Pro Player club.
Pro Tour Paris Champion Ben Stark is a renowned limited master and member of team ChannelFireball. He truly is an expert at breaking down limited formats. Currently sitting at 32 points, he needs 8 more to make the coveted Platinum level. With a recent Top 16 to his name at Grand Prix Mexico City (in the same Innistrad/Dark Ascension Limited format that is being played here today), Ben is hoping to find these missing Pro Points here in Manchester.
The Thraben-based 1/1 Human Craig Wescoe is known for his love of white weenie cards. (Thraben is really his hometown and 1/1 Human is really his occupation; if you don't believe me, check out his answers in the Top 8 profile of GP Mexico City!) Fresh off his recent Top 8 in the same format in GP Mexico City, he currently sits at 35 Pro Points and needs 5 more to reach Platinum.
Melissa DeTora had been traveling around the world last year in a global grind for Planeswalker points. She also made the trip to Manchester this weekend together with her boyfriend James Searles, in a hope to repeat her Grand Prix Santiago Top 8 performance. Currently at 14 Pro Points, her hope is to snatch 5 additional points here in Manchester. If she would succeed and subsequently make Top 50 in Barcelona, she will have collected enough points for the Gold treshold.
Jackie Lee is one of America's rising stars. She won a PTQ for Pro Tour Dark Ascension (finishing in the top 1/3rd there) while working as a card alterist. Since then, she made her first Grand Prix Top 8 in Baltimore, and showed the world that that was no fluke by making 11th place at Grand Prix Mexico City and Grand Prix Salt Lake City. So that single Grand Prix Top 8 could've easily been three Top 8s in consecutive Grand Prixs, and she's looking for a repeat performance here in Manchester. She currently sits at 19 Pro Points.
So all of them traveled 4000-5000 miles in a quest for Pro Points; did they open the cards they needed? During the byes (all of them had 3 byes), I tracked them down to get their answers.
Ben Stark: "I think I can go 4-2, but my sealed pool is nothing special."
Craig Wescoe: "My sealed pool is decent; I am running Plains and I have cards that can go 6-0."
Jackie Lee: "It's not good at all!"
Melisa de Tora: "My sealed pool is okay – not great – but I think I can go 4-2 with it."
Stay tuned to see whether they can make it to Day 2!
Saturday, 4:02 p.m. – Putting Cyprus on the Map
Cyprus is an island in the Mediterranean Sea which up until now hasn't made a lot of noise as a nation in the Magic world. This weekend, however, the Cypriots are a force to be reckoned with—and easily noticeable in their team shirts:
Ioannis Economides just came back from his round-three match, which he finished in no time thanks to his removal-heavy R/B deck, when I caught up with him to talk about the state of Magic in Cyprus.
"I actually started playing in '97 or '98, when I was a student in the UK, at a place called 'The Asylum'," Economides reminisced, mentioning fond memories of Urza's Saga. "Then I went back to Cyprus and found that there was no Magic scene at all. For years, no stores, no organized play."
"It all changed when I taught the game to some friends of mine, and they got into it to such an extent that we decided to open our own shop. Now, there are about 250 players in Cyprus with a core group of regular players of about 75. Cyprus went from zero stores to five, spread over Limmasol, Larnaca, and Nicosia, and all take part in organized play," said Economides, with infectious excitement.
"Last year we had our first National Championships and sent one player to Worlds. This year we have three WMCQs and we're all really excited for the World Magic Cup, for the chance to interact with the pros. Also, just last month, we hosted the first-ever PTQ in Cyprus, where a very talented 16-year-old player won his invitation to PT Barcelona," Economides continued. "We have the potential, we have the willingness, and I hope we'll have the results."
Depending on where you live, chances are, stories about Magic's formative years, about how the game first caught on belong to the distant past. Listening to the account of the relatively recent history of Magic in Cyprus, at least this reporter couldn't help but smile.
Saturday, 4:10 p.m. – The Path to the Finals: Rounds 1-3
We'll be trying something funky with the coverage here in Manchester. The idea is very simple: We follow someone from round one onwards, and switch to his opponent if he loses. One way or another, we'll eventually end up with the winner of the Grand Prix (hence "The Path to the Finals".)
We may occasionally be referring to the person we're currently following as "The Highlander", in reference to the movie with the famous tagline "There can be only one". The only difference with our setup in the Grand Prix is that, here, the winner won't take his enemy's head. At least not literally.
To start, we will be following Britain's own Quentin Martin. Quentin is a renowned Limited analyst, who shared his knowledge in the Limited Information column on MagictheGathering.com in 2007-2008. Quentin has collected over a hundred Pro Points over the course of his career, including a Top 8 at 2006 Pro Tour Prague. Although he quit professional Magic in 2008, he's still quite active, playing several drafts a week on Magic Online and following the tournament coverage. "I never really quit; this game is going to be part of me for a long time," Quentin explained. However, his Magic Online drafts didn't help him in collecting enough Planeswalker Points for even a single bye, so he'll have to battle his way through the first couple of rounds the hard way.
Quentin lamented the fact that this was his last chance to play the Innistrad / Dark Ascension Limited format in a Grand Prix. "I like the format a lot; it's definitely in my Top 5 Limited formats all-time. Only the Ravnica Block Limited format was better. This is also the first format where they did the graveyard well. There are several flagship cards such as Spider Spawning that make it possible to draft alternative strategies, and I love to do that." Given that Quentin originally introduced the Dampen Thought draft archetype in Kamigawa Block, his perspective of Innistrad / Dark Ascension Limited doesn't come as a surprise.
I caught up with him shortly after he built his Sealed Deck. To sum up his deck, Quentin exclaimed: "This was the most difficult Sealed pool I have ever build! And I've built hundreds!" His sealed pool contained, amongst others, Garruk Relentless; Dungeon Geists; Mindshrieker; Champion of the Parish; Thalia, Guardian of Thraben; Lingering Souls; Thraben Doomsayer; and Olivia Voldaren. Wow! It's not as good as the Super Killer Pool that was put up for the Sealed Deck Exercise earlier, but it certainly comes close.
Interestingly, Quentin was able to made two separate decks out of it. Both decks seem very strong and they have no overlap at all. For reference, here are the two lists.
He registered one of these decks as his main deck. The other deck he keeps hidden in his box, and he is frequently swapping between the two decks during sideboarding. Which of these two decks would you have registered as your starting main deck and which would you have kept as a sideboard option? Share your ideas on Cover-It-Live! I'll tell you which deck Quentin picked as his main one later today.
On the back of (both of) his deck(s), Quentin quickly racked off three wins. In Round 1, he employed his amazing rares to dispatch Mufaddal Bharmal. In Round 2, he was facing mana floods, color screws, and mulligans in both games, but he still managed to beat Giulio Bergadano from Italy. In both rounds, Quentin was sneakily switching decks between games, surprising his opponents with another color combination all of a sudden!
Round 3 started off badly as Quentin got a game loss for being late. He went to the pairings board much too late and, in a hurry, he mistook Quentin Malard (who was listed right above him on the pairings list) for Quentin Martin and, as a result, he went to the wrong table. Nevertheless, after this game loss he still managed to beat his opponent, Jesus Bernabeu-edo from Spain.
"It was an amazing game," Quentin mentioned. "I went turn-1 Champion of the Parish, turn-2 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, turn 3 Elder Cathar. A super-aggressive start, but the game still was a very tight race, since my opponent also curved out amazingly with Stromkirk Noble and Stormbound Geist, neither of which I could block. Still, I managed to win in the end."
Will Quentin be able to go undefeated throughout this entire tournament, or will we switch to another player soon? Because remember: once Quentin (with basically two amazing 40-card decks) loses, we'll switch to his opponent! Stay tuned to the coverage to find out!
Round 4 Feature Match - Jackie Lee vs. Elias Watsfeldt
With round four, any players who had earned themselves three byes are thrown into the fray. Amongst them are Jackie Lee and Elias Watsfeldt. Jackie Lee has been making waves in the Grand Prix circuit recently, and she is one of the brave Americans who crossed the ocean in a quest for Pro Points. Elias is currently the youngest member of the group of players with 20 or more Pro Points. He's only 18 years old and is looking to add another Limited Grand Prix Top 8 to his resume after making Top 8 in Grand Prix San Diego last year.
The key decision in this entire game was whether or not to mulligan. Jackie got to play first, and she looked at an opening hand of Blazing Torch, Pitchburn Devils, Burden of Guilt, 3 Plains, 1 Mountain. Think about that for a while.
Now, I'm guessing that most of you reading this feature match report would be perfectly happy with 3 spells and 4 lands, and keep instantly. But Jackie took her time and went deep into the tank. After a long deliberation, she decided to mulligan. That's right: mulligan a perfectly fine mix of lands and spells! After the match, I asked her about her thought process. "I have a very aggressive deck and I didn't think this hand was good enough," Jackie explained.
Although shipping away this opening hand is something that many players would probably not even consider, I'll give my Hall-of-Famer-stamp-of-approval: I believe that Jackie actually made the right decision here. Given the fact that her deck was relatively weak and could only win through an aggressive start, her opening hand would probably not give her a reasonable chance of winning the game. To take a mulligan here is thinking outside the box, but a mulligan does provide a fresh chance to get an aggressive draw, and that's exactly what her deck needs.
This impressive and brave mulligan decision turned out well in her favor. After actually having to go down to 5 cards -- her 6-card hand missed lands and was an snap mull -- Jackie was able to start out very aggressively: turn 2 Torch Fiend, turn 3 Torch Fiend, turn 4 Elgaud Inquisitor, smash!
Elias, in the meantime, could only muster a Vampire Interloper and Niblis of the Mist. On turn 5, Jackie played Crossway Vampire to make sure that Niblis of the Mist could not block, and swung in with her team to put Elias down to 8 life already. Shortly after, she played a morbid Brimstone Volley for the kill.
Jackie Lee 1 – Elias Watsfeldt 0
While Game 2 was getting underway, I heard "How the mighty have fallen..." in a loud voice from the sidelines. I looked up to see Antonino De Rosa, who made his comment in jest upon seeing a Hall of Famer doing event coverage. I snapped a picture of him and briefly explained to Antonino that I'm still playing the Pro Tours (I will be attending Pro Tour Barcelona, for instance) and that I'm only doing coverage for the Grand Prix events. I'm personally not in a quest for Pro Points, as opposed to Antonino, Jackie, and Elias.
Once I returned to the game, Jackie and Elias had already played a few turns (no mulligans this time around). We were currently in Elias's combat phase, and the board had transgressed to the following situation:
Jackie deliberated for a while whether to block the Doomed Traveler. After planning ahead, she eventually decided not to block. Sure, she had the option to turn Elias' Doomed Traveler into a Spirit token for free, but she was waiting for a better time to do so. In fact, she made the block on Elias' next attack and used well-timed Brimstone Volley to take out Mikaeus, the Unhallowed. But Elias had a morbid play of his own in Morkrut Banshee, which took out Gallows Warden. Impressive how the death of a lowly Doomed Traveler can have a huge impact on the game...
After that exchange, Jackie kept on applying pressure by adding Elgaud Inquisitor and Crossway Vampire to her board and by using a Burning Oil to deal with Elias' Gavony Ironwright after blocks. Elias was now on the back foot, at a low 7 life. Elias added two Spirit tokens to his board with Midnight Haunting, which looked threatening in combination with his Gavony Township. But Elias was lacking green mana to activate his land, and his tokens stayed tiny in comparison to Jackie's creatures.
Jackie next swung in with all of her creatures, feeling confident that the Burning Oil still lingering in her graveyard could not give Elias any good blocks. Elias eventually made the blocks as pictured.
After damage, Jackie flashed back Burning Oil to finish off Morkrut Banshee. Note that she timed this instant after damage resolved, not before damage! This is allowed since Morkrut Banshee is still considered to be blocking in the end-of-combat step. And her timing is better than casting it before damage resolved, as that would've lead to a wasted Burning Oil if Elias would respond to it by destroying the Crossway Vampire.
After that combat step, Jackie was left with only Midnight Guard and a 1/1 Spirit, while Elias had nothing. His deck provided him with Death's Caress, but playing that on Midnight Guard was not the answer he was looking for. A few swings later, Jackie took the match.
Jackie Lee 2 – Elias Watsfeldt 0
Jackie Lee is still not happy with her deck, but moves to 4-0 nevertheless. When asked what went wrong during the games, Elias replied "I drew the wrong half of my deck; I missed green mana for my Gavony Township. My deck is very good, though, so I'm still confident in my chances!"
Round 5 Feature Match - Sveinung Bjørnerud vs. Ben Stark
Sveinung Bjørnerud is a man on a mission. He's currently the runner-up in the Norwegian Pro Point standings (which determines the top pro invitation to the World Magic Cup), one point behind Andreas Nordahl. Bjørnerud is here this weekend, trying to take the lead, while Nordahl is not.
Ben Stark is a man on a different mission. He won Pro Tour Paris last year, but that was before the current Pro Point season (June 2011 to May 2012) started. Now he has 32 points, missing eight to get to Platinum level. Two different goals, both involving a win in this round ...
Specifically, Delver of Secrets appeared to have no intentions of turning into Insectile Aberration anytime soon. At least the combination with Deranged Assistant allowed Stark to mill some unwanted lands into his graveyard.
Bjørnerud, meanwhile, had a turn-two Loyal Cathar and a turn-four Galvanic Juggernaut. Stark summoned Ravenous Demon, Bjørnerud cast Wolfhunter's Quiver. A Silent Departure flipped Delver of Secrets to its dark side, then returned Loyal Cathar to Bjørnerud's hand, and Stark's team smashed in. Bjørnerud's Village Bell-Ringer provided one surprise-blocker and another by untapping Galvanic Juggernaut. Stark lost his Demon.
Bjørnerud further stabilized the board with Silverclaw Griffin. Stark tried to kill it, Bjørnerud had the Undying Evil to prevent that. By now, Galvanic Juggernaut had eaten a sizeable chunk of Stark's lifetotal and he had to trade for it unfavorably, losing Insectile Aberration and a 2/2 Homunculus token.
Stark was out of gas, whereas on Bjørnerud's side Wolfhunter's Quiver began to work its magic. When Bjørnerud's Dearly Departed made its appearance and the top of his library offered no solution, Stark quickly picked up his cards.
Sveinung Bjørnerud 1 – 0 Ben Stark
Stark began with Walking Corpse, Divination, and Highborn Ghoul, Bjørnerud with Loyal Cathar, Disciple of Griselbrand, and Galvanic Juggernaut. Sever the Bloodline took out the 5/5 and Stark attacked with both of his creatures. He lost Highborn Ghoul to Disciple of Griselbrand and saved Walking Corpse via Undying Evil from trading against Loyal Cathar.
(Flash forward to the end of the game:
"Did you draw the Seakite that turn?"
"I thought so."
"Yeah. It was not a bad attack."
And now rewind, please.)
Bjørnerud's Silverclaw Griffin died to Victim of Night, and now he was taking quite some damage, which he needed to do something about. And he did. His Death's Caress took out the 3/3 Walking Corpse and a presumably topdecked Increasing Devotion gave him five creatures of his own.
Stark summoned Ghoulraiser and Niblis of the Breath, Bjørnerud made a Vengeful Vampire. On his next attack, Bjørnerud lost some tokens, then cast Morkrut Banshee to take out Nephalia Seakite. Stark summoned Highborn Ghoul.
His Ghoulraiser traded against the last two of Bjørnerud's tokens, then Stark cast Silent Departure on Vengeful Vampire and summoned Grimgrin, Corpse-Born. Suddenly Bjørnerud was faced with a lethal attacker. To make matters worse he had just lost three creatures, another two would be tapped by Niblis of the Breath, yet another bounced by Silent Departure, and yet another killed by Grimgrin itself.
Unsurprisingly, his deck was unable to come up with enough blockers. No removal for Grimgrin either. He could have flashbacked Increasing Devotion, but Stark still had the flashback of Sever the Bloodline available.
Sveinung Bjørnerud 1 – 1 Ben Stark
Bjørnerud chose to play first, but the first plays of the game were actually Stark's, with Walking Corpse and Niblis of the Breath. Bjørnerud's Galvanic Juggernaut, however, put a stop to Stark's offense, and his follow-up play of Increasing Devotion wasn't too shabby either. Niblis of the Breath stayed on defense to tap down the Juggernaut and Stark cast Ravenous Demon. Bjørnerud cast Dearly Departed, which was returned to his hand via Silent Departure. Bjørnerud replayed his 5/5 and also cast Typhoid Rats.
The board was now Ghoulraiser, Niblis of the Breath, Deranged Assistant, Ravenous Demon, and Walking Corpse on Stark's side versus a freshly-summoned Vengeful Vampire, Typhoid Rats, two 1/1 tokens, Galvanic Juggernaut, and Dearly Departed (with both 5/5s tapped) on Bjørnerud's. Stark killed the Rats, the flashbacked Silent Departure bounced Vengeful Vampire, and Stark attacked with Ravenous Demon and his two 2/2 Zombies, re-tapping Galvanic Juggernaut with Niblis of the Breath. One of the tokens chumped the Demon.
Confronted with the sudden change of pace, Bjørnerud took a few turns to bolster his defenses, casting Midnight Guard and Lingering Souls. Stark only had a Highborn Ghoul to get through further damage, while Bjørnerud was mounting an offense of his own.
Just as Stark was falling further and further behind, he once again drew and cast Grimgrin, Corpse-Born. On his next turn, low on life, Stark tried to figure out the best course of action to navigate the insanely complicated board position: Stark controlled a tapped Grimgrin, Corpse-Born, Walking Corpse, two Ghoulraisers, Highborn Ghoul, Niblis of the Breath, Ravenous Demon, and Deranged Assistant, while his opponent had Midnight Guard, Loyal Cathar, a 1/1 nonflying Human token, and a tapped Galvanic Juggernaut, as well as a whole bunch of other tapped creatures. Bjørnerud had 8 life and five lands untapped.
Got that? Good, here's what Stark did. He transformed his Ravenous Demon, sacrificing Deranged Assistant, destroyed Loyal Cathar with Victim of Night, untapped Grimgrin, sacrificing one Ghoulraiser, tapped Midnight Guard with Niblis of the Breath, and attacked with Archdemon of Greed, Highborn Ghoul, Walking Corpse, Ghoulraiser, and Grimgrin, killing Galvanic Juggernaut.
This left Bjørnerud with exactly one untapped creature, the 1/1 token, which blocked Grimgrin ... and the Rebuke in his hand which killed the Demon. Three creatures went unblocked for a total of 6 damage. Close but no 8.
Sveinung Bjørnerud 2 – 1 Ben Stark
OK, now be honest. Did you see the mistake in Stark's line of play?
As soon as Stark had conceded, spectators pointed out that Stark could have sacrificed his Niblis of the Breath to untap Grimgrin (after using it to tap a blocker) instead of one of his Ghoulraisers. And indeed, that would have given him an additional 2-power creature and probably the win. Then again, that was one hell of a convoluted board state and one hell of a turn.
Saturday, 7:56 p.m. - The Path to the Finals: Rounds 4-6
At the beginning of Round 4, Quentin Martin (equipped with his amazing duo of sealed decks) was still our Highlander, sitting undefeated at 3-0. To answer the teasing question that was included in the coverage earlier today: Martin actually registered his Blue-White deck as his maindeck, and has chosen to keep his Black-Red-Green deck in his sideboard. He mentioned that the two decks were very close in power, but the Blue-White deck felt slightly stronger to him nevertheless.
Quentin quickly dispatched his Round 4 opponent George Burrow, despite facing the amazing start of turn 1 Avacyn's Pilgrim, turn 2 Lingering Souls. In round 5, however, Quentin fell at the hands of the Belgian Lucas Gilis in three close, but good games.
Lucas, who hails from Leuven, relayed that it feels great to be able to play and beat a renowned Limited expert here at the Grand Prix. Lucas is no newcomer to the Grand Prix circuit, though: he already participated in about 20 Grand Prix; his best finish was 22nd in Grand Prix Amsterdam 2007. He has a pretty good deck featuring both Vault of the Archangel and Gavony Township.
Nevertheless, Lucas could only get a single round of fame, as he immediately lost to Matteo Orsini Jones in three very long games that were eventually decided by Matteo's Increasing Confusion. So, by the rules of our "Path to the Finals" feature, we are now switching over to cover Matteo as long as he stays undefeated. Matteo is a Magic player from England who has a Top 8 Pro Tour in Kyoto, 2009 under his belt. He is not able to play a lot of Magic these days because he recently moved to Cumbria -- a desolate place in the middle of nowhere -- and no one really plays Magic there.
Still, Matteo was happy to get a Grand Prix in his home country, and is thrilled be at 6-0 right now. He built a four-color concoction featuring Lingering Souls, Increasing Confusion, and Hollowhenge Scavenger. Although the mana might seem awkward, his deck has been serving him well so far. "I actually feel like I'm playing very well today", Matteo mentioned. "And I actually don't really care about winning or losing today, which gives a lot of calm."
Check out the Round 7 feature match to see if Matteo can keep up his winning streak!
Round 7 Feature Match - Matteo Orsini Jones vs. Daniel Antoniou
Matteo Orsini Jones from England is currently our "Highlander" in our "Path to the Finals". By definition, that means he's undefeated. To stay undefeated, he'll have to get through Daniel Antoniou from Cyprus, a member of the huge group of Cypriots that made the trip to Manchester together.
Daniel came equipped with an aggressive White-Green deck featuring the synergy between Gather the Townsfolk and Rally the Peasants. Matteo is running a four-color concoction with game winners in Lingering Souls and Increasing Confusion.
Daniel had to start by taking mulligans down to five in search of a keepable hand. He started off with Gather the Townsfolk, while Matteo made a Thraben Heretic on his second turn. When Daniel tried to ambush Thraben Heretic with Spider Grasp, Matteo said no by playing Tragic Slip in response.
Next up were Silverchase Fox for Daniel and Hollowhenge Scavenger for Matteo. When Daniel bravely attacked with his 2/2 Fox, Matteo felt safe enough to block it with his 4/5 Scavenger. But this safe feeling was unwarranted: a Skillful Lunge and Rally the Peasants later, the 4/5 lost the fight.
Then Matteo changed the flow of the game entirely with Grimoire of the Dead. Hiding behind a Kessig Recluse, Matteo started to bide his time, slowly discarding to his artifact every turn, and making blocks in such a way that many creatures would die. When he assembled three counters, Matteo asked "May I see your graveyard?" which immediately prompted Daniel to concede.
Matteo Orsini Jones 1 - Daniel Antoniou 0
As the board built up and creatures traded, it looked like Daniel was gaining the upper hand: on turn 7, Daniel (at 19 life) had Butcher's Cleaver and Kessig Cagebreakers in play, which threatened to make life difficult for Matteo. Daniel also had a Human token (courtesy of Gather the Townsfolk) and a Somberwald Dryad that was shut down by Bonds of Faith. Matteo, on the other side of the table (at 10 life), had two Spirit tokens in play (courtesy of Lingering Souls) along with an Abbey Griffin that was wielding a Demonmail Hauberk.
Daniel was looking get as many attacks in with his Kessig Cagebreakers as possible. To allow that, the Chilean player made a clever play: he equipped his Butcher's Cleaver to his Somberwald Dryad and subsequently used Prey Upon to trade his useless Bonds-of-Faithed 5/2 creature against Matteo's imposing 6/4 Abbey Griffin. This allowed Daniel to get in with his Kessig Cagebreakers, and to effectively cash in his Somberwald Dryad for additional 2/2 Wolf tokens.
A couple turns later, Matteo had succumbed to the card advantage generated by Kessig Cagebreakers.
Matteo Orsini Jones 1 - Daniel Antoniou 1
As game three progressed, Matteo seemed to be in great shape. The Brit had just taken out Daniel's Butcher's Cleaver-enhanced Voiceless Spirit with Bonds of Faith. Furthermore, Matteo's Kessig Recluse, Hollowhenge Beast, and Avacyn's Pilgrim had already taken Daniel down to a low life total. To make matters even worse for Daniel, Matteo had just added Festerhide Board to his board as well.
At 9 life, Daniel had to do something. His hand contained plenty of creatures and pump spells, so he had several options. After deliberating for a while, he cast Gather the Townsfolk, equipped one of his tokens with Butcher's Cleaver, and passed the turn. Gather the Townsfolk would of course have been a lot if his life total would be 4 points lower, but the sorcery served him perfectly well regardless: On Matteo's next attack, a 4/1 Human token blocked the Hollowhenge Beast and a 1/1 Human token blocked Avacyn's Pilgrim. After making blocks, Break the Day saved the day for Daniel. Due to his Butcher's Cleaver, Daniel actually stayed at a comfortable 9 life, while taking out some of Matteo's threats at the same time.
Matteo was now on the back foot. When Daniel played out his hand full of creatures – most of which were Humans – over the course of the next couple of turns, he gradually took over the game. A couple of turns later, Butcher's Cleaver had allowed Daniel to take the game.
"You've got too many Humans; I can't race the Butcher's Cleaver," Matteo mentioned when he extended his hand in defeat.
Matteo Orsini Jones 1 - Daniel Antoniou 2
Round 8 Feature Match - Marco Orisni Jones vs. Tom Harle
Both players were 6-1 going into this round, Marco Orsini Jones with a red-black deck splashing green, Tom Harle with blue-green splashing white.
Orsini Jones started with Faithless Looting, discarding Farbog Boneflinger and Torchfiend, then returned the former with Ghoulraiser. In the meantime Harle summoned Invisible Stalker and Villagers of Estwald. Orsini Jones attacked into the 2/3 with his 2/2. "Red or black combat trick?" mused Harle. After a moment's deliberation he blocked and sent the Ghoulraiser to the bin. Tragic Slip (or a possible post-combat Rolling Temblor) could easily have turned that block sour, but all Orsini Jones had was Dead Weight which he used to kill the Villagers.
The next couple of turns saw Harle pulling further and further ahead, first with Dawntreader Elk, then Makeshift Mauler, then Spectral Flight on his Invisible Stalker and a Gatstaf Shepherd. Orsini Jones fought back valiantly with Farbog Boneflinger, Pitchburn Devils, and Into the Maw of Hell, but a Griptide on Pitchburn Devils sealed the deal.
Marco Orsini Jones 0 – 1 Tom Harle
Once again, Orsini Jones's Faithless Looting was first on the order of business. Harle also had a play on turn one, searching for Plains via Caravan Vigil. Neither player did anything on turn two. Orsini Jones used his turn three to search for a Forest with Evolving Wilds, while Harle made a rather unimpressive 2/2 Ulvenwald Bear.
"Mainphase Nephalia Seakite!" Harle announced his next play. It did get the job done of preventing Daybreak Ranger from turning into Nightfall Predator, but not for long. Orsini Jones simply passed his turn and put the transformation trigger on the stack anyway. It didn't get any further than that, though, as Harle responded with Griptide to which, in turn, Orsini Jones responded with the Daybreak Ranger's ability, dealing 2 damage to Nephalia Seakite. Subsequently, the Seakite died to Tragic Slip, but Orsini Jones still took another 4 from Elk and Bear.
Orsini Jones re-drew and re-cast his Daybreak Ranger, attacked with Falkenrath Noble, and also added a Pyreheart Wolf to his team. In combination with Falkenrath Noble the undying (chump-) blocker considerably slowed down Harle's offense. Harle had Grasp of Phantoms to again send the Daybreak Ranger back to the top of Orsini Jones's library who stoically re-drew and re-cast it. Next up was, of course, flashback of Grasp of Phantoms
"You cast four Daybreak Rangers this game. So unfair!" complained Harle. The first part of the statement may have been tongue-in-cheek, but Daybreak Ranger was indeed that unfair. Nightfall Predator started working on Harle's creatures, killed a Stormbound Geist which briefly returned as a 3/3 but ultimately died anyway, before Harle finally found a creature able to fight with Nightfall Predator and live: Makeshift Mauler.
Orsini Jones asked, "One card in hand?" "One card in hand. A good one," Harle quipped.
The Daybreak Ranger never made it back to the battlefield ... But only because Orsini Jones actually had better cards to play over the next two turns: first, Reaper from the Abyss, then Blood Feud to kill all of Harle's creatures (with the help of the Reaper) and force the concession.
Tom Harle 1 – 1 Marco Orsini Jones
As always, Orsini Jones had Faithless Looting, while Harle summoned Gatstaf Howler and Villagers of Estwald. The former got enchanted with Dead Weight, while the latter received a Spectral Flight. Harle also made a Dawntreader Elk, while Orsini Jones had no immediate answer and could only cast Falkenrath Noble. Harle passed the turn to turn his flying 4/5 Villagers into a flying 6/8 Howlpack of Estwald.
Orsini Jones passed the turn right back, blocked the Dawntreader Elk, took 6 damage, tried to kill his opponent's monster with Tragic Slip ... and failed because of Lost in the Mist. He had no further answer and that was it.
Tom Harle 2 – 1 Marco Orsini Jones
Saturday, 10:25 p.m. - The Path to the Finals: Rounds 7-9
When we left off, Matteo Orsini Jones had just become our guy to follow, after he beat Lucas Gilis in Round 6, who beat Quentin Martin in Round 5.
As described in detail in the Round 7 feature match, Matteo immediately lost to Daniel Antoniou and his Butcher's Cleaver. As a result, our spotlight switched to Daniel, who is one of the many Cypriots in attendance here today. When asked how it felt to have his countrymen cheering him on in the feature match area, Daniel answered "It feels great!"
Daniel, however, did not remain undefeated for long. After an unfortunate mana screw, he lost to Britain's own Roy Raftery in Round 8.
Roy then squared off against fellow Englishman Simon Fox in a Round 9 feature match for the honor to stay undefeated. As the match progressed, we saw the interesting sight of a Fiend Hunter removing ... another Fiend Hunter. Clearly a sign of two amazing 8-0 sealed decks battling it out. The Fiend Hunter on "top" belonged to Raftery, who quickly took game 1.
Game 2 saw a truly impressive battle of rares: Fox's Huntmaster of the Fells, Instigator Gang, and Devil's Play eventually defeated Raftery's Geist-Honored Monk and Moldgraf Monstrosity in a close damage race. With the score evened at 1-1 and not much time on the clock, both players tried to finish the third game in quick fashion.
Early in the third game, Raftery managed to take out a Doomed Traveler with Smite the Monstrous, punishing Fox for equipping it with Silver-Inlaid Dagger. "That's a pretty cool play", Fox remarked. But the board clogged with creatures quickly, and the match went to time.
After five more grueling turns featuring massively difficult blocking math, Raftery could only get Fox down to 1 life, and then time was up. Their match, which was literally the last one to finish in the entire room, ended in a draw.
Although the original rules of "The Path to the Finals" actually did not specify what to do in the event of a draw, we will be switching over to Simon Fox now. That is, we'll now keep on following Simon Fox, and switch to his opponent if he loses or draws.
After the match, I asked Roy how it feels to be at 8-0-1. "It feels absolutely brilliant! I actually had no idea we were going to time in that match though; I should've been more aggressive. Still, I'm very pleased: I played well today, and I'm in an excellent position going into the draft."
Simon Fox, who hails from York, was also thrilled to sit at 8-0-1. "This is actually my first Grand Prix ever. I had no byes, but opened an amazing sealed deck, and now I'm sitting on top of the standings!" His friends, watching from the sidelines, felt his record was not just due to a good sealed deck. "He's been playing his spells very well", an attentive onlooker mentioned. Simon did not feel very confident in the draft tomorrow though. Hoping to discuss draft archetypes over dinner, he and his friends left for food shortly after.
Check in tomorrow to see if Simon Fox can navigate the draft and make it into the Top 8!
Saturday, 10:26 p.m. - Quick Questions: Regarding Pro Tour Preparation
To get as many different stories as possible, I talked to Czech superstar Martin Jůza, to American globetrotter Melissa DeTora, and to former GP champion Florian Koch from Germany about their preparation for the upcoming Pro Tour.
Melissa, who are you testing with for Pro Tour Avacyn Restored?
"Rob [Dougherty], Jackie Lee, Raph [Lévy], Elie Pichon, and some other French people. Possibly also some Dutch players will join us."
When do you get to Barcelona? Is your team meeting there (or somewhere) early?
"We're actually staying in France till then. And afterwards, some of us will go to Malmo for the Grand Prix."
How does it affect your testing that the formats can't be played on Magic Online?
"I don't really play much online, so it barely affects me. I basically only use Magic Online to draft, and we'll be doing a ton of real-life drafts in France."
Do you look at every new card as it's spoiled or wait for big picture?
"I haven't looked at a single card for four days, so I don't really know anymore what's going on."
Martin, who are you testing with for Pro Tour Avacyn Restored?
"As usual, with Team ChannelFireball."
When do you get to Barcelona? Is your team meeting there (or somewhere) early?
"Shuhei [Nakamura] and Ben [Stark] are staying with me in the Czech Republic, where we'll basically be doing lots of fun stuff like playing in the prerelease. Then we'll meet the rest of the team in Barcelona. And after the Tour, Shuhei and PV are again staying with me in the Czech Republic and from there we'll be going to Grand Prix Malmo."
How does it affect your testing that the formats can't be played on Magic Online?
"I'd rather prepare by playing infinite drafts online. But playing with lots of different people face-to-face who all have their different opinions and different approaches does have its advantages. You get fewer games done, but you learn more."
Do you look at every new spoiled card at a time or wait for big picture?
"Usually, I rely on other people to tell me when something exciting is spoiled."
Florian, who are you testing with for Pro Tour Avacyn Restored?
"Simon Görtzen, maybe Jörg Unfried, maybe Florian Pils, a couple of other Germans—and Humberto Patarca who made the finals of Grand Prix Mexico City earlier this year."
When do you get to Barcelona? Is your team meeting there (or somewhere) early?
"Nah, we'll only get there shortly before the tournament. Then again, it's not that far for us."
How does it affect your testing that the formats can't be played on Magic Online?
"Without the option to grind event after event online, you absolutely have to meet on the release weekend and do get a lot of drafts going."
Do you look at every new spoiled card at a time or wait for big picture?
"I check the spoiler every day, but I try to not base my thinking on incomplete information."