With 1,836 players the Grand Prix this weekend is officially Poland's largest Magic tournament ever. And as with any large tournament there were plenty of stories to tell. Here are some of the highlights from the first day of competition.
A Star-studded Field
Maybe it's a new thing, or maybe it's just me. But I'm always impressed when so many top pros show up at the same Grand Prix. This usually happens at the Grand Prix leading up to a Pro Tour, but the field in Warsaw seemed to have lured out a big portion of the European pro scene. A whole 27 players had three byes and among them were six of the top 25 ranked players: (4) Márcio Carvalho (7) Martin Jůza (10) Grzegorz Kowalski (12) Andrea Mengucci (20) Jean-Emmanuel Depraz and (20) Piotr Głogowski.
Some ghosts of Pro Tour past could also be seen roaming the halls, like 2004 World Champion Julien Nuijten, Hall of famer Raphaël Lévy and fan favorite Matej Zatlkaj, who said he couldn't be happier to return to the high level of competition.
Immensely excited that I just booked a flight to PLAY a GP after 18 months of not playing one! So excited to play a high-profile event again ????— Matej Zatlkaj (@Matej_Zatlkaj) November 13, 2018
Warsaw here I come!
Matej Zatlkaj has not been seen at either the tables or in the coverage booth lately, but his friendly face can lighten up any event.
No less than FOUR previous Grand Prix Warsaw winners were also in attendance. I've already mentioned Jean-Emmanuel Depraz, who is the reigning Warsaw champion after his win in 2017. The two previous winners Gabrielius Kaklauskas and Fabrizio Anteri both registered to play. The 2013 champion Wenzel Krautmann however had other plans, as he also runs a card store and was here selling cards, but still enjoyed the tournament atmosphere.
Former Grand Prix Warsaw champion Wenzell Krautmann said he doesn't have as much time to play Magic anymore and is content with running a card store.
Swedish former champion, Rickard Österberg was sadly nowhere to be seen.
A Danish School of Magic
Thirteen kids, two teachers and a prodigy making it bigger than anyone could ever anticipate. Sounds like something out of a Harry Potter Novel? No no no, this is the story of the Danish school UNGSlagelse, that had both teachers and students compete at the Grand Prix this weekend.
A Danish school that teaches math and strategy by playing Magic had arranged to travel to Warsaw together.
It all started 10 years ago when teacher Olaf Johansen was looking for a way to get the young Danes interested in games as a way of learning both math and strategy.
“I originally wanted to use poker as a way to teach these skills, but since poker was by law considered gambling in Denmark this was somewhat of a problem. So I turned to Magic, a game I've enjoyed a lot myself, but had quit playing at the time”, Johansen explains.
The students, aged 13-18, attend the school in Slagelse after their regular classes and can sign up for different subjects based on their interests. For someone who wants to practice math and be able to play with friends, Magic turned out to be the perfect solution.
“I really enjoy the game because it isn't just played alone. You get to play with other people and it is so strategic and not just luck based. Deck building is really hard and you have to know all the cards before you can build a good deck”, said 16-year-old Sarah Ranzow, one of the school's players.
The Danish group said they enjoyed playing, but also travelling together and cheering on eachother.
“On this trip we get to test not only our Magic skills, but also how test ourselves in how we act when we are out of school. None of us have played a Grand Prix before, so it is hard, but we are having fun and socializing a log”, Sarah Ranzow concluded.
Oh, and the prodigy that the school has produced? Simon Nielsen of course, who once was a student at UNGSlagelse, and one of the first to join the school's Magic program. He turned out to be a pretty good player and how has both a World Magic Cup trophy and a Grand Prix win on his resume.
Danish Magic Pro Simon Nielsen is one of the former students at the UNGSlagese school.
How did they do then? When I sat down with Olaf Johansen at the end of round 7 one of his students was still in contention for Day Two. His own record? 3-3-1, sadly not good enough to make it. And he humbly admitted that several of his students had put up better finishes than himself.
“They are smart, so I'm not surprised. Although they might make fun of me now, but I hope they wont. It would be fun for the one guy to make Day Two though, but he is already happy with how many matches he has won in his first Grand Prix”, the Danish teacher said.
An hour later the very happy 14-year-old Dane stopped by the feature match area. He had indeed won his match and could celebrate making Day Two at his first Grand Prix. Perhaps a Simon Nielsen in the making.
More Magicfests in 2019
During round three of the tournament the entire hall was suddenly filled with applause. An announcement from the speakers had everyone smiling and celebrating. At least the home crowd of Polish players, as it turned out the organizers had answered to the big turnout and growth of Polish events by adding an additional stop to next year's schedule. In 2019 players will now also be able to play a Grand Prix at MagicFest Krakow.
Due to the overwhelming response from the Eastern European community, we are proud to announce #MTGKrakow in 2019! Head to https://t.co/D73Qv14RIz now and grab a Golden Ticket from our Black Friday sale and you can use it for #MTGKrakow! pic.twitter.com/PSsnbiSC0v— ChannelFireball (@ChannelFireball) November 24, 2018
The community responded online with several players welcoming the decision.
We sure look forward to revisiting Poland again in 2019.
Deciding Bubble Matches
Surely no Round at a Grand Prix is more exciting than Round 15. After that though are the gruelling matches in Round 8 that decide who gets to draft on Day Two and who doesn't. And as it was time for Round 8 in Warsaw some names stood out who had to play make or break matches. Matej Zatlkaj found himself against Lorenzo Gaggia in a battle of Izzet versus Dimir and was clearly a bit nervous, perhaps a sign of his absence from high level Magic lately.
Two other players who found themselves in the same situation were Andrea Mengucci and Zen Takahashi. They were both called to the feature match area to play out their matches in front of a crowd. They also had somewhat of an odd request.
“I want to play my match at the same table as Mengucci”, Zen Takahashi was quick to point out.
It turned out the two players are good friends and wanted to be able to see if their friend could win their match without having to leave the table. Naturally, we granted their request.
Zen Takahashi and Andrea Mengucci (both on the right) and their opponents Jean-Philippe Lacour and Gabriel Sarfis in their win and in-matches in Round 8.
Matej Zatlkaj was the first to finish his match as his aggressive Izzet deck swept his opponent in a mere fifteen minutes with the help of Goblin Banneret and Legion Warboss. The Slovak beamed a smile of relief after his win, proving that he still belongs in the high level competition of the game he loves.
“Now I get to draft on Day Two!", he said, almost surprised.
Matej Zatlkaj, relieved to make Day Two.
What about the Takahashi - Mengucci double feature then? Well, Andrea Mengucci was almost as fast as Zatlkaj to win his match. But for Zen Takahashi it came down to a gruelling three game match. In the end he fell to Jean-Philippe Lacour's Izzet Army in a hard fought battle. His friend Andrea Mengucci was quick with words of comfort.
“You could have won! Why did you keep up mana for Disdainful Stroke for so long? It was so bad, you should have just tapped out to get on board. He knew that you had it too from the way you played. Too obvious!", he said.