- Ben Seck

Over the weekend of the 12th-13th of December 1998, 647 players from all around the Philippines and the APAC region weathered the sweltering heat and tropical storms to compete for $US10, 000 in prize money and 8 lucrative spots to Pro-Tour Los Angeles. The Grand Prix was held in the SM Megamall, the largest shopping mall in the Philippines, and one of the 5 largest malls in the world. The format utilized the new Urza's Saga expansion in a sealed format, with the top 64 battling it out in a booster draft format.

The first ever Grand Prix in the Philippines were presided over by two of the best international judges the world has to offer, Jeff Donais from Canada and Chris Zantides from Australia. Ron Spencer, famous for creating the art on some of our favorite Magic and Legend of the Five Rings cards, was inundated with requests for his signature, and there was rarely a time that his queue was less than 50 people. Local distributor Novelty Entertainment Inc organized the event to perfection, with preparations headed by Novelty president Rene Angeles and Philippines DCI Coordinator Dean Alfar. The Grand Prix was also honored by the presence of Dr. Fe Hidalgo, the undersecretary of the Department of Education in the Philippines, who was there to examine the benefits of Magic for students in the Philippines.

Though the majority of the players hailed from Manila, there were other players that came from far afield to compete - Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Australia. The most notable international player came in the form of Toshiki Tsukamoto of Japan, PT regular and former Duelist Invitational Invitee. The Filipinos were not without their own stars, with former #1 DCI ranked players Dino Yu and Felix Gonzales, #1 female player in the world Nikki Alfar, and Philippine National Team members Rafael Lirag, Teddy Sy and Oscar Capule competing for a chance to be represented at Pro Tour-Los Angeles.

With 647 players, the Swiss sealed rounds were fiercely contested, but Toshiki Tsukamoto was true to form by leading the field with a 6-0-1 record after the first day. Dino Yu, from the Filipino team Kotik, was not far behind at 2nd place, despite a relatively early loss in the Swiss rounds. Another of the Philippines best players, Scion Ranguidin, member of the team known as the Corporation, also placed well amongst the field. The Japanese players made their presence felt, with 4 of their five representatives making the top 64 - and their dominance was to be further felt by the end of the competition. The draft section was equally grueling - even with the Filipino's relative lack of experience they managed to maintain a high quality of draft decks. But the Japanese players yet again showed that international experience was invaluable, with all the Japanese that made the 2nd day placing within the top 16. But after the dust had settled, a final eight was decided - with 6 players from Manila, and 2 from Japan.

The quarterfinals pitted Rozano Yu, the final's youngest competitor against local veteran Scion Raguindin, but Yu's quick Red/Green deck didn't have enough staying power to face Scion's Black/Green fatty deck. Leo Gonzales and Francis Profetta, both Manila natives faced each other which saw Leo's control blue/white deck dominate the board against the speedy red/black draft of Profetta. In the remaining local derby, Josua Rivera's Red/Green deck had too much removal for the slow creature light deck of GeeVee Vergara. The final quarterfinal saw the two Japanese players face-off - but Itaru Ishida was unable to penetrate the defenses of Japanese Champion Toshiki Tsukamoto's blue/white fortress.

The semifinals saw Josua Rivera face Toshiki Tsukamoto. Josua Rivera was a little unused to the scrutiny of high level play, and a few small mistakes cost him versus the Japanese Pro Tour veteran, losing the match 2-0. Toshiki's flying armada made it difficult for Rivera to mount up a defense. Rivera said of the match, "It was an honor to play against the best in the world." The other semi final saw 'Smilin' Scion Raguindin play Leo Gonzales. In a tightly fought match, Scion was able to eke out a 2-1 decision, with the crucial plays revolving around Scion's two main deck Hush. Gonzales deck was notable by having 4 Pacifisms, which were rendered useless by Raguindin's heavy enchantment control.

As the crowds gathered to watch the final showdown, there was a definite favoritism towards local player Scion Raguindin. Both players were of few words, but it was clear that their minds were in focus concerning the upcoming matchup. In the first duel, Toshiki's lone Opal Gargoyle did 18 points of damage, while Scion's ground forces were rendered helpless by two Veiled Serpents and a Sanctum Custodian. Raguindin came back fighting in the next game, with some early beatdown bringing Toshiki to 8 life. Just as it seemed Toshiki was regaining control, Ranguidin targeted his own Winding Wurm with Breach to get the remaining 8 damage through. The final game saw Raguindin have some mana problems, with Scion unable to get two green mana to cast his Whirlwind. Unable to deal with Tsukamoto's fliers, Scion was overwhelmed by Owls and Gargoyles.

The finals ceremony showed a quiet but visibly elated Tsukamoto lifting high the Championship trophy. Raguindin, though the runner-up, was also happy, thoroughly earning his nickname of 'Smilin'. Along with these two, the remainder of the final eight were given paid trips to Pro Tour-Los Angeles in February, in addition to their cash prize. The Filipino crowd was extremely animated at the notion of another Grand Prix in the Philippines, and with the level of excitement and enthusiasm for the game, it is only a matter of time.

Grand Prix - Manila Top 8 Finalists

Champion - Toshiki Tsukamoto (JAPAN)
Finalist - Scion Raguindin (PHILIPPINES)
Semifinalist- Josua Rivera (PHILIPPINES)
Semifinalist - Leo Gonzales (PHILIPPINES)
Quarterfinalist - Rozano Yu (PHILIPPINES)
Quarterfinalist - Francis Profetta (PHILIPPINES)
Quarterfinalist - GeeVee Vegara (PHILIPPINES)
Quarterfinalist - Itaru Ishida (JAPAN)

Urza's Saga Draft

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Toshiki's draft was based largely of using evasive creatures to mount an offense, while using high toughness and damage prevention to stall out the ground. Toshiki used many of the 'sleeping' enchantments that were brought in with Urza's Saga, especially the Veiled Serpents, which allowed him to have very early high toughness creatures to defend with. Though relatively low on direct creature elimination, the sheer number of fliers that Toshiki possessed made sure that creature stalls that occurred were won by him. Also notable is the Horseshoe Crab/Hermetic Study combination, which often means game over should the opponent not have any creature elimination.