Round 1: Feature Match - Eduardo Lopes vs. Murilo Fraga Pereira
by Rich Hagon
Playing in his first Nationals, the 23 year old Pereira has drawn a tough match to get his campaign under way. He faces none other than Eduardo Lopes, the defending National Champion, looking to lead another Brazilian team to Worlds later in the year. Pereira has chosen the trusty Caw-Blade for the six rounds of Standard, while Lopes will be looking to ramp his way into Titans galore with Valakut.
Raging Ravine opened for the Champion, while Seachrome Coast led to Preordain for the first-timer Pereira. Turn two saw Overgrown Battlement as the first of many mana providers, a second Preordain being the reply from Pereira. Using the Battlement, Lopes added Khalni Heart Expedition to the table, laid a land to put on the first counter, and passed. Pereira landed a very pretty Friday Night Magic Squadron Hawk, refilling his hand to the max, while Lopes was already down to three cards.
One of those (or possibly the fourth he drew) was Obstinate Baloth, which arrived unmolested. Pereira dealt the first damage of the match, dropping Lopes to 23, thanks to his Baloth. Phantasmal Image copied the Baloth, sending Pereira up to 24. When Lopes triggered Khalni Heart Expedition for the second time, Pereira was ready to respond with Into the Roil with Kicker. Lopes could only re-play the Expedition to end his turn.
With a stack of cards in hand, Pereira was looking in control. He used Dismember to destroy Lopes' Obstinate Baloth, leaving the way clear for his own Phantasmal Image/Baloth to attack. Tectonic Edge blew up Lopes' Raging Ravine, and a second Squadron Hawk joined the Pereira team, fetching one copy from his deck. At least Pereira was now tapped out, so Lopes had some kind of window to do something useful.
Back with Pereira, the beats kept on coming, with Oblivion Ring taking out the Overgrown Battlement. Lopes cast Rampant Growth and got his Khalni Heart Expedition to two counters, but he was down to 12 and facing three Squadron Hawks and the Image/Baloth. In came the Pereira team, and Gideon Jura arrived and went straight to eight loyalty. Lopes played Overgrown Battlement, but it was irrelevant. Gideon went into 6/6 smashy-facey mode, and Lopes was overwhelmed.
Eduardo Lopes 0 - 1 Murilo Fraga Pereira
The 29 year old Lopes was playing in his sixth Nationals, but had never had anything quite like 2010, when he lifted the trophy before heading the team for Worlds in Chiba, Japan. He certainly wouldn't be phased by being one down, especially after a mulligan and an unexciting keep at six cards in game one.
He began game two with a Mountain, after both players had fallen to six cards. Khalni Heart Expedition arrived, and Explore was also allowed. Lopes couldn't take advantage of the 'extra land' clause, however. Pereira continued to pass the turn, Lopes attempting Rampant Growth, again allowed by Pereira, who was certainly representing countermagic in his studied pauses before saying 'ok' to each spell.
Lopes tapped all four land for Oracle of Mul Daya, which meant Mana Leak from Pereira was a hard counterspell. Lopes cracked his Khalni Heart Expedition, taking him up to seven lands in play, five of them Mountains. He would have to be careful if he wanted maximum value out of subsequent Valakut interactions. How many Mountains was he running?
For now, though, his plan was simple - cast Wurmcoil Engine and destroy. Deprive ensured that wouldn't be happening, but he was running Pereira out of countermagic. He laid Valakut, added Overgrown Battlement, but for the first time didn't have something useful to do with a stack of mana. Pereira, meanwhile, did have something useful to do, casting Emeria Angel, and getting a 1/1 Bird via Landfall, one of the most successful abilities introduced to the game in recent years.
Lopes found Primeval Titan waiting for him, leaving Pereira to crack a fetchland in response, netting him another free flyer. With two Islands up, he now had enough to Flashfreeze the Titan, which he duly did. A second Overgrown Battlement from Lopes was not a significant threat. Five power of flyers attacked Lopes, who fell to 15. The air force was increased by Pereira casting Squadron Hawk, fetching up all three copies of the standout 1/1s.
Lopes had twelve mana available, and he used the first six to attempt another Primeval Titan. Flashfreeze was ready once again, but Lopes used the other six mana for a second Primeval Titan of the turn. Awesome stuff, and he quickly fetched up Valakut number two, and a Mountain. That was enough to kill Emeria Angel and a 1/1 Bird. What a turn! Only precisely that combination of two Titans would have inconvenienced Pereira, and with one Titan already in Lopes' graveyard, the odds were stacked against him.
Pereira was happy enough to cast a Primeval Titan of his own, although his was called Phantasmal Image. Unsurprisingly, he was very interested in searching out Tectonic Edges, ready to kill Lopes' Valakuts at the earliest opportunity. Nonetheless, Lopes would get at least one turn with double Valakut active, and a Primeval Titan on the board. What would he do with it? He attacked, and had to choose between finding two Mountains, or a Mountain and a Valakut, or (theoretically) the last two Valakuts. He went for plan (b), getting one of each. Phantasmal Image bit the dust when targeted, along with a Bird.
Lopes used most of his remaining mana for Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre. Pereira had Mana Leak ready, and Lopes put Ulamog into his graveyard. Realizing his mistake, he noticed - too late - that he had Overgrown Battlement and one Forest left, which would have paid for the Mana Leak. Thankfully, it didn't matter. With Pereira's defenses now well and truly breached, Lopes cantered to victory, and there's little better than a major error coming when it doesn't count against you.
Two Primeval Titans in one turn? That'll be game then.
Lopes 1 - 1 Pereira
For the decider, both players were able to keep their opening seven. In the early exchanges, Lopes had turn one Valakut into turn two Khalni Heart Expedition, Pereira casting Sword of War and Peace on turn three. Two mana got Lopes a second Khalni Heart Expedition, and Terramorphic Expanse would help turbocharge the race to get counters on them. Evolving Wilds triggered both Expeditions once again, leaving Pereira to contemplate Into the Roil action. That didn't happen, and now both Expeditions were up to three counters. Win!
At end of turn, Pereira used Tectonic Edge to eat Valakut, sending both players back down to three mana. He still had a second Tectonic Edge on the table, and promptly laid the third. He would likely need it, since Lopes was busy stockpiling mana galore, cracking both his Expeditions for a total of three Mountains and a Forest.
Both players passed, and there was an almost eerie calm. Then Lopes pulled the trigger on Summoning Trap, and that was the cue for some serious thinking from Pereira. It resolved, and the first six cards were nothing good. The seventh, however, was Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre...
Pereira was ready. He cast Into the Roil with Kicker to send the Eldrazi to Lopes' hand. Lopes too was ready, casting Primeval Titan. Pereira was ready again, this time with Flashfreeze. Lopes was ready again with another Summoning Trap! This time he found Primeval Titan, and this time Pereira couldn't stop it. The Titan fetched up Valakut and Terramorphic Expanse, and an amazing sequence came to an end. Both players had only one non-land permanent in play. For Lopes, it was his hard-fought Primeval Titan. For Pereira, it was that long-ago Sword of War and Peace.
Pereira used Tectonic Edge to destroy Valakut, now having drawn all four copies of the Edge, leaving him two still to use. He cast Phantasmal Image to copy the Primeval Titan, with an eagle-eyed spectator spotting that Pereira had tapped his mana incorrectly, using a Plains and Tectonic Edge for the Image. The error was quickly corrected, and on we went, with Titans now on either side of the board.
Lopes wanted to attack, but Pereira wanted to think. The problem was, he could cast an Into the Roil, but then he would be open to Ulamog coming crashing down. He worked out that he had no real choice, and let Lopes turn his Primeval Titan sideways, triggering the search for Valakut and a Mountain. The targeting effect took out the Phantasmal Image, and now Pereira was in deep trouble. Lopes wasn't done. He was however, running out of time to force the win. As he marshalled his mana, time was called, making this turn 'zero' of five extra turns.
He cast Wurmcoil Engine and Overgrown Battlement, and knew he had two more turns to claim victory. As expected, Pereira ended the turn by using Tectonic Edge to blow up Valakut. With Terramorphic Expanse available, Lopes had to decide whether to fetch up a Mountain in response. He elected to keep his powder dry, and Pereira untapped for turn one of extra turns. He activated Inkmoth Nexus, equipped it with the Sword of War and Peace, and charged in, over the heads of the opposing creatures. Pereira went up to 17, Lopes down to 16, and now had three poison counters.
Turn two, and Lopes continued to try to find the win. He cast Khalni Heart Expedition, then looked to attack. In came the Primeval Titan and Wurmcoil Engine. Lopes found his final Valakut and a Mountain. In response to the damage triggers, Pereira used his Tectonic Edge to blow up the Valakut. This time Lopes responded with his Terramorphic Expanse for another Mountain. Pereira did the math and knew that he couldn't quite survive.
It had been an epic start to the day, the very last match still going, and it was the 2010 Champion who had started with a win.
Eduardo Lopes 2 - 1 Murilo Fraga Pereira
Saturday, 12:30 p.m. - Catching Up with King Carlos
by Rich Hagon
Trivia time: Who is the only Magic World Champion across two versions of the game? If you answered, "Carlos Romão," you'd be spot on. Back in 2002, Romão went to Worlds and had a tiny scrap of information that nobody else had - that you could quite happily let Psychatog decks draw all the cards they wanted. All day, all night, Fact or Fictions aplenty, it just didn't matter. What mattered is that you saved your countermagic for their very, very few threats. And then you countered those threats all the time. All day, all night, no Psychatog for you.
Fast forward eight years, and at Worlds in Chiba, Japan to close the 2010 season, Romão did it again, this time in the online version of the game, taking down Akira Asahara of Japan in the final. The Online Championship was a huge workout, comprising three formats across three days (Standard, Extended, and Masters Edition 4 Draft) at the end of each day of competition in the World Championship itself. What are his memories of that event?
"I really started to focus on the event once I knew the formats' he says. 'I had won the MOCS qualifier back in May, so I'd had six months to think about it, but it only really came into focus once those formats were known. In Standard I played UB Control, very much like the French deck of the Two Guillaumes (Wafo-Tapa and eventual World Champion Matignon)."
"Med4 was very strange. It was the first ever tournament that used that card pool, so there was literally no way to prepare for it. All you could do was keep looking at all the cards in the set, and try to work out what might be good. The thing is that there were so many terrible creatures back then, so you knew that the games were going to go a lot longer than something like M11 draft. They were just terrible, those creatures."
"Then in Extended I played Faeries, which was fine."
Was he more nervous about the Final in 2002 or 2010?
'To be honest I wasn't really nervous for either final. To me, making the Top 8 is worth almost as much as a title. Of course winning is great and has more obvious rewards, but if you make the Top 8 you've really achieved something. In 2002, I played a match in the penultimate round of Swiss against Brian Kibler, and I knew that if I beat him I could ID the last round into the Top 8. Because I could see my goal within reach, that was the match that made me really nervous. I was about to achieve something I really wanted.'
"The same thing happened in 2010. In the last round of Swiss, knowing that I'd make the cut if I won it, I was really nervous. Once I'd made the final, I wasn't nervous at all. I was already happy with myself, and knew I'd done a great job."
Once he was in the final against Asahara, he got a very nasty shock.
"I opened with Inquisition of Kozilek. I'd watched replays of his Standard matches, so knew the matchup was ok for me. Suddenly I'm looking at a deck with maindeck Goblin Ruinblasters, and he's playing something completely different than I expected. It was only afterwards that I found out that you were allowed to change your deck between the Standard rounds and the final. I literally didn't change a single card - I hadn't realized you could!"
Last year at Nationals, Carlos had a poor day one, dropping at 3-4 after a disappointing loss in the first round of the second draft took him definitively out of contention. Now he's at 2-0, and very much on a mission.
"I'm not currently qualified for Worlds or any other Pro Tours. I want to get back to playing Pro Tours again."
So the goal is once again to make the Top 8?
'Not this time' he laughs. 'This time it's all about the Top 4, because they're the ones who get to go to Worlds and play for the team. Once you're in the top 4 you can relax, because you know you're going on the plane, you know you've got Worlds to look forward to, and you know you've done a great job on the weekend.'
"But the quarter final? If I get there, that's when I'll be nervous. It's always worst when your goal is right there in front of you."
Round 3: Feature Match - Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa vs. Joao Souza
by Rich Hagon
The equality of Magic - one global powerhouse, one yet to make his mark outside Brazil. Both at 2-0, and both deserving their place at the feature match table for the last of three Standard rounds here on day one. While Joao Souza may go on to be known in every corner of the Magic world, he'll have a hard time competing with the stellar career of da Rosa, capped by his Pro Tour title in 2010.
The Pro Tour Champion began the match with Halimar Depths opposite a turn one Goblin Guide attacking for two from Souza. Misty Rainforest turned into an Island for da Rosa, who used one of his two blue mana to cast Preordain before passing the turn. The Goblin Guide hit once more, followed by Stormblood Berserker as a 3/3 from Souza. Da Rosa cast Twisted Image to cycle deeper into his deck.
Following a Ponder, da Rosa found himself with lots of cards, but under pressure. He laid a second Halimar Depths, sitting at 15 life and facing five damage already on the table. In came the Stormblood Berserker and Goblin Guide, with Souza adding to the board with Grim Lavamancer, still with two mana open. Da Rosa dropped to nine when he cracked Scalding Tarn for a Mountain, and he was back into digging mode, using Preordain to search further. He was rapidly running out of time, casting Grim Lavamancer as presumably little more than a chump blocker (although he had plenty of ammunition in his graveyard.)
Souza untapped, now with five cards in hand. He cast Chandra's Phoenix, which da Rosa acknowledged with a thumbs up, and sent his team piling into the red zone, including his Grim Lavamancer. Da Rosa was facing eight damage if he didn't block, which would leave him at just one, with Souza still having cards in hand. That was still his decision, taking all eight, leaving his own Grim Lavamancer ready to go live. With only one red source, however, he was going to have to do something positively heroic to pull out of this particular nosedive.
He laid a second Mountain, and passed the turn. That didn't feel like something positively heroic.
Souza announced his intention to attack. Da Rosa cast Deceiver Exarch, tapping down the Stormblood Berserker. Now he had two blockers for three possible attackers, and the means to shoot one with his Lavamancer. It still wasn't enough. From the get-go, he had been playing catchup, and the mono-red player hadn't given him time to breathe.
da Rosa 0 - 1 Souza
While many of us know all about da Rosa, Souza has also played on the Pro Tour. Playing since 1995, this is his third Nationals, and he's looking to improve on his best of top 32. For Paulo, his sights are set on things like 'Player of the Year'...
Da Rosa opened on Preordain, but it was Souza's opening turn that was going to be more relevant. Goblin Guide? No, Teetering Peaks, which is about as poor an opening as da Rosa could have hoped to see from his opponent. Da Rosa followed up his Preordain with a turn two Ponder, while Souza had Torpor Orb out of his sideboard.
Already, this was a vastly different type of game to the opener. It was cagey, wary, controlling on both sides. Souza went for Goblin Guide, and found Mental Misstep waiting from da Rosa. Stormblood Berserker was next, but with the Goblin Guide countered and therefore not attacking, the Berserker arrived as a humble 1/1. 1/1s still deal damage, though, and Souza began the long climb towards 20 by hitting da Rosa for one, adding a bloodthirsty Stormblood Berserker as a 3/3. At end of turn, da Rosa flashed out Deceiver Exarch, before beginning his own turn with Halimar Depths. That Torpor Orb was still an issue, however. In came the Souza Stormblood Berserkers, dropping da Rosa to 14. Down came Stormblood Berserker number three, and Torpor Orb number two. Now da Rosa's combo really wouldn't work. He contented himself with Spellskite, and passed back to Souza.
Chandra's Phoenix entered the scene, and once again da Rosa was under the gun. Chandra's Phoenix, two 3/3 Stormblood Berserkers, and a 1/1 Berserker turned sideways. Spellskite and Deceiver Exarch double blocked a 3/3, with Mutagenic Growth turning the tide in da Rosa's favor. He was still up against it, needing to first stabilize, then dispose of multiple Torpor Orbs, all before Souza could clinch the match with a flurry of damage. Splinter Twin completed the combo for da Rosa, but to no immediate avail.
Souza cast Goblin Guide, and attacked with everything. Not even close.
Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa 0 - 2 Joao Souza
Saturday, 1:00 p.m. - A Brief Word with Willy Edel
by Rich Hagon
As I was finishing up writing about Carlos Romão's world-beating exploits, a hand fell across my shoulder. It was my good friend Willy Edel coming to say goodbye.
What? It's only round two!
The multiple Pro Tour top 8er explained.
"I've gone 0-2 today, beaten both times against favorable matchups."
That's cause for disappointment, for sure, but not a cause to be leaving with ten rounds still to play, and top 8 very much still alive.
Willy Edel, former Magic Invitationalist
"I can't risk playing any more today," he continued. "I have a very high ranking, and I'm probably going to qualify for Worlds as long as it stays about where it is now. If I have a third loss now, I probably need six or seven wins in a row just to avoid losing a ton of ratings points, and I can't risk it. It's really sad, but I'm going to drop and go home."
There's no doubt that we may well see Edel again at Worlds. It's also true that much about Planeswalker Points are up in the air, as we wait to find out exactly what the new ratings system means. One thing is certain however: this is the last time players like Willy Edel will get a message along the lines of,
"Thanks for being really, really good at Magic. Please stop playing immediately."
Whatever else, that has to be a good thing. Goodbye Willy, hopefully we'll see you in San Francisco.
Saturday, 2:00 p.m. - How hard is it to make the top 8?
by Rich Hagon
Ask any Magic pundit, and they'll give you three Brazilian names straight off the bat: Willy Edel, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, and Carlos Romão. These are the Big Three, the Trinity, who you would automatically assume would have the best chance to make the top 8.
That may be true, but it's far from a guarantee. In fact, it's far from even a 50/50 proposition. Making the top 8 is really hard, and not just because you have to be good at Magic. The odds are right against you from the start.
Take last year for example. Romão began 1-2 in Standard. He turned that around with a 2-1 draft, and then lost his last round of the day to be out of contention at 3-4. Edel went 2-1 in Standard. He went 2-1 in the first draft. He went 2-1 in the second draft. He went 2-1 in the last three rounds of Standard. That was 8-4, and it wasn't enough. What about Paulo? LikeRomão, he opened 1-2, and only got back to 3-3 after the first draft. From there he went 5-1, but just like Willy Edel, he found that 8-4 wasn't enough. As it turned out, for one unfortunate, 9-3 wasn't enough either, Eduardo Borges missing out on the top 8 by 0.15% on tiebreaks. Harsh.
So here we are in 2011, and once again the assault on the summit has begun. Edel, as we know, dropped after two defeats put him into ratings purgatory. Romão opened with two victories, as did da Rosa. If you've read the feature match in round three, you know that da Rosa didn't make it a clean sweep in Standard.
And right there, you have the problem. At 2-1, you're behind the curve for making the top 8. Unless you now go 3-0 in your opening draft, you're going to be behind again, and at 4-2 at halfway you can only afford one more defeat. Depending where your two defeats happened, you may have to go completely undefeated during the second half of the Swiss.
That means no deck malfunctions. That means no opposing game three topdecks. That means nobody drafting and casting both Grave TitanandInferno Titan in the same game against you. It means no bad Standard matchup. It means no poor sideboarding choices, and no gameplay errors when it counts.
These three are all tremendous players. Edel is already gone, and while the other two both have two wins, they're already behind the curve. It's only one quarter of the way through the Swiss, and already the odds of any of the Big Three making the top 8 have lengthened. Bear in mind that the very best in the history of the game have a winning percentage round about 2/3, which is an 8-4 record. To make the top 8, you have to do better than that.
How hard is it to make top 8?
Saturday, 4:45 p.m. - Looking into the LCQ
by Rich Hagon
Fifteen players are here in the main event today thanks to rattling off five straight wins in the viciously hard-to-win contest that is the Last Chance Qualifier. While two players relied on the vagaries of Sealed Deck, the other thirteen were giving their possible Nationals Standard decks a run out. Here's how the west was won:
Grinder 1 - Marcio Araujo got the ball rolling with Tempered Steel. You know the drill - Memnite, Glint Hawk, Glint Hawk Idol, Steel Overseer...
Grinder 2 - Diogo Oliveira won with Pyromancer Ascension. Lightning Bursts and Lightning Bolts stack up to a lot of damage when you're copying them over and over.
Grinder 3 - Guilherme Moura took down grinder 3 with mono-red, featuring the card that Paul Rietzl wanted to see so badly in the final of Pro Tour Paris, Hero of Oxid Ridge. Lots of burn spells got the job done for Guilherme.
Grinder 4 - Another Guilherme, this time Guilherme Cruz, winning with a Blue-Black control list that looks like Worlds 2010. Grave Titan very prominent, ways to sweep the board, spot removal, Into the Roil, plus things like Solemn Simulacrum and a singleton Karn Liberated.
Grinder 5 - The first Splinter Twin to get the job done, in the hands of André Franco, who we featured earlier in the day.
Grinder 6 - Hugo Terra brings us our first sighting of Plated Geopede, making a welcome reappearance at the top tables in a mono-Red concoction featuring Chandra, the Firebrand.
Grinder 7 - Birthing Pod decks are always interesting, so here's the winning list from grinder 7, courtesy of Rafael Quadros:
Rafael Quadros - Grinder 7
Brazil Nationals 2011
Grinder 8 - Carlos Tognoli went 5-0 to secure his place with Splinter Twin.
Grinder 9 - Splinter Twin also got the job done for Tulio Jaudy.
Grinder 10 - Guess what won grinder 10 for whom? Who was Eduardo Saraiva. What was Splinter Twin again.
Grinder 11 - Three to go, and here's the first appearance of Valakut. With time running out, Tarciso Costa made his way into Nationals.
Grinder 12 - There were more Titans on show, as Cesar Augusto took Valakut to a second victory.
Grinder 13 - Splinter Twin would not be denied as the most successful deck in the grinders, taking down the last slot in the hands of Leonardo Martins.
Well, there were five winning Splinter Twin lists, but an awful lot of decks that got their handlers a place in the main event. What would the metagame look like on day one proper? Stay tuned to find out.
Saturday, 5:15 p.m. - The Brazilian Mark Herberholz
by Rich Hagon
Sometimes I get myself into a lot of trouble. Last year, I wrote a piece from here at Brazil Nationals with my tongue wedged so firmly in my cheek it required subsequent surgery. In it, I took some blurry photos of Magic players, and wove the entirely fictitious tale of many globally famous players coming from around the world to not play in Brazil Nationals. Among them were such luminaries as Sam Black, Ben Lundquist, Guillaume Wafo-Tapa, Michael Jacob, and a certain Pro Tour Honolulu Champion, Mr. Mark Herberholz.
Needless to say, none of those sterling gentlemen were in fact present at the event last year, but it turned out that some jokes are too good to pass up. Meet André Franco:
This is the man I described as Mark Herberholz. And guess what? It stuck. Now everybody he plays with calls him Mark Herberholz, and it's all my fault. When I heard about this, I was suitably apologetic. Fortunately, he had some good news to share:
'I've just qualified in the Last Chance Qualifier.'
I was suitably pleased for him, but surprised that he wasn't already qualified. He's pretty good at the game, so I didn't quite understand it.
'Ah, well, I wasn't able to play at Regionals this year' he smiled. 'You see, I went travelling to play Magic in Europe. I got to play in Grand Prix Prague and Grand Prix London, and although I didn't do anything special in either event, it was still great to travel the world and play some high-level Magic.'
I was fairly sure I'd seen him at the Pro Tour. Turns out I was right, sort of.
'Yes, I was at the Pro Tour, but I've never been on the Pro Tour. I went with some friends to Puerto Rico to play in the Last Chance Qualifier and have a holiday there.'
So now he's one stage closer to getting to the Pro Tour itself, and this weekend a top 4 finish will do that. How did the LCQ go?
'Well it was the first one I entered. They're all 32 player events, so you have to go 5-0 to qualify. I was playing UR Twin, and to be honest every match was pretty easy. I beat Caw-Blade in the final, so now I'm into Nationals.'
Will he change his deck for the main event?
'Possibly. In the LCQ I expected to see a lot of mono-red decks, because they're quite easy to get the cards for, and I think there'll be less mono-red in Nationals itself. I'll still be playing UR Twin though.'
At the time of writing, André had a rocky start, going 1-2 in his three rounds of Standard. Still, next it's on to draft. Perhaps he can draw on the inspiration of his more famous lookalike to pull out a 3-0 performance. In any case, while his Brazilian friends may continue to call him the Brazilian Mark Herberholz, we now know better.
André Franco. Remember the name.
Saturday, 5:30 p.m. - Drafting with Jonathan Melamed
by Rich Hagon
With three rounds of Standard done, 19 players still had perfect records. That meant two full tables of undefeated players getting ready to draft. I can't tell you for sure whether this story is apocryphal or not, but it has the ring of truth...
At Pro Tour Philadelphia, Paul Rietzl, Champion of Pro Tour Amsterdam 2010, was walking to his draft table. On his way, he passed table one, all of whom were on a very healthy 5-0. As he went by, he allegedly said with a grin,
'I imagine you're all feeling pretty pleased with yourselves. Just remember, one of you is about to go 0-3'.
Like I say, true or not, that does sound like Paul...
In any case, those words are certainly true. With three rounds done, the future National Champion still has twelve rounds of Magic to play before tomorrow night, so no resting on laurels after a nice start.
Jonathan Melamed certainly knows what it takes to do well at the top tables. He made the top 16 of Grand Prix Tampa a couple of years back, and was also well in the hunt for the top 8 of Pro Tour Austin 2009, ultimately falling one space back in the top 16. To his left sat his friend and well-known Magic Online player Reinaldo da Silva, but in Melamed's mind at least the top table wasn't littered with unbeatable stars of the game.
The first pick was simple. There were a bunch of ordinary cards, and a not-at-all ordinary Djinn of Wishes. As we saw at Pro Tour Philadelphia in the Draft Tech video with Sebastian Thaler, sometimes your first pick doesn't make the deck, and that's especially true when there's a double color commitment, as there is with the Djinn of Wishes. After one Rare, Melamed got passed a second, this time the 5/7 Arachnus Spinner. That instantly caused him to prioritize Arachnus Web, as you might expect.
Pick three was Gideon's Lawkeeper, taken over a Llanowar Elves which would ultimately be the only copy of the Elves Melamed would see all draft. Stave Off followed, which he later said he valued very highly, and then the first Arachnus Web to compliment his rare Spider. Griffin Sentinel, Peregrine Griffin, and Griffin Rider completed the goodness from pack one, although it was interesting to see how the back end of the back fell out.
It looked as if most players at the table were picking cards they knew they weren't going to play with, weren't going to sideboard, and weren't going to see played against them. That wasn't the case for Melamed, who had Autumn's Veil pick ten (which sometimes gets sided in), Deathmark at eleven (obviously really good against him), Celestial Purge at twelve (a fine sideboard card if ever there was one against Bloodthirst Guy) and a final pick Plummet!
With that first pick Djinn of Wishes now comprehensively abandoned, Melamed went to work building a nice green-white deck. After Arbalest Elite got things going in pack two, he was delighted to be passed Day of Judgment from Reinaldo, who was comfortably in red-black at this point. Both colors flowed consistently through the second pack, with a second Gideon's Lawkeeper at six probably the highlight. The deck was shaping up fine without being anything extraordinary. It could do with a few more flyers, and probably lowering the curve a little.
Dungrove Elder was another nice Rare to open the third pack, and probably Melamed's main disappointment was having to take Arachnus Web over a second Assault Griffin. To be fair, that was a brutal pack, since he'd begun by shuffling the Griffin to the front, then seen the Web and moved that to be his pick, and then seen Garruk's Horde. That's a big, big creature, but Melamed was mindful of his curve, and the power of his Arachnus Spinner.
A late Runeclaw Bear and a nice Pacifism helped his curve, and he professed himself satisfied after the draft. His concern was that Reinaldo to his left was almost certainly a very, very good Black-Red deck (he wasn't wrong - triple Shock and a Fireball were just the start for Reinaldo) and it looked entirely possible that they would be on a collision course for round six, when one of them would walk away with a perfect record at the halfway mark.
Saturday, 6:30 p.m. - Photo Essay
by Rich Hagon
It all begins outside what looks like a garage. This is the unlikely home for Brazil Nationals 2011, here in Sao Paulo.
Pavement, kerb, car, anywhere is a great place to sit, chat, and trade.
Many players set up impromptu trader stalls out of the back of their cars. Seen in the middle here is Eduardo Dos Santos Vieira, otherwise known by his online name of L1X0.
It's quite warm work for putting decklists together. Why the hat?
Now that's a lot of trades!
With no official dealers, players make sure they bring all the useful commons and uncommons with them. Mana Leak could turn out to be a valuable commodity this weekend, who knows?
"So, if I take three of those, one of those, and two of those, you can have one of these, one of these, and a shiny one of these. Deal?" Whatever language it's in, the language of Magic trading remains the same.
There's being entrepreneurial, and then there's going one stage too far. I can honestly say I've never seen this at a Magic event before. At least, not brought by a player. WOW!!!
Maybe I watch too many movies on aeroplanes these days, but am I the only one who thinks this looks like something out of a mob film? You've got the guys leaning on the sleek black car, the metal fencing and barred iron door in the background...What? Oh, right, just me then.
"Look into my eyes. My eyes. They're up here. Don't look down there. Seriously, it's just a Pro Tour shirt. Stop staring. What are you, twelve?"
Inside, the serious business of trying to win a Last Chance Qualifier is occupying lots of minds. Stage one is a decklist that won't cost you a game loss when you count to 57 instead of 60, or forget your sideboard altogether. Come on now, you know you've done this.
It's entirely possible that the Brazilian Nationals version of the pairings boards aren't exactly what you're used to. Still, they work perfectly well. Unless, of course, it's raining. But it never rains in Brazil, right?
You wonder what lengths we'll go to just so we can bring you the ups and downs of your favorite Magic players? Here's my personal work crew, inventing the internet before your very eyes. Possibly.
For those already qualified, it's a chance to do some cube drafting at the nearby bar. Kick back, relax, play Magic, be in Brazil...life is really good.
Saturday, 7:50 p.m. - Metagame Breakdown
by Rich Hagon
|Red Deck Wins
|Mono Green Infect
|Mono Green Beats
|Mono White Control
|Mono Black Control
So what do we know? As players predicted here yesterday, there's a fair amount of mono-red, because it's relatively easy to put together. Perhaps the numbers for that are a little higher than they ought to be purely on the merit of the deck. Caw-Blade continues to be a pace-setter, and many will welcome the shakeup looming (and with a horror theme it must be looming) with Innistrad waiting in the wings.
Splinter Twin is a rock-solid choice, with plenty of better-known players opting for this deck (we won't say who to avoid giving bonus information for opponents tomorrow). U/B Control comes in at four, with Valakut rounding out the top 5. All of these five can do amazingly powerful things, but then so can many of the decks further down the standings.
The key word is consistency. When only a couple of slips across two days can see you on the outside looking in, making a deck choice that is ultra-consistent and resilient to any metagame is key to success. If there are surprises further down the list, maybe it's that Tempered Steel has so few advocates, with only five players sleeving up the cross between an aggro deck and a combo deck (any time you see all seven of your opponent's cards on the table on turn one, you feel like you're playing against a combo deck).
One lone player is trying to replicate Daniel Royde's success from Great Britain Nationals by piloting Eldrazi Green, while there are a host of what look like homebrews, players bringing their favorite deck to battle and hoping it will be good enough.
With six rounds of draft separating the first and last three rounds of Standard, there's no way to predict what might be sitting in the top 8 come tomorrow afternoon. Nonetheless, the big decks in the room are clear, and it's going to take quite a bit to shift the big five.
Round 5: Feature Match - Jonathan Melamed vs. Samuel Emidio
by Rich Hagon
Hailing from Maracanaú, which is a 2,000 mile flight away from Sao Paulo, Samuel Emidio finds himself doing very nicely thank you at his first Nationals. The 21 year old won his Nationals Qualifier, so didn't have to rely on the LCQs yesterday. Across the table sits Jonathan Melamed, a man with top 16s at both Grand Prix Tampa, and at Pro Tour Austin 2009, the event won famously by Brian Kibler. Now 25, the man from Brasilia drafted a solid green-white deck, including a potential bomb in Day of Judgment. As Limited Information columnist would say, no Fancy Play Syndrome for him...
Emidio opened with Swamp, opposite Melamed's Forest. It was Melamed who had the first play, a turn two Griffin Rider. Emidio had Benalish Veteran, which looked to tangle with the Griffin, but Melamed was ready with Mighty Leap. He then added Runeclaw Bear. Cemetery Reaper was next for Emidio, and against green-white that was going to be powerful indeed. Melamed added Griffin Sentinel to the battlefield, turning his Griffin Rider into a powerful flyer. Emidio considered it a sufficient threat to cast Brink of Disaster on the Griffin before passing the turn. Then we saw why Melamed valued Stave Off so highly - he gave the Grififn Protection from Black, destroying the Brink of Disaster, before flying across the red zone with his 4/4. A backup Griffin Sentinel was next. With Cemetery Reaper now active, Emidio exiled his Benalish Veteran to generate a 3/3 at end of turn.
Emidio, known as one of those proverbial 'Good Players' in the local community, slowed the pace. He attacked with his 3/3 token from Cemetery Reaper, then cast Bloodrage Vampire with Bloodthirst as a 4/2.
Melamed attacked, trading the Runeclaw Bear for the 4/2 Vampire. Arachnus Web then dealt with Cemetery Reaper. At that point all Emidio's threats had been adequately dealt with, leaving Melamed's army of flyers to take the opener.
Melamed 1 - 0 Emidio
Game two began in similar fashion, Melamed, on the draw, having the first creature into play, a Runeclaw Bear. Timely Reinforcements brought Emidio some soldiers but no life. He attacked into Melamed's freshly-laid Griffin Sentinel, using Mighty Leap to destroy the flyer. Melamed replied with Dungrove Elder, a powerful creature to put it mildly, with the potential to get out of hand in the long game.
Rare met Rare when Emidio had Cemetery Reaper, but Melamed was ready with Arachnus Web, as in game one. After Emidio's soldiers attacked, he was able to land double Bloodrage Vampire, both with Bloodthirst. Melamed bolstered his defences with Arbalest Elite. One Bloodrage Vampire got traded for Runeclaw Bear, but with Emidio replacing his lost creature with Benalish Veteran, Melamed was on the back foot, although that Arbalest Elite could make things awkward for Emidio.
Stampeding Rhino helped Melamed's position further, before Emidio cast Drifting Shade. Now we were into attrition mode. Melamed had two cards, Emidio just one. When Stampeding Rhino attacked, Emidio blocked with Bloodrage Vampire, allowing Melamed to shoot it with Arbalest Elite. Pacifism for the Drifting Shade, and Griffin Rider, currently just a 1/1, completed the turn for Melamed.
Emidio had nothing going on. Melamed piled in with Dungrove Elder and Stampeding Rhino, dropping Emidio to six, who had Alabaster Mage to bolster his position when Benalish Veteran attacked with the Alabaster bonus ability to gain life.
Now the scores were six life apiece. Emidio passed, still holding the same one card he'd been toying with for multiple turns. Melamed sent his Dungrove Elder and Stampeding Rhino into battle once more. Benalish Veteran got in the way of the Elder, while the Rhino dropped Emidio still deeper into trouble. Arbalest Elite was active once more for Melamed, complicating things still further.
Emidio cast Mighty Leap on his Cemetery Reaper to destroy Arachnus Web.
Melamed had Plummet...
Another Arachnus Web for Alabaster Mage, and we were done. Melamed clapped his hands in celebration, and advanced to a strong 5-0 start.
Jonathan Melamed 2 - 0 Samuel Emidio
Saturday, 8:45 p.m. - Friday Night Magic Around the World
by Rich Hagon
My last three FNMs - Nottingham, England. Osaka, Japan. And now Sao Paulo, Brazil. Not that these happened on consecutive Fridays - that would be insane - but it's nonetheless an indicator of how lucky I am to be travelling the world watching the game I love.
In Nottingham, I got handed a Blue-Black control deck that somebody as 'Spike' as I am should never be let near. I confess that I enjoyed going 5-0 rather more than a kindly Uncle Rich figure really should. Truth to tell, it's been a long time since I've had that much fun.
Then there was my Japanese episode, complicated by the fact that it was M12 Draft, days after the set had been released, and using (I still don't know why they did this on the eve of Japanese Nationals in Japan) Japanese cards. Somehow I cobbled together a Blue-White control deck full of high-toughness speed bumps and tough to kill flyers, plus the small matter of three copies of Elixir of Immortality. Even the really good Red-Black deck couldn't get over the humps I kept putting in the way, and that was a ridiculous 3-0.
And so to Brazil, and back to Standard. I travel light, and I always think it's much more fun to be given a 'random' deck anyway. On this occasion, the store owner was kind enough to give me a 'souped-up' version of the New Phyrexia Event Deck that has a turn two kill in it.
Wait, it has a what?
Practicing for a few minutes with the deck, I was rather excited by casting Glistener Elf on turn one, and then laying a Forest followed up by Groundswell-Groundswell-Mutagenic Growth on turn two. This seemed like an exceptionally fine way to play Magic.
Of course, things don't always work out that way in the field. I began with a match against Thiago Jachelli, who quickly showed me how problematic things were going to get by dumping almost his entire hand into play on turn one. Since he was playing Tempered Steel, I couldn't really blame him for this. Steel Overseer was my undoing in game one, along with a variety of large flyers - which Vault Skirge and Ornithopter aren't supposed to be.
Game two was a bit more interesting when I was able to use Green Sun's Zenith to get Viridian Corrupter, destroying his only blocker and stealing Contested War Zone as a result, but it still wasn't really close. Ho hum.
Then I got to play some of the best (most fun) Magic I've had the chance to play in a long while. Against Leonardo, playing Valakut, I won game one pretty easily, despite an early maindeck Nature's Claim taking out my Ichorclaw Myr when Primal Bellow had made it huge.
Game two was soooo dumb, in all the right ways. On the play, Leonardo cast Melira, Sylvok Outcast on turn two. Hmm. All my guys lose Infect. That's awkward. I cast Rot Wolf and hit him for two. And another two. Then I cast Putrefax and put him to nine. He cast Primeval Titan, and fetched up two Valakuts.
OK then. Vines of Vastwood with Kicker, Mutagenic Growth, Rot Wolf now an 8/8, cast Apostle's Blessing to let it sneak past the Titan, put him to one. I was still on twenty. Then I died.
He attacked with his Titan, fetched two Mountains, dealt all twelve to my face. I valiantly stuck Overgrown Battlement in the way of the Titan, in case he was looking to Lightning Bolt me out. He wasn't. Two trample damage from the Titan took me to six, and his land for the turn Mountain was the last six direct to the dome. An awesome game.
From there it was all downhill. I had my own Melira for his in game three, but he once again dealt all twenty in a single turn with Primeval Titan and Valakut. 0-2. Ho hum once more. At least I was getting my Participation Points...
I won round three when my opponent Jonny failed to find anything good quickly enough with his Valakut deck, and ended up at 1-2. I would have played the final round, but needed to be fresh as a daisy this morning to bring you good people all the fun of Nationals.
As always, FNM provided some great people, a great atmosphere, some fun Magic, and memories to take away. Oh, and it also provided a Portugese New Phyrexia booster. Now, I wonder what country I can play FNM in next...