The Ringer, The Grinder, and The King

Posted in Event Coverage on May 31, 2015

By Blake Rasmussen

Blake is the content manager for, making him the one you should email if you have thoughts on the website, good or less good (or not good). He's a longtime coverage reporter and hasn't turned down a game of Magic in any format ever.

The Ringer | The Grinder | The King | The KotH Recap

Statistically, a ton of people have to go undefeated at a pair of 3,500-plus player tournaments. The sheer volume of the tournament demands dozens of players with unblemished records. Perfection is inevitable on a large scale.

But it's still a daunting task, one that seems even more monumental in a tournament of this size, with this much weight on it. And while statistics dictate plenty of undefeated players, they demand many, many, many more fall short. Reaching 9-0 is beyond impressive.

So let's look at three of the undefeated players who set themselves up nicely for Day 1. And because we're in Vegas, they all get colorful nicknames.

The Ringer

Pascal Maynard might have been the only one surprised to see himself finishing Day 1 at the top of the standings, and only because it broke his long-time pattern.

“People have known me for having hot streaks, and then doing nothing for months after,” the Gold Pro said. “It was nice to finally break that streak.”

Pascal Maynard, The Ringer at 9-0.

Maynard had been one of the hottest players on the planet recently, but failed miserably at his last two Grand Prix, going a combined 2-6 in those events. It looked for a while like he might be back to his old pattern of burning brightly and fading into obscurity again.

But instead he finds himself in position to accomplish his goal coming into the event.

“I need to finish 1st or 2nd to get back in the race for the World Championships,” Maynard said. “And if I do that, then I can also get Platinum at the Pro Tour by going X-5 or X-4.”

Coming into the event, Maynard felt very comfortable working in the format, since he had done a lot of practice and theory crafting in order to write a series of articles for Channelfireball. Plus, he said, he really enjoyed the format.

Coming in, Maynard wanted one of two things: a synergy-laden pool that forced him to play a specific archetype, or a five-color deck that let him play all of his bombs.

“As it turned out, I got neither,” he mused.

Instead he played a three color deck—green and red splashing white—that played like a five-color deck.

“My deck was Comet Storm, Karn, Ant Queen, and 20 other cards.”

Maynard wasn't even going to attend Vegas, for a while. After he locked Gold and maxed out on Grand Prix points, he didn't see the point. But when a good friend of his was able to go after a long hiatus, Maynard couldn't pass up to play at a Grand Prix with his friend.

“And it's a good thing too.”

The Grinder

Andrew Lozano sucks at Day 2s. But he's getting pretty good at Day 1s.

A longtime player who found himself with two byes from Planeswalker Points, Lozano is a player who heads to as many Grand Prix as he can reasonably attend. Formerly living in Kansas City, Lozano pretty much stuck to the Midwest. Now that he's living in Los Angeles, he found himself in prime position to travel to Las Vegas.

Caption: Andrew Lozano, The Grinder at 9-0.

And at 9-0, he finds himself in prime position to undo his Day 2 curse, where, according to him, he's bombed out every single time.

But that's not even the real reason he's here. Having moved to Los Angeles, Lozano felt he left behind a good group of friends in the Magic community back home. It was clear he missed Kansas City—when asked where he was from he replied “Where am I from, or where do I live?”—and the Grand Prix was a chance to hang out with his old crew again.

“It's always great seeing friends,” he said, as a throng of players stood by beaming at their buddy.

Lozano played a green-white list with plenty of token producers, Ant Queen, and a pair of MVPs: two Overwhelming Stampede.

“I was hoping to do well on the back of Ant Queen. I hadn't played Overwhelming Stampede before,” Lozano said. “Then I cast Stamped and I thought ‘that's my card.'”

After stampeding his way through just about every win—he only won two games without casting Stampede—Lozano is looking to break his Day 2 curse, even though he hadn't drafted the format at all.

His goals?

“Draft well and Top 8. I mean, I've put myself in the best position possible.”

The King

Naturally, also among the unbeaten is our King of the Hill, Sammy Batarseh, who maneuvered his way through the crowded field with a deck that was fully capable of casting the Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre it contained. And did. Twice.

That's not to say his deck didn't contain some other spice. Three Kozilek's Predators meant he could realistically cast Ulamog. It also meant he got extra mileage out of his Comet Storm and Savage Twister—two of the cards that also propelled Maynard to his undefeated lofty heights.

Sammy Batarseh, The King, at 9-0.

Even more impressive than casting a mythic Eldrazi—yes, more impressive—is the fact that Sammy ended Day 1 as King of the Hill without starting with any byes.

“I randomly do well in Grand Prix,” said the Salt Lake City native. “I have three Grand Prix Top 8s, including Salt Lake City just last year.”

He also finished in the Top 8 of Grand Prix Kansas City in 2008 and Grand Prix Denver way back in 2001.

Despite his obvious talent, finishing well wasn't Sammy's goal.

“I mostly just came to have fun with my friends,” he said, motioning to a group gathered around him beaming with pride. “And the format is very fun. It's less powerful than the bombs in the first Modern Masters. You can react to the bombs. You get to play Magic.”

Sammy's deck was impressive too. In addition to Ulamog, Comet Storm, and Savage Twister, he had an Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder that twice pumped out 12 tokens—neither time with any help from Ulamog.

“And I lost one of those games,” he grinned.

He didn't lose much more besides that.

The KotH Recap

So how did Sammy Batarseh etch himself in immortality as the Day 1 King? It all started in 2013…

…when Neal Oliver won the last Grand Prix Las Vegas. As such, we deemed him a worthy King of the Hill to start the festivities this weekend. And worthy he was…for a time.

After a pair of byes, Neal and his Five Color Control build took down Arya Roohi and Matt Palmer in the feature match area.

However, his march toward immortality was temporarily halted when Ben Wolvansky was able to Vapor Snag an Ulamog's Crusher just in the nick of time to win a close race.

But King of the Hill can be a fickle honor. The Hill giveth and the hill taketh away. And for several rounds, it certainly tooketh away.

After Oliver fell to Wolvansky quickly gave up the crown to a Smash to Smithereens on Precursor Golem from Kyle Skelton. Skelton then promptly gave the crown away again when he tapped too low to protect his Mirror Entity from a two-point Burst Lightning flying out of Alan Lee's hand.

Lee then, naturally, promptly lost to Joe Shapiro, who cast more Mulldrifters. Also Banefire. Twice. For like elevnty-billion. Shapiro, who drove in the morning of the Grand Prix from Los Angeles, loved his deck. And with Banefire and Mulldrifter, how can you not?

But, unfortunately for Joe, he ran into Sammy and several savage Savage Twisters.

Sammy Batarseh and his savage Savage Twister.

That put Sammy Batarseh on the hot seat first thing Sunday morning—a seat he's becoming more and more comfortable with.

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