Coverage of Grand Prix Pittsburgh Day 2

Posted in Event Coverage on March 24, 2013

By Wizards of the Coast


Round 11 Feature Match – Ari Lax vs. Jasper Johnson-Epstein

by Jacob Van Lunen

Ari Lax just finished his fourth undefeated Grand Prix day one. Lax has four Grand Prix top 8s and he's looking to add a fifth this weekend.

His opponent, Jasper Johnson-Epstein is an up and comer that just completed his first undefeated Grand Prix Day One with a less than stellar Dimir deck. His ability to pilot mediocrity to greatness is certainly worth note; Johnson-Epstein is certainly worth watching as the remainder of this event unfolds.

Game 1

Johnson-Epstein won the roll. Lax made the first play of the game with Gyre Safe. Johnson-Epstein cast Armored Transport. Lax's Slaughterhorn evolved the Sage and allowed Lax to get in for two damage.

Johnson-Epstein attack for two with his Armored Transport and cast Assault Griffin to put an evasive clock on Lax. Lax cast a precombat Prophetic Prism to maximize his chances at perhaps necessary Bloodrush cards for his combat step. Slaughterhorn attacked and Lax cast Biovisionary postcombat. Johnson-Epstein attacked with his Griffin and cast Corpse Blockade to gum up the ground.

Ari Lax

Lax had Devour Flesh to gobble up the Transport and he attacked with his team. Johnson-Epstein blocked the Slaughterhorn with his Corpse Blockade and used a smite to deal with Lax's three power attacker. Griffin continued getting into the red zone and Killing Glare dealt with the Gyre Sage.

Lax struggled to find another relevant spell and he took a few hits from the Griffin before being forced to use the Hands of Binding he had been holding for the majority of the game. Johnson-Epstein had Death's Approach to reduce the Ciphered Biovisionary's power to zero. Lax drew Scab-Clan Charger and lamented its interaction with Death's Approach, he cast the 2/4, but Shadow Slice and an attack from Johnson-Epstein was enough to take the first game.

Ari Lax 0 - Jasper Johnson-Epstein 1

Game 2

Lax chose to draw first and got off to an amazing start with a turn one Cloudfin Raptor. Dutiful Thrull came down for Johnson-Epstein, but things started to look grim when Lax had a Basilica Screecher on his second turn. Johnson-Epstein struggled to stay in the game with Armored Transport while Lax continued to evolve his Raptor with Bivisionary.

Cinder Elemental offered up an answer to the Raptor for Johnson-Epstein albeit a slow one. Lax continued to apply pressure with Syndicate Enforcer and the game started to spiral out of Johnson-Epsteins control.

Cinder Elemental eventually dealt with the Cloudfin Raptor, but Lax had two copies of Devour Flesh to clear the board and he swung with his team. Johnson-Epstein struggled to get back into the game with a Gutter Skulk, Boros Elite, and Corpse Blockade, but Lax's start was too strong and Johnson-Epstein quickly found himself dead to rights after Rust Scarab and Scab-Clan Charger were cast with extort triggers.

Ari Lax 1 - Jasper Johnson-Epstein 1

Game 3

A turn two Cartel Aristocrat from Johnson-Epstein had its flesh devoured by Lax. Armored Transport continued to apply pressure on Lax, but his own Syndicate Enforcer threatened to win the race.

Johnson-Epstein could only make a Boros Elite the following turn and Lax established an advantage in the evasion war with Millennial Gargoyle triggering extort. Johnson-Epstein trumped the two power flyer with Balustrade Spy, but Bloodrushing Slaughterhorn was enough to take down the 2/3 flyer.

Jasper Johnson-Epstein

Johnson-Epstein used Killing Glare to deal with Millennial Gargoyle in an effort to increase the value of the Assault Griffin he had in hand. Lax sent in his Syndicate Enforcer, but Johnson-Epstein had Smite to go with his Boros Elite. Lax was able to pull way ahead here by picking up a nice two for one with Pyschic Strike, but Lax's hand was dwindling and Johnson-Epstein cast Assault Griffin and Deathpact Angel on back-to-back turns.

Lax had some Shambleshark, Biovisionary, and Crocanura action, but it wasn't enough to deal with the massive Angel and Johnson-Epstein stole the game a turn early with Act of Treason.

Ari Lax 1 - Jasper Johnson-Epstein 2

Sunday, 12:00 p.m. – Drafting with Ari Lax

by Mike Rosenberg

After blasting through ten rounds of Gatecrash Sealed 10-0, Ari Lax is in a great position going into the first draft of the day. The Grand Prix traveler has a string of consistent finishes all season, and was an easy choice for who to watch while players go through their first Gatecrash Booster Draft.

Lax started off the draft by opening Gyre Sage, Gruul Charm, Wojek Halberdiers, and Call of the Nightwing. He already had some choices, but Gyre Sage got the nod as a powerful two drop. The next pack featured an even more difficult decision: Cloudfin Raptor, or Killing Glare. Ultimately, he settled with the Cloudfin Raptor, but the choice would end up costing him.

In the third pick, Executioner's Swing got the nod, followed by Boros Elite over Cartel Aristocrat. However, a fifth pick Zameck Guildmage as the only reasonable choice put Lax in a bind. Prophetic Prism came after that, followed by a debate between Rust Scarab and Verdant Haven. He ultimately settled on the 4/5 creature, followed by Syndicate Enforcer and Millennial Gargoyle.

With only two creatures that evolve, plus a split down the road between Orzhov and Simic, Lax was not in a great position by the time the first pack wrapped up.

The second pack did not help things, when he picked Killing Glare first, followed by Wight of Precinct Six. Basilica Screecher got the nod third as he passed a shockingly late Truefire Paladin. Were there no Boros players to Lax's left? Then the fourth pick came, featuring Cloudfin Raptor and Aerial Maneuver. Still unwilling to bail on the Orzhov backup plan, Lax took the combat trick over the 0/1 evolve creature... and was immediately punished for the pick as he followed that with a slammed Crocanura and Slaughterhorn, cementing green and blue as his colors of choice. Hands of Binding further supported that, but an eighth pick Devour Flesh not only signaled how open black was, but that Lax might not be able to escape a three color BUG concoction if he wanted enough playables. Things did not improve after that, as Lax took what he could and coasted into the third pack with three-color aspirations.

In the third pack, the Orzhov tune played again, as Lax debated heavily over Scab-Clan Charger and then the clear best park in the pack: Deathpact Angel. He ultimately settled on the Charger, having finally given up on Orzhov as a realistic option. The second pick had him reel at seeing Aurelia, the Warleader, as he took Basilica Screecher, settled on blue, green, and black being part of his deck. He followed that with another Cloudfin Raptor, Shambleshark, and Mindeye Drake, as he took the best cards he could based on his personal rating of the cards he saw in the packs. When Simic Guildgate from the first pick wheeled for a ninth pick, Lax nearly jumped out of his seat in excitement as he slammed the mana-fixing land down into his pile.

In the end, he was left with a straight split between three colors and a very difficult mana base to construct.

Ari Lax tries to find the best combination of spells and lands to make his three-color monstrosity work.

After the draft, I talked to Lax about what exactly happened. Things did not look ideal, but he kept his hopes up about the draft. "This draft was fine," he said. "We'll see how it goes. I'm not going to 3-0, but this is fine."

When I asked him about his thoughts on Simic, the guild he was inclined to take early in the draft, his answer was that things haven't really changed since the introduction of Gatecrash Limited. "Simic is still very much a 3-0 or 0-3 deck," he answered. The evolve creatures are key, and the deck requires a lot to allow Simic to smash the draft.

The mana was particularly tough though, as he had a near equal split between blue, green, and black requirements. Had he been able to pick up a Dimir Guildgate, his feelings on the deck may have improved. However, being left with limited mana-fixing options, working with only a Simic Guildgate and Prophetic Prism, was going to hurt.

In the end, he chose to split his mana down the middle, with 5 Islands, 6 Swamps, 6 Forests, and his only Guildgate. His deck was intentionally 41 cards with 18 lands, as he wanted all of his spells, but he really needed the added mana to make sure his odds of hitting his lands was improved.

While Lax was confident he wasn't going to 3-0 the draft, he was at least sure that he could at least get one win with the deck, assuming his mana cooperated.

That being said, his Cloudfin Raptors were going to have to settle with being played later than turn one most of the time. Here is what Ari Lax ultimately went with.

Ari Lax

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Sunday, 12:30 p.m. – Drafting with Shuhei Nakamura

by Jacob Van Lunen

Hall of Famer Shuhei Nakamura has been traveling the world playing competitive Magic for the better part of a decade. It's not uncommon to see Nakamura at the top of the standings in any given tournament, regardless of location. Nakamura enters the second day of competition here in Pittsburgh at 9-1. I decided to set up camp behind Mr. Nakamura during the first draft of the day with hopes of providing insights on Gatecrash draft from a unique perspective.

Pack 1

Pick 1:

Shuhei's initial pack wasn't particularly exciting. The rare, Immortal Servitude, was quickly moved to the back of the pack and it seemed like Nakamura was split between taking Daring Skyjek and Zameck Guildmage. After a bit of deliberation he ended up taking the Skyjek. On his right, Luis Scott-Vargas took Skyknight Legionnaire; threatening to cut white from the Japanese Hall of Famer.

Pick 2:

Basilica Screecher and Court Street Denizen jumped to the front of the pack. Basilica Screecher was the stronger of the two cards, but Court Street Denizen stays on color, allowing an easy transition to Boros or Orzhov depending on what seems open. Ultimately, power was more important and Shuhei took Basilica Screecher.

Pick 3:

Angelic Edict

Pick 4:

A late Holy Mantle made its way into Nakamura's pile after LSV picked up a second copy of Skyknight Legionnaire.

Pick 5:

Deathcult Rogue

Pick 6:

Orzhov Guildgate

Pick 7:

Smog Elemental

Pick 8:

The White and Black cards had dried up and Metropolis Sprite got the nod. The Sprite would provide a valuable two-drop if Nakamura decided to play Esper. The Sprite is also a rogue that can trade with Deathcult Rogue, an evasive body that Shuhei already had a copy of.

Pick 9:

Immortal Servitude

Pick 10:

Midnight Recovery

Pick 11:

Riot Gear

Pack 2

Pick 1:

The pack was a bit disappointing for an Orzhov player. Consuming Abberation jumped to the front of the pack, indicating that Nakamura might be prepared to splash the Dimir Bomb. The rare got picked, but it was still unclear whether he would be playing Blue.

Pick 2:

Guardian of the Gateless and Gift of Orzhova seemed to be a very difficult pick. With less than one second left, Nakamura opted for the Angel.

Pick 3:

Balustrade Spy

Pick 4:

Court Street Denizen

Pick 5:

This pack offered up Executioner's Swing, Balustrade Spy, and Bane Alley Broker. After a nod, Nakamura moved Executioner's Swing to the back of the pack and focused on the Broker and Spy. Balustrade Spy ended up being the pick here.

Pick 6:

Syndic of Tithes was quickly taken over Executioner's Swing and Cartel Aristocrat

Pick 7:

Daring Skyjek

Pick 8:

Shielded Passage was taken over Aerial Maneuver.

Pick 9:

Dutiful Thrull

Pick 10:

Beckon Apparition over Slate Street Ruffian

Pack 3

Pick 1:

The first pick of pack 3 was between Boros Elite and Executioner's Swing. Nakamura's deck wasn't shaping up to be a purely aggressive animal and he didn't have much removal. Executioner's Swing ended up being the pick.

Pick 2:

Deathcult Rogue

Pick 3:

Dinrova Horror and Syndicate Enforcer were both in consideration, but Syndicate Enforcer ended up being the pick as Nakamura was likely still hoping to be Orzhov without the Blue splash.

Pick 4:

Nakamura's deck still lacked removal and he chose to take Executioner's Swing over Deathcult Rogue.

Pick 5:

Millennial Gargoyle

Pick 6:

Prophetic Prism

Pick 7:

Leyline Phantom

Pick 8:

Thrull Parasite

Pick 9:


In the end Nakamura didn't seem thrilled with his deck. This is what he decided to sleeve up after deckbuilding:

Shuhei Nakamura

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Round 12 Feature Match – Chase Kovac vs. Shuhei Nakamura

by Mike Rosenberg

Chase Kovac and 2011 Hall of Famer Shuhei Nakamura have met on Day Two of a Grand Prix in Pennsylvania before, where Nakamura bested Kovac in three games in Round 13 of Grand Prix Philadelphia in 2012.

Now, Kovac has the chance to even the score with Nakamura, but his Naya deck is going to have to get through Nakamura's powerful Orzhov deck, which is splashing blue for the monstrous Consuming Aberration.

Game 1

Kovac chose to keep, while Nakamura sent his hand back for another go. Nakamura, despite going second, was first to act with Daring Skyjek. It cracked in for 3 while Kovac spent the first three turns playing lands, including a Boros Guildgate. Nakamura added Court Street Denizen to his board, while Kovac had Assault Griffin. Another Daring Skyjek threatened some serious damage after Nakamura's attacks put Kovac to 12.

Kovac had a Forest and a beefy Rust Scarab on his fifth turn, but i didn't stop Nakamura from sending in the team, giving his Skyjeks flying with battalion. Kovac put the Rust Scarab in front of Court Streett Denizen, while the Assault Griffin blocked a Skyjek. Shielded Passage saved the Skyjek, and Executioner's Swing after attacks left Kovac at 9 and without a board and Nakmura with dual Skyjeks still in play.

Zhur-Taa Swing gave Kovac another giant to hold back the fort, while Syndicate Enforcer gave Nakamura a potential third attacker for battalion. Kovac tanked for a while, but chose to give his Swine some Madcap Skills, sending it in for 8. Nakamura, unwilling to walk into any potential bloodrush tricks, didn't block, going to 12.

Shuhei Nakamura debates over a very difficult combat step.

Kova passed with four open, as Nakamura went for attacks. He played Midnight Recovery for his Court Street Denizen, extorting and then ciphering to a Skyjek, and sent in the team. Once the Skyjeks got flying, Kovac unleashed a brutal Gruul Charm to wipe them away, while Burst of Strength untapped his Swine to block the Enforcer.

With the now 9/5 Swine attacking in, Nakamura had little chance to survive. When the top of his deck did not yield a second creature to block the Swine, he moved to the next game.

Kovac 1 - Nakamura 0

Game 2

Nakamura and Kovac both kept, but Nakamura stuttered on mana on the second turn, passing with only a Swamp. Kovac had no two drop to punish it, passing with only Mountains. Nakamura found a Plains on top, allowing him to cast Syndic of Tithes. Kovac followed with a third Mountain and Warmind Infantry. Nakamura had no attacks, but did have a third land and Prophetic Prism with extort.

Kovac attacked with his 2/3 before playing Skinbrand Goblin, as Nakamura sent in the Syndic. Kovac traded with his Goblin. Nakmura followed with Balustrade Spy, grinding an Adaptive Snapjaw and a Forest off of the top of his deck. Kovac unleashed a real threat with Wrecking Ogre, but lost it to Nakamura's Angelic Edict. Kovac had no action after, while Nakamura had Syndicate Enforcer. Kovac, meanwhile, couldn't find a Forest, and needed the help of Tin Street Market to filter into some better cards. Warmind Infantry jumped in front of the attacking Syndicate Enforcer, buying him time as both players proceeded to play at a blazing fast pace, both frantically digging for more plays to put the other on the back foot.

Nakamura, however, found an Island, and started getting back his dead creatures with Midnight Recovery, giving him the advantage in the attrition race. He started re-casting them...

...well, until he found Consuming Aberration, that is. Kovac's Rust Scarab that he cast on the previous turn started to look very small in comparison. Ground Assault on the horror was stopped by Shielded Passage, and the Aberration's grinding began.

The game continued, but the Aberration was doing its job, forcing Kovac to throw a creature in front of the massive horror in order to stay alive. Meanwhile, Nakamura continued to play his game, casting spells and grinding Kovac's deck into oblivion.

Eventually, Kovac was left without creatures and without an answer to the Aberration. He shook his head and moved to the third game.

Kovac 1 - Nakamura 1

Game 3

Kovac kept for the third game, while Nakamura sent his hand back, content with his six. Both players had one drops, with Foundry Street Denizen from Kovac and Thrull Parasite from Nakamura. The goblin attacked, and Kovac had no plays and only green and red mana. Nakamura had no plays either, and when he went for the trade on Kovac's next attack, Kovac had Burst of Strength lying in wait. Deathcult Rogue from Nakamura on the third turn forced Ground Assault from Kovac, while the now 2/2 Foundry Street Denizen continued to beat down.

Chae Kovac works with his sole Foundry Street Denizen.

Nakamura had no plays on the fourth turn, and on the fifth, things did not improve as he was sitting on Consuming Aberration with no blue mana, Shielded Passage, and Holy Mantle. He drew a Midnight Recovery and used it to bring back his Deathcult Rogue.

Kovac, however, found Madcap Skills, and started taking 5 point chunks out of Nakamura's life, dropping the hall of famer to 10. While Nakamura found a Daring Skyjek on the next turn to give him two blockers with the Deathcult Rogue, Kovac had Massive Raid on the 3/1 creature to ensure his Foundry Street Denizen couldn't be blocked. When no further creatures were awaiting on top of Nakamura's deck, the hall of famer offered the handshake.

Kovac 2 - Nakamura 1

Round 13 Feature Match – Michael Derczo vs. Alec Nezin

by Jacob Van Lunen

The top two seeds meet at table one in round 13. Alec Nezin is a regular of the New York Magic scene sitting at 13-0 with hopes of making waves with his first big finish. Michael Derczo is a New Jersey native that occasionally plays at my local store. Derczo is looking for his first big break here in Pittsburgh.

Game 1

Derczo won the roll and both players kept their opening hands. Alec's turn one Cloudfin Raptor was the first play of the game. Warmind Infantry came down on turn three for Derczo. Alec solved some mana issues with a Guildgate and cast Vizkopa Guildmage on his third turn to evolve his Cloudfin Raptor.

Derczo tried to apply pressure with his Warmind Infantry, but Vizkopa Guildmage gained Lifelink and Nezin cracked his way back to 20. Zhur-Taa Swine came down for Derczo, giving him a clear board advantage. However, Nezin's Lasav, Dimid Mastermind threatened to be an issue if the Swine hit the graveyard. Derczo's second copy of Zhur-Taa Swine oinked its way into action and Derczo looked like he might be running away with the game.

Alec Nezin

Things shifted quickly when Lasav received a gift, Gift of Orzhova with Vizkope Guildmage meant that Nezin would be dishing out eight points and gaining four life a turn. With no answer to this deadly combination, Derczo quickly died and they were on to the second game.

Michael Derczo 0 - Alec Nezin 1

Game 2

Both players kept their openers again and Nezin once again had a turn one Cloudfin Raptor. Derczo made a Burning-Tree Emissary on his second turn. Alec had no play for turn two and Derczo continued advancing his boardstate with Warmind Infantry while Burning-Tree Emissary started getting into the red zone. Scorchwalker was next on the curve for Derczo and Nezin could only make a Clinging Anemones to try to stabilize. The Anemones traded with Scorchwalker and Massive Raid killed the Cloudfin Raptor. Derczo started dropping pigs again and Nezin had Leyline Phantom to try to get some reasonable trades.

Nezin's life total was dwindling and he tried to get as much value as he could out of his Phantom, but Derczo had another Zhur-Taa Swine and Cinder Elemental that would prove too much for Nezin to deal with. Even Nezin's Lasav and Gift of Orzhova weren't enough to get him out of this mess. A smart attack from Derczo gave him exactly lethal damage with his Cinder Elemental and they were on to game 3.

Michael Derczo 1 - Alec Nezin 1

Game 3

Both players took a mulligan and started on six cards. Nezin's turn three Cloudfin Raptor was the first play of the game, but it was quickly trumped by Derczo's Slaughterhorn. Nezin had Undercity Informer to evolve his Raptor. The Informer traded with the Slaughterhorn and Derczo had a Warmind Infantry after combat.

Michael Derczo

Derczo's board started becoming considerably better when Zhur-Taa Swine joined the team. Nezin tried to get back in the game with Clinging Anemones, but Derczo's massive pigs, Cinder Elemental and an Ivy Lane Denizen were quickly forming a massive board presence.

An attack from Zhur-Taa Swine prompted Alex to Double Block with his Clinging Anemones and Cloudfin Raptor. Massive Raid was a massive blowout and the game instantly looked to be in the bag for Derczo. Nezin couldn't find much on his turn and the subsequent attack and Cinder Elemental activation were enough for Michael Derczo to take the match!

Michael Derczo 2 - Alec Nezin 1

Round 14 Feature Match – Eric Froehlich vs. Gerry Thompson

by Jacob Van Lunen

Eric Froehlich and Gerry Thompson are both coming off Top 8 finishes at Pro Tour Gatecrash.

Eric Froehlich is a professional poker player with an impressive Magic resume. Froehlich has seven Grand Prix top 8s and two Pro Tour top 8s coming into this tournament. He currently sits at 40 Pro Points coming into this event.

Gerry Thompson is no slouch, though. Gerry has nine Grand Prix top 8s and a single Pro Tour top 8 to his name. Thompson has 33 Pro Points thus far in the season.

Gerry Thompson

Game 1

Thompson won the roll and chose to play first. Both players kept their opening hands. Thompson made the first play of the game with Deathcult Rogue. Froehlich had a Skyknight Legionnaire and got cracking right away. Thompson sent back with his Deathcult Rogue and cast a postcombat Daring Skyjek. Froehlich's Legionnaire continued getting in and Ordruun Veteran was added to the board. Thompson swung back and cast Horror of the Dim after combat. The life totals sat at 13 to 16 in Thompson's favor.

Froehlich thought for a bit and attacked with both his creatures. Horror of the Dim got in the way of Ordruun Veteran, but a timely Aerial Maneuver from Froehlich saved the Minotaur. Froehlich had Boros Reckoner after combat, a card that threatened to dominate the game if it stuck around, but gerry had Grisly spectacle the following turn. Hellkite Tyrant came down for Froehlich and Gerry had to use another Grisly Spectacle to deal with the monstrous bomb. Seemingly out of nowhere Froehlich's Skyknight Legionnaire picked up some Madcap Skills and Froehlich's attack with a Martial Glory was enough to take the first game.

Eric Froehlich 1 - Gerry Thompson 0

Game 2

Thompson's Basilica Screecher was the first play of the game. Froehlich had Wojek Halberdiers. Thompson used Orzhov Charm with an extort trigger to deal with the 3/2 and attacked with his bat. Froehlich cast Ember Beast. Meanwhile, Thompson continued attacking with his Screecher, but couldn't find a fourth land. Froehlich made an Ordruun Veteran and passed the turn back.

Thompson found a fourth land and had a wealth of options available to him. He chose to pass the turn with Grisly Spectacle open. Froehlich had no haste creature and Thompson used Grisly Spectacle to kill the Veteran at the beginning of combat, leaving the Ember Beast unable to attack.

Arrows of Justice dealt with Thompson's Basilica Screecher when it tried to get in the red zone, but Thompson kept the pressure with Syndicate Enforcer. Froehlich had no play and Thompson got in for three and advanced his superior boardstate further with Horror of the Dim.

Thompson cast Millennial Gargoyle with an extort trigger and looked to be taking over the game. Froehlich could only make another Ember Beast and when Thompson had another Grisly Spectacle they were on to game 3.

Eric Froehlich 1 - Gerry Thompson 1

Eric Froehlich

Game 3

Ember beast from Froehlich was the first play of the game. Thompson had Deathcult Rogue for the second turn and was hoping to punish Froehlich's Ember beast with his removal heavy deck. Froehlich cast Scorchwalker and passed back into Gerry's Rogue. The rogue came in for two damage and Gerry passed the turn with Grisly Spectacle mana open. Froehlich went to combat and Thompson cast Grisly Spectacle on the Scorchwalker, Boros Charm was enough to save the Scorchwalker and Thompson took a massive hit of eight damage. The Rogue kept coming in, though, and Thompson augmented his board with Corpse Blockade and Basilica Screecher.

Everything changed when Holy Mantle came down on Scorchwalker for Froehlich and Gerry couldn't find an answer. Two attacks for seven were more than enough to close the game in Froehlich's favor.

Eric Froehlich 2 - Gerry Thompson 1

Sunday, 4:40 p.m. – Drafting with David Ochoa

by Mike Rosenberg
Orzhov Charm

Going into the second draft of the day, Pro Tour mainstay and ChannelFireball team member David Ochoa was sitting at 11-2. He dropped only a single match in yesterday's Sealed Pack portion, and a 2-1 in his last draft has put him in a position where he can finish in the Top 8.

Going into this draft, Ochoa had a preference for avoiding Orzhov. The reason? He expected Orzhov to be drafted. The black-white guild is arguably the best guild to draft as seen by results here this weekend, and there is a general preference for wanting to extort opponents out of their games each round.

As he opened his first pack, Ochoa looked through options such as Daring Skyjek, Hands of Binding, Experiment One, Elusive Krasis, and Legion Loyalist. Ultimately he settled on Elusive Krasis, and in the second pack, had a difficult choice to make: Simic or Orzhov? The debate was between Cloudfin Raptor, one of the most powerful turn one plays available in Gatecrash, or Orzhov Charm, a powerful piece of removal that would be a great start for an Orzhov draft.

Ultimately, Ochoa chose to go with the flying blue creature, and followed with a third pick Crocanura, but passing both Syndic of Tithes and Kingpin's Pet. Scab-Clan Charger followed that, and then Ivy Lane Denizen, which caused Ochoa to ship a Basilica Screecher. Drakewing Krasis was then taken over Mystic Genesis, and another Ivy Lane Denizen made its way into Ochoa's pile. Totally Lost gave him some removal, as his Simic deck was shaping up. Now all he needed was some more early plays...

...unfortunately, his options all came at once at the start of the second pack. He chose Zameck Guildmage over Shambleshark, but that would be the only two mana creature that he would take in the pack. Crowned Ceratok, Slaughterhorn, Drakewing Krasis, and a third Ivy Lane Denizen gave him some powerful plays from turn three and beyond, but he was starting to get a little concerned that the most critical part of the curve – his two drops – would go ignored.

A similar situation occurred in the third pack, as he took Wasteland Viper over the unexciting but playable Disciple of the Old Ways and Diluvian Primordial. Frilled Oculus gave him another second-turn option, but the third pack ended up being a massive train-wreck for Ochoa, who was left picking up Spell Ruptures that would only be able to curve with the few Spire Tracers he was able to pick up.

After the draft, I talked to Ochoa about what happened. "I felt there would be more people playing Orzhov than Simic," he said. "Turns out that wasn't the case." Ochoa took the bet that Simic would be open, given how the drafts have gone in the day. He expected Orzhov, argued as the best guild to draft, would have been overdrafted at the top tables, and he expected to be rewarded if he cut Simic in the first pack. Instead, the opposite happened: the evolve creatures dried up a few picks into the first pack, while two mana creatures with extort were plentiful.

"This may have been the most abysmal Pack 3 I've seen," he said, as he laid out his picks from that pack. With his deck hurting for two mana plays, the third pack had brought him virtually nothing aside from the one Frilled Oculus that he was able to pick up.

"I felt like there were three Simic drafters at the end. I saw no Metropolis Sprites, no Shamblesharks, and not even any Greenside Watchers."

David Ochoa scours his options that were left for him in a Simic draft that did not quite go as expected.

In the end, he decided on 18 lands for this deck, with his deck having a requirement to reach turn four before his deck really started to take off. Spell Rupture sat on the sidelines up until the last moment, but he decided that the eighteenth land would be more important. The three Spell Ruptures that he did pick up in the draft would serve him well if he had to match wits with a player who was running the Diluvian Primordial he passed, or any other monolithic creatures that he may have to fight through.

Ochoa would need to go undefeated if he wished to finish in the Top 8. With a lack of two drops and a concern that his deck would not get online before getting rushed out of the match, Ochoa had some hard battles ahead, but with some tight play that you come to expect from a seasoned veteran and a little luck, Ochoa could be two matches away from drawing his way into his sixth Grand Prix Top 8.

To see what he ended up building from his second draft, check out his deck below.

David Ochoa - Booster Draft #2 – Grand Prix Pittsburgh

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Round 15 Feature Match – Derrick Garner vs. Chase Kovac

by Mike Rosenberg

Both Derrick Garner and Chase Kovac are playing what they hope will be their last full match in the swiss rounds. The winner of this match has a high liklihood to draw into the Top 8. The silence between the two players as they shuffled up was tense. You could tell that these two players had one thing on their mind: getting to the Top 8 Booster Draft.

Game 1

Kovac led with Stomping Ground, and then a Cloudfind Raptor a turn later than ideal. Garner fired back with Wojek Halberdiers, as Kovac played out Deathcult Rogue and evolved his Cloudfin Raptor before attacking. Skyknight Legionarre joined Garner, who revealed a Naya mana base, and his two creatures were sent in. Deathcult Rogue traded with the Halberdiers.

"You got both of those, huh?" Garner said, as Kovac put an untapped Stoming Ground into play at the cost of 2 life. Ivy Lane Denizen evolved his Cloudfin Raptor, and an attack put Garner to 17 and Chase passed at 16. The Legionnaire made that 14, and Garner added a large Crowned Ceratok to the board.

Zameck Guildmage hit play for Kovac, which grew the Ivy Lane Denizen into a 3/4 creature. The Raptor bashed in for 2, and Kovac passed with mana up to use his Zameck Guildmage.

"Declare attackers," Garner said, as he sent in his two creatures. Kovac thought for a moment before putting the Ivy Lane Denizen in front of Crowned Ceratok. He opted not to block, falling to 8, as Garner played Rust Scarab. Kovac removed the +1/+1 counter from Ivy Lane Denizen, drawing a card at the end of Garner's turn.

Chase Kovac hopes to evolve his record, with only this one match standing between him and a possible draw into Top 8.

Kovac played Clinging Anenomes, evolving his Cloudskin Raptor to a 3/4, before sending Garner to 12. He passed with three creatures back to block. Garner untapped and sent in his team. The Zameck Guildmage jumped in front of the Rust Scarab, while the Anemones and Denizen gang blocked the Crowned Ceratok, leaving Garner with two creatures and Kovac with Cloudfin Raptor and Clinging Anemones.

Kovac kept attacking, unhindered, with his Cloudfin Raptor, putting Garner to 9. He followed with Experiment One, ready to throw it in front of the Scarab, and passed. Garner played his seventh land and dropped Molten Primordial. It stole the Experiment One, but Kovac had Gridlock to hold back Molten Primordial and Rust Scarab for a turn. The Legionnaire and Experiment One were sent in, dropping Kovac to 3.

Kovac drew for his turn, and played Miming Slime. He got a 3/3 token, which evolved Experiment One and Clinging Anenomes. He sent the Experiment One and Cloudfin Raptor in, dropping Garner to 4, and passed back with two blockers. Garner drew, played Prophetic Prism, then drew again.

His hand? All lands.

Garner sent the Molten Primordial in, as Kovac blocked with both the Clinging Anemones and Miming Slime token. The Skyknight Legionnaire jumped in front of the attacking Cloudfin Raptor, and Kovac followed the attack with Simic Fluxmage. He passed, and Garner only found a Hellraiser Goblin which he played post-combat. But when Kovac had Burst of Strength to grow his flying attacker into a 4/5, Garner moved to the next game.

Garner 0 - Kovac 1

Game 2

Garner's first hand wasn't up to snuff, throwing it back for a new six card hand. Kovac was content with his seven...but Garner's six card hand wasn't good enough either, as he tossed it back. His five cad hand earned him a shrug and a keep.

While Garner went first, his mulligan left him light on plays, with his third-turn Prophetic Prism being the first play of the game. Kovac's first play was Simic Fluxmage, while Garrner had his first creature in the form of Scorchwalker on turn four.

Kovach had Disciple of the Old Ways which evolved his Simic Fluxmage, and he passed with mana open to use his blue creature's ability. When Prophetic Prism yielded no serious action, Kovac moved a +1/+1 counter over to his Disciple. The Simic Fluxmage evolved again with Kovac played Ivy Lane Denizen, and it was sent in for 2. The Denizen merited an Angelic Edict from Garner, but that was all he had as he passed with the Scorchwalker untapped, held back in the face of Disciple of the Old Ways.

Derrick Garner fights back with a mulligan to five, his tournament life on the life.

Crowned Ceratok threatened a big turn from Kovac, as Garner chose not to block attacks from Kovac's two attacking creatures, going to 12. When Kovac went to mark down the life totals, he accidentally flipped part of his deck over with the rush of his hand. The judge came over to repair the mistake, causing Kovac to shuffle the revealed cards back into his deck, and Kovac was given a warning.

After the mistake was fixed, Zameck Guildmage gave Kovac some draw power, and he passed back, tapped out. Garner drew and cast Skyknight Legionnaire, sitting back on the defensive. Kovac untapped, played Prophetic Prism, then sent in his team. Scorchwalker blocked Crowned Ceratok, and Skyknight Legionnaire blocked Zameck Guildmage.

"Damage?" Kovac asked. Garner shook his head, using Prophetic Prism to let himself cast Boros Charm for its indestructibility effect. It resolved, and while Garner's creatures weren't dead, Garner was close, sitting at only 3 life. Kovac passed with five open.

Garner drew, counted his mana, and pumped his fist. He tapped everything to cast Clan Defiance for 5. Kovac's response?

Nothing. The Disciple of the Old Ways was destroyed, and Kovac fell to 15. The Legionnaire attacked in, dropped Kovac to 13. Adaptive Snapjaw was Kovac's only follow-up, as the Fluxmage evolved to a 4/5. He passed, and watched as Garner added another flier to his board in Assault Griffin. Garner passed, and the Fluxmage moved a counter to Adaptive Snapjaw, making it a 7/3.

Kovac drew. Another land. He passed with his creatures untapped. Garner drew and cast Gruul Keyrune. Assault Griffin dropped Kovac to 10. Kovac drew...and played another land.

Garner, however, sent his two fliers in, dropping Kovac to 5. Ember Beast was added to Kovac's board. Kovac drew, and frustratingly picked up his cards with the two lands in his hand, as the two moved on to the final game.

Garner 1 - Kovac 1

Disciple of the Old Ways

Game 3

The two players shuffled up with 7 minutes in the round. "What happens if we draw?" Garner asked.

Kovac's only suggestion? "Just play fast."

Kovac was first on the board with Disciple of the Old Ways, while Garner was stuck without red mana and no turn two plays. The Disciple attacked in, and Garner added a third Plains before passing. Kovac stopped drawing lands as well, and was stranded without blue as he attacked on with his Disciple.

Garner found a Mountain and played Odruun Veteran, as the Disciple attacked in on Kovac's next turn. Ivy Lane Denizen gave him another creature, but blue was still being elusive. Angelic Edict answered the Denizen and the Veteran dropped Kovac to 17. Another Disciple attack put Garner to 12, and Kovac followed attacks with Crowned Ceratok.

The Veteran attacked in again unblocked, dropping Kovac to 14. Wojek Halberdiers was Garner's follow-up, as Kovac drew and sent in his team. Garner went to 6, and Experiment One joined the team.

Garner drew, but with Kovac at 14, Skyknight Legionnaire wasn't going to automatically win him the race. Ember Beast served as a big blocker as Garner passed with all of his creatures untapped.

But when Kovac showed him the Gridlock, a grimace and a handshake earned Kovac the win and the potential to draw into the Top 8.

Garner 1 - Kovac 2

Sunday, 5:35 p.m. – Shiels' Magical Sanctuary

by Jacob Van Lunen

Dave Shiels is a Boston area Magic player that has quickly cemented himself as a GP master over the last few years. Three Grand Prix top 8s, including a win, have come in a short enough time frame to prove he's more than comfortable battling through massive fields against some of the best players in the world.

Dave lives in Boston and regularly harbors wayward New England gamers at his house. This ragtag group of card slingers were all relatively unknown a few years back, but the Shiels crew is quickly making its name known to the world of competitive Magic.

The folks who hang out at Casa de Shiels don't attend local gaming events. They're content staying indoors amongst friends with Magic Online on a big Plasma TV so they can all argue with each other about plays. Let's get to know the regulars!

Last month, relative unknown Nico "Always Jam" Christiansen steamrolled Grand Prix Quebec City with a hyper-aggressive Naya Blitz deck that caught the format off-guard. Nico may not have much name recognition, but he's been hanging out at Shiels' for the last few years.

Matt Costa has four Grand Prix top 8s, including a win, and a Pro Tour top 8 all in the short time frame that he's been part of the Shiels' house crew.

Jason Ford, another Shiels' house regular, has three Grand Prix top 8s, including a win.

Adam Snook, Griffin Corrigan, and Jon Morawski have all won PTQs in the last year.

Chase Kovac

Chase Kovac was the only member of their crew with no competitive Magic success. For the last month, Kovac has been the butt of all the jokes. Clearly marked as the only remaining friend with no accolades to speak of.

That's all changed here in Pittsburgh, though! Chase Kovac just drew into the top 8 and now he'll be the one laughing all the way home.

It's becoming clear that Shiels' house is more than just a hang out. It's quickly becoming a Breeding Pool for a new school of competitive Magic masters.

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