148 teams arrived at Mexico City compete in Kaladesh block Team Limited and only 40 teams will return tomorrow! Lots of action took place in Day 1 but here are some of the key moments to quickly recap the day.
While there were scores of hopeful aspirants from all over North America and Central America, others have even traversed oceans just to attend this Grand Prix. In the case of Simon Görtzen, Florian Koch, and Andreas Ganz, they crossed the Atlantic to take advantage of the nicely lined up, well-timed chain of Grand Prix at Orlando, San Antonio, and Mexico City.
Andreas Ganz, Simon Görtzen, and Florian Koch
Koch shared, "Andreas and I played in Orlando while Simon only joined us in San Antonio. He couldn't afford to take that much leave from work but wanted to play in two team events. This was pretty much one of the most convenient trips for us, because it allowed us to attend three (two, in Görtzen's case) events consecutively."
Görtzen, Koch, and Ganz were not the only ones to fly from Europe. No. 1 Marcio Carvalho was not passing up a chance to extend his lead in his chase for Player of the Year, especially not in a format that was his forte.
Joining Carvalho were two esteemed players from South America and both Willy Edel's and Guilherme Merjam's flight from Brazil was around the same duration as Carvalho's flight from Portugal.
Willy Edel, Guilherme Merjam, and Marcio Carvalho
The Draft Master explained. "A few of us wanted to play in these Grand Prix but we felt like it would be better to also do some traveling in between. That's why we went to Cancun after San Antonio to hit the beaches, unwind, and relax. Willy coordinated the trip for us (as usual) and the vacation was great!"
There were also three all-Japanese teams in attendance, namely:
- Shintaro Ishimura, Yoshihiko Ikawa, and Toshiya Kanegawa
- Toru Inoue, Shota Takao, and Kazuyuki Takimura
- Yuki Matsumoto, No. 21 Yuuya Watanabe, and Ken Yukuhiro
While these nine players are all accomplished in their own right, let's zone in on this team in particular.
Yuuya Watanabe, Ken Yukuhiro, and Yuki Matsumoto
With 35 Grand Prix Top 8s (and 9 wins) between them, they're the most accomplished representatives from Japan. The decision to fly 20 hours to attend a Grand Prix wasn't to be taken lightly, which meant that they considered this entire endeavor to be very serious business.
Watanabe shared, "None of us played in Orlando or San Antonio. We came only for Mexico City because we feel confident about the format. Also, I have really, really good teammates so I felt very comfortable flying all the way here."
There was also an all-Chinese team present, led by Pro Tour Aether Revolt Top 8 competitor Liu Yuchen. Liu is a regular on the Asia Pacific circuit and he has five Grand Prix Top 8s to his name – more than any player from mainland China. After his stellar performance at Pro Tour Aether Revolt, Liu was locked for Gold for this season and the next, which is why he decided to embark on a quest for Platinum status. Not only did he attend Grand Prix Barcelona last month, he also convinced two friends – Zhang Yi and Liu Jin – to join him for a vacation in Mexico City.
Liu Yuchen, Zhang Yi, and Liu Jin
"I would love to pick up some Pro Points but our real intent was to travel. There was a well-priced flight from Beijing to Mexico so we decided to do some sightseeing and to play this team event together. We have already been here for a week and we head home next Monday."
Now, if you thought these players had come a long, long way, there's still Jason Chung from New Zealand.
"Well, it took around 22 hours to get from Auckland to San Antonio and another few more hours to get here. I'm going to be spending the same amount of time on a plane before I can get home!"
Team events are a whole lot of fun and these dedicated Magic fans are an example of how one is willing to go the distance to chase their dreams or simply to have an unforgettable gaming experience.
Three Players, Three Continents
While it is easier for local players to grab a couple of friends or neighbors, things aren't that simple for some pros in chase of Pro Points. While most of the superstar teams are homogenous in terms of nationality, there are some teams which were formed by players from three different continents!
Three notable teams that fall into this category are:
- No. 25 Martin Jůza, Shuhei Nakamura, and Corey Burkhart
- Corey Baumeister, No. 10 Joel Larsson, and Huang Hao-Shan
- Donald Smith, Jason Chung, and Don Van Ravenzwaaij
Corey Burkhart, Shuhei Nakamura, and Martin Jůza
Jůza and Nakamura have played alongside each other so many times so it was hardly surprising that the "BFFs" decided to team up again. As the second and third most successful players on the Grand Prix circuit (Nakamura has 27 Top 8s while Jůza has 25), Burkhart's five Grand Prix Top 8s seemed to pale in comparison.
However, Jůza was quick to defend his choice of a third teammate. "We wanted Corey because he's really good in Limited. During playtesting at Pro Tour Aether Revolt, he pretty much went 3-0 in every one of our drafts and we learned a lot from him."
The tale of how the next three musketeers ended up battling alongside one another was also very interesting. When Baumeister, Larsson, and Huang decided to team up, Huang was the only Grand Prix Champion of the three. This meant that they had already decided on their alliance way before Grand Prix New Jersey and Grand Prix Orlando, which were won by Baumeister and Larsson respectively.
Huang Hao-Shan, Joel Larsson, and Corey Baumeister
Larsson made a last-minute decision to play in the string of Grand Prix in North America, his first stop was Orlando. Which he won. In San Antonio, he teamed up with Martin Jůza and Shuhei Nakamura. You'd think that they would maintain the same configuration for Mexico City, but Jůza and Nakamura had already agreed to partner with Corey Burkhart earlier than Larsson had asked.
This meant that Larsson had to look for two others and after an open invite on social media, he found Corey Baumeister and Huang. Thereafter, Huang reveled in his good fortune. "I'm very glad to have teammates who have both won Grand Prix in the last month. If I'm lucky, I might be able to ride on that hot streak a little bit."
Donald Smith, Jason Chung, and Van Ravenzwaaij
As for the final trio of friends, if you drew lines to connect their hometowns, you'll end up with a rather large triangle. Donald Smith resides in Louisiana, while Chung lives in Auckland and Van Ravenzwaaij is Dutch!
Magic does bring the world together, doesn't it?
Despite the high density of "tourists", local players still occupy the majority of the field.
Borges Padierna, Marcelino Freeman, and Martinez Hernandez
Three-time Mexico National Champion and two-time Grand Prix Top 8 competitor Marcelino Freeman teamed up with local veterans Borges Padierna and Martinez Hernandez and all three players have Pro Tour experience. Padierna and Freeman also qualified for the 2011 World Championships, which they attended together, while Hernandez made the Top 8 at Grand Prix Mexico City 2012.
As one of the strongest Mexican teams, high hopes were pinned on them to defend the trophy. However, Freeman confessed, "I'm definitely the worst player on the team and I am the one being carried this weekend. I didn't practice as much as Jorge or Daniel did."
Indeed, Padierna and Hernandez revealed that they have been practicing on Magic Online for upwards of eight hours a day. Despite that, Hernandez warned that Team Limited is vastly different from regular Limited, even though there was still value in putting in time to learn the cards and their interactions.
"Team Limited is more like Constructed. You have many boosters and you can expect to receive certain commons majority of the time. The power level is also higher than regular Limited and it is important to quickly identify the good decks from within your card pool."
When questioned who was the strongest Mexican team in the room – apart from themselves – the trio unanimously agreed upon "the team with Mario Flores", who made the Top 8 of Grand Prix Mexico, 2012, 2014, and 2015!
Emmanuel Ramirez Sanchez, Mario Flores, and Dalibor Trnka
This weekend, Flores was teamed up with Emmanuel Sanchez Ramirez and Dalibor Trnka, who were both members of the 2013 World Magic Cup Mexico team. In addition, they two also have four and six Pro Tour appearances respectively, which makes them one of the most experienced local squads!
Interestingly, this was also Trnka's first Grand Prix!
"Yes, I thought you might find it odd that I played in 6 Pro Tours but never a Grand Prix, but that's because I used to judge many Grand Prix. Now that I'm retired, I decided to come out to play, and what's better than teaming up with than my two buddies?"
Jessica Sagahon and Angelic Ortiz may appear to be ordinary Magic fans but did you know that they are also leaders within the Mexican gaming community?
As co-founders of Akroma's Army, they created a community group which welcomed all Mexican female Magic players. To date, it has nearly a hundred members and the goal was to create a safe and secure environment for fellow "gamer girls" to share the gaming experience together. Not only do they play Magic together, they had recently partook in cosplay as well. As you can imagine, they've been turning heads all weekend.
Sagahon said that she invested around $200 to craft her Chandra Nalaar costume and it took over a month's time. "I have a friend who helps me with my costumes. The previous two versions were made of fabric and styrofoam but this third version that I am wearing is made of some type of resin. That makes the costume very sturdy and way more realistic!"
As for Ortiz, her Liliana Vess costume cost her about $100. Judging from the praise she had been receiving all weekend, it was money well spent. "We enjoy Magic a lot and love to be a part of it. This is why we also encourage our group members to engage in cosplay as well."
If you liked what you've seen so far, you'll be glad to know that Sagahon and Ortiz weren't the only members of Akroma's Army cosplaying and playing in the main event this weekend.
Thalia Marroquin (yes, she shares the same name as a certain Heretic Cathar), Andrea Garcia Guzman, and Erika Azenet are also members of Akroma's Army and they decided to not only team up, but also dress up! Despite not doing that well in the main event, their spirits were not dampened and they shared with me that they'll be dropping to participate in a public event. Before I bade them goodbye, Azenet gave me some parting words.
"I hope you like the monkey on my shoulder. It's really what makes the costume fun!"
I had to agree!
Allocating Precious Resources
In a format where you're opening 12 booster packs to build three decks, the biggest challenge is figuring out how to best allocate finite resources to generate maximum output. Sometimes, it is easy to identify archetypes when the card pool "builds itself" but other times it isn't that straightforward.
What happens when two or three players all want that same card from your card pool? How do you decide which deck gets that card?
According to Grand Prix New Jersey 2017 Champion Corey Baumeister, "finding a good way to split Vehicles is very important." It makes a lot of sense, since Vehicles are colorless cards and can be played in any deck. However, certain Vehicles are better suited for certain archetypes and it is up to the team's judgment to find the correct home.
Owing to the presence of cards like Aether Hub, Attune with Aether, Servant of the Conduit, Prophetic Prism, Renegade Map, and various mana fixing options, splashing a third color is not difficult. In order to extract all the power from any given card pool, you'll likely want to play as many bombs as you can. In addition, some decks are in removal-light colors and may appreciate a touch of removal from a third color.
No. 10 Joel Larsson explained that removal was hard to come by in this format. "White has situational removal such as Impeccable Timing and Choking Restraints, while blue and green have almost nothing. Red and black are the removal colors but there is usually more red removal than there is black removal. This is why there is a tendency for red to be split among two decks rather than black, which is also why there tend to be a tough decision in dividing cards like Shock, Chandra's Pyrohelix, and Welding Sparks.
While players deliberate where to house their first picks, others are fighting over Night Market Guard, as demonstrated by No. 23 Brian Braun-Duin and Shaheen Soorani.
Shaheen Soorani, Pascal Maynard, and Brian Braun-Duin
"I don't know what those two trolls are fighting over but I'll take the Engineered Explosives Masterpiece," said Pascal Maynard.
A Small But Rough Road
As mentioned earlier, 17 of the Top 25 players were present, as well as 10 Hall-of-Famers and 20 Platinum Pros. Grand Prix Mexico City wasn't the largest of events, which meant that the "threat density" was extremely high this weekend.
For example, Nass-Wilson-Pardee got paired against Black-Severa-Cohen in Round 1 and then against Turtenwald-Jensen-Duke in Round 2. Cuneo-Froehlich-Stark and Stráský-Damo Da Rosa-Saporito also played against each other that very same round.
Thiago Saporito, Ondřej Stráský, and Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa
And then in Round 4, we had two Japanese teams (Inoue-Takao-Takimura & Ishimura-Ikawa-Kanegawa) face off against VanCleave-Sokol-Woo & Cuneo-Froehlich-Stark. In Round 6, we had Yuki-Yuuya-Ken versus Turtenwald-Jensen-Duke. Then, from Round 7 onwards, every top table seemed to be a Feature Match.
These clashes between titans became more apparent as the stronger teams began floating to the top. While it was natural to conclude that this tournament was a "soft" one due to its smaller size, some pros felt otherwise.
Corey Burkhart: I believe there were more players at Pro Tour Honolulu than this Grand Prix but that doesn't mean that things were easier. It kind of feels like Pro Tour Mexico City.
Willy Edel: Everyone's here. Even Jon Finkel who rarely travels for Grand Prix decided to fly 5 hours to get here. It's a tough field for sure, with so many named players making the trip.
Tom Martell, Jamie Parke, and Jon Finkel
Martin Jůza: I think after seeing the size of the event, some are going to regret that they didn't make the trip to Mexico City this weekend. It is a great opportunity to do well, even if some of your matches are going to be more difficult than usual.
However, there were also some who shrugged off the intense competition.
Alexander Hayne: Nah, it doesn't matter. I have the best guys with me!
Alexander Hayne, Shahar Shehar, and Steve Rubin
The Lone 9-0 Team
When the dust had settled, it was the Japanese trio of Shota Takao, Toru Inoue & Kazuyuki Takimura who emerged unscathed. Takao has three lifetime Grand Prix Top 8s, while Inoue has one, and of course, Takimura's claim to fame comes from winning Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar.
As the only remaining 8-0 team, they were paired down in Round 9 to Matt Nass, Jacob Wilson, and Samuel Pardee. In the deciding game, Nass and Inoue were down to no cards in hand and there was a stalemate on the board. A couple of turns later, Inoue caused the upset by drawing Freejam Regent, a threat that Nass had no solution to.
So, who was the MVP of the day?
According to Takimura, it was Inoue, who had won all nine of his matches today! Better save some of that good luck for tomorrow! We still have five more rounds to go before the cut to Top 4!
Shota Takao, Toru Inoue, and Kazuyuki Takimura