Saturday, 9:37 a.m. – Q&A with 2011 Player of the Year Owen Turtenwald
by Blake Rasmussen
For any aspiring magician playing in a Grand Prix, there may be no player in the universe they would like to see sitting across from them less than 2011 Player of the Year Owen Turtenwald. Not only was Turtenwald's string of Grand Prix Top 8s unprecedented in 2011, but he scored back-to-back Top 8s in both GP Santiago and GP San Diego – both Innistrad limited tournaments. Coupled with his 5-1 performance in draft at Worlds, Turtenwald could rightfully lay claim to the most successful Innistrad limited player in the world. I spoke with the reigning player of the year in the week before GP Austin to get this thoughts on the format, coming in as Player of the Year and the changes to organized play.
So it's your first tournament as reigning Player of the Year. Does it feel any different? Do you feel any more/less pressure coming into Austin?
I don't feel any added pressure now. I'd like to think I do a pretty good job of keeping my emotions in check and just trying to make the best decisions I can regardless of what's at stake or what's expected of me.
Innistrad limited is a format you've had a lot of success with, Top 8ing GP Santiago and San Diego and going 5-1 at Worlds. Have your views on the format changed any since those tournaments?
No, none of my opinions of it have changed. I get six boosters just like everyone else and I was lucky in San Diego and Santiago to get decks that were capable of winning.
For a tournament like this where you've already got a ton of experience in the format, what, if any, kind of preparation do you do the week before?
I haven't done much preparation for this GP since, as you said, much of the work required is already done since I was drafting this format a lot already for other events. When I have done like 50-75 drafts, doing three more isn't going to make a huge difference in my card evaluations or play style.
What are you looking for out of a sealed deck in Innistrad?
Bombs and removal, hopefully both inside two colors.
What are some of the key cards players should watch out for on Day 1? What would you most like to open?
The best rares are certainly Olivia Voldaren, Bloodline Keeper, and Geist-Honored Monk.
The Spider Spawning and similar draft archetypes have gotten a bit of attention lately. Are there any other less common archetypes that are worth watching out for, like mill or Burning Vengeance?
I like to draft BW Humans more than most and the Spider Spawning deck is really popular. Also you can't go wrong with Invisible Stalker decks.
Besides yourself, who do you think are the favorites this weekend?
Anyone on ChannelFireball is a favorite going in.
What are your thoughts on the changes to organized play in 2012? Have you figured out what your Grand Prix travel schedule will look like for the tournaments that have been announced?
I like the new changes, and I love the fact that the people in charge listened to all the criticisms and took in all the information and made decisions that were in everyone's best interest. I'm basically going to go to all domestic Grands Prix.
What are your goals for 2012? Do you think you could repeat as Player of the Year?
My goals for 2012 is to make T8 of a PT and to make Platinum. It's certainly possible though unlikely to repeat as PoY, but I'm up for the challenge.
Any parting thoughts?
I'm excited for another year of Magic in 2012. I plan to attend a ton of tournaments and get more involved in the community. I'm writing a weekly column now on Channelfireball, streaming Magic Online, and I encourage everyone to follow me on Twitter at @OwenTweetenwald.
Saturday, 11:55 a.m. – Winning Grinder Deck Lists
by Marc Calderaro
Garcia Ruben Tadeo
Saturday, 12:02 p.m. – What do you hope to see out of Dark Ascension?
by Blake Rasmussen
Grand Prix Austin might be the first major tournament of 2012, but it's also one of the last before we find out what Dark Ascension has in store for us. With Innistrad standing as one of the most successful sets in memory, how will Wizards follow up with the second set in the block?
Sadly, we have no previews or even hints today (check back on Dailymtg.com starting Monday), but we checked in with some Grand Prix players about what they hoped Dark Ascension had in store for them.
Geoff Dearing, Damon Laymon and Riley Charlesworth from Utah
Dearing: "The obvious Sorin Markov update, and some help for some of the current decks, including control, because aggro is running amok."
Charlesworth: "I'd like to see tribal decks become viable in Standard."
U.S. National Team member David Ochoa
"If Dark Ascension has cards that change the Standard format, that would be good for our team. Same with limited. As long as the set has a high impact pool, that'd be good."
Brandon Montoya from Denver
"I'd like to see some improvement for the Zombie archetype. I'd like to see a Recoil-type card."
Mason King from Mississippi
"I really like what they did with limited so far. I really like that Innistrad has a lot of flexibility. I just hope they continue with that."
John Passmann and Josh Tatum from Austin
Passmann: "I'm really big into blue red, and I'm hoping for a blue red Planeswalker. That'd be cool."
Tatum: "I'm really pumped for the new Sorin. That'd be amazing. I'm hoping that the new one will be slightly cheaper."
"I'm hoping Sorin the new Planeswalker is good, and a mythic werewolf."
Patrick Wredberg from Austin
"I'm hoping for more of the graveyard theme. Burning Vengeance is one of my pet cards. Reanimator would be sweet, but that's probably pushing it."
Michael Burnham from Seattle
"Some Zombie love. I've been itching to make a good zombie deck."
Saturday, 1:52 p.m. – The evolution of a format
by Blake Rasmussen
When I spoke with 2011 Player of the Year Owen Turtenwald about Innistrad limited earlier this week, he, like many of the pros, talked about how comfortable and familiar he was with the format. After all, it has been about four months, six Grands Prix and one World Championship since Innistrad was released, not to mention thousands of online, in-store and casual drafts that have happened every day. Just thinking about the sheer number of werewolves and Ludevic's Test Subjects that have been flipped during that time is enough to make my fingers go numb.
But during that time, the format has gone from one many assumed was slow and controlling to one that increasingly became about tempo, synergy and pick orders turned on their heads.
A number of cards that looked like incredible early picks at the outset of the format have drifted toward the middle or back of the pack in many pros' estimations. Victim of Night was pointed out by Brian Kibler as one of the big losers in the set's evolution.
"I looks just like a Doom Blade," Kibler said, but "it doesn't really deal with a lot of the problem cards."
While it's a bit obvious to point out Victim of Night doesn't kill vampires, werewolves and zombies, some of the problem cards Kibler's talking about are some of the format's best, like Olivia Voldaren, Bloodline Keeper, Mayor of Avabruk and even something as seemingly innocuous as Villagers of Estwald are all resistant to becoming victims.
Instead, Kibler said Deadweight has leapt over Victim of Night in many player's estimations.
Likewise, cards like Corpse Lunge, Brimstone Volley and Blazing Torch have gone from first picks or playable removal to cards that are far less tempting than before.
Former U.S. National Champion Michael Jacob even called Brimstone Volley overrated while playing up the value of Harvest Pyre.
"That's a man's terminate right there," Jacob said.
A man's terminate
The tempo cards, highlighted by several flashback spells, have instead taken the limelight. Silent Departure was cited by Jacob, Kibler and Josh Utter-Leyton as a card that has gone up wildly in everyone's estimation, with some going to far as to call it the best common. Feeling of Dread, Grasp of Phantoms and Travel Preparations were all tempo-based flashback cards that the pros said had gone up in their estimation.
In fact, Kibler pointed out that many of the archetypes are now defined by their off-color flashback cards that other decks can't use. Travel Preparations, Desperate Ravings – which feeds the Burning Vengeance deck – Feeling of Dread, Memory's Journey and Spider Spawning all define their respective archetypes.
Which gives me the perfect segue to talk about everyone's recent darling, Spider Spawning. The deck in and of itself doesn't necessarily need to have Spider Spawning, but the best versions of the deck certainly do. More than any other deck, this blue green-based deck looks to mill itself as quickly as possible to take advantage of cards like Gnaw to the Bone – formerly seen going last in many a draft four months ago – Kessig Cagebreakers, Laboratory Maniac, Splinterfright, Boneyard Wurm and the aforementioned Spider Spawning. With so many cards other decks can't even think about using, the Spider Spawning deck attacks the format from a completely different angle.
This card almost single-handedly spawned its own archetype.
"I think it's the most bizarre, out there deck," Kibler said. "It uses its resources different than any other archetype."
Though he and Jacob both pointed out that, because the deck leans so heavily on uncommons and rares, the archetype rarely supports more than one player at any given table, and Kibler said he will look to hate draft from that archetype when no other pick presents itself, because a good version of the deck needs a certain mass of cards to function.
Which means the other seven players all need to look to draft something else.
The format's baseline, practically from the beginning, has been green white aggro with Travel Preparations. Utter-Leyton said it's the archetype he most wants to be in, followed by blue white tempo/Feeling of Dread decks.
Meanwhile, the black blue mill yourself decks based around Corpse Lunge and Skaab zombies have lost some followers despite being one of the most popular decks right out of the gate. It fights with Spider Spawning for most of its non-Mulch enablers – another card which has gone way up in pick orders since the beginning (those of us who played during Stronghold are nodding our heads right now) – and doesn't do anything particularly powerful.
Figure all that out? Got everything down? Feel like you've mastered Innistrad limited?
Because everything is about to change.
The shake-up of that format starts this week as Dark Ascension previews begin and drafts start including the new set in a few short weeks. Will it be enough to shake up the format? Can Spider Spawning survive losing a pack of all those sweet uncommons? And will Jar of Eyeballs be a first-pick?
Tune over the next few weeks to find out.
Round 3 Feature Match - David P. Williams vs. Shane Heffley
by Marc Calderaro
Time for the Texas Magic spotlight. We have two 2-0 Texas Magicians ready to square off in Round Three. You may think you recognize one Texas name, Mr. David P. Williams, but you'd be wrong. You're thinking of Mr. David A. Williams. A recent Creative Writing grad from Texas A & M, David P. Williams has the name of a champion. He also has the affable smile of one.
Then there's Shane Heffley. He just started playing Magic a few weeks ago. Hailing from Dallas, just last afternoon he was teaching 150 Kindergarteners about water conservation. And now he's in a feature match. I will admit, I was a little nervous to spotlight to non-pros, but oh how wrong I was. Heffley had just picked up the game from his friends, and loved the impossible depth and rush from every game. "You know, I play a lot of games, and I'm highly competitive, and every time I play Magic, I get this rush that I just don't get from other games." I soon learned why Heffley liked the rush. At points during this match, I was surprised he was able to stay in his chair.
Shane Heffley started the first game with a Delver of Secrets and Deranged Assistant into a Screeching Bat. He was full of nervous energy. Full. He shifted in his seat and looked around frequently. "So why are you guys featuring me? I mean, I just started playing. So are those pros over there? Do they really make a lot of money playing Magic? Wow, you picked the wrong guy to be featured..." Incorrect, Heffley, you are the exact right person.
His opponent, David ("Don't call me David Williams") Williams, started with a Blazing Torch and mid-combat Midnight Haunting blocking the Delver. Heffley continued his banter, excited about just about everything around him. "Can I get them to stop talking over there?" He pointed to the feature match at the next table. He smiled. "I'm calling a Judge. JUDGE!"
"I'm right here." There was a judge sitting right next to him.
"Oh. Hey." Heffley smiled again.
A new Laboratory Maniac and the Assistant went in together trying to get there. But the Spirit tokens were starting to mount. When a Mausoleum Guard hit the bin, the 1/1s doubled, and with the help of a Voiceless Spirit, Williams evened the totals to 13-13.
The Voiceless Spirit was hit with a Sensory Deprivation, which seemed kind of mean and a bit redundant. He already didn't have a voice, guys! Williams' decidedly un-nervous energy and poise continued into the mid game. He threw a Bonds of Faith on Heffley's new Murder of Crows.
Heffley, in his first time at a Grand Prix, let alone in a feature match, looked over at me and asked "So do you play Magic too?" Williams smiled a little smile and turned his creatures sideways taking Heffley deep into single digits. Heffley was feeling good though as an Armored Skaab and two Forbidden Alchemy helped him get to the Skaab Ruinator that would dominate the skies. But Williams' little smile remained. He was holding the Slayer of the Wicked for just such an occasion.
Flametongue the Demon Hunter took out the 5/6 flyer, clearing the way for just enough damage to end game one.
David P. Williams 1 – 0 Shane Heffley
Heffley asked more questions about the Magic lifestyle and how an event like this happens, kind of enamored with the immensity of the event. He shuffled up for game two and kept a hand with five blue cards and no Islands.
Right on time, he drew the Island. "Oh, there's the money!" He slammed it down along with the game's opening salvo, Screeching Bat. He followed it closely with a Laboratory Maniac; he was playing the long-game strategy. Williams' early Voiceless Spirit was Sensory Deprived (again with the redundancy!) and Galvanic Juggernaut was taken out by a Victim of Night.
Angel of Flight Alabaster came down on Williams' side: "Well, oohh, look at you!" Williams chuckled, and next turn brought the chumping Voiceless Spirit back in his hand. One Heffley's turn, the Screeching Bat flipped into Stalking Vampire and the score became 9-16.
Williams cast and sacrificed a Brain Weevil to make Heffley lose the rest of his hand. "Man, I was under the impression that was like the worst card in the format!" Heffley exclaimed. He then turned to his new judge friend, "What do you think of Brain Weevil?"
"Excuse me?" The judge took his ear pierce out and turned to face Heffley; he had been watching the other game.
"I said what do you think of Brain Weevil, bro?"
The judge wasn't exactly sure how to answer. Honestly I wasn't either.
"Well, it's a 1/1 for four mana; it's black..."
Heffley then hit him with his arm and called him a term of endearment I will not repeat on this website.
Williams had been drawing blanks for the last couple of turns, and he was masking a little sense of defeat. Especially since Heffley was talking up everyone around him and generally acting nonchalant, only half paying attention the game in front of him, and taking him down just the same.
Heffley cast a Grasp of Phantoms on the Angel and swung in for five more. Williams dug for two more turns but the Vampire née Bat, aided by a Walking Corpse danced their way to victory.
David P. Williams 1 – 1 Shane Heffley
Dueling Blazing Torches, and Heffley followed with a Laboratory Maniac (again! How many of those does he have?). His Moon Heron that followed was but a Victim of Night.
Williams' first creature, Mausoleum Guard, was Grasped by Phantasms as Heffley swung in with the Maniac and the Screeching Bat to make the totals 12-20 in his favor.
The Guard came back down and promptly died, leaving two tokens in the wake. One token picked up the Torch. Thraben Sentry joined the battlefield and was immediately the target of a Corpse Lunge (removing the Moon Heron). But Williams was prepared and used the Blazing Torch to kill his own token and flip the Sentry intro a Thraben Militia, saving it from certain, Corpse-Lungy doom.
Williams followed the next turn with a Screeching Bat and passed after taking Heffley down to 15. Heffley tried to get himself back some board position with an Armored Skaab (hoping to hit enough creatures for the Skaab Ruinator in his hand), but the mill came up empty. His Maniac was taken down by another mid-combat Midnight Haunting. And then Williams' next play sealed the deal.
It was a Charmbreaker Devils to which Heffley had no answer. His new Delver of Secrets would not help him. On Williams's next upkeep he had a choice of returning Midnight Haunting or Victim of Night. Neither was very good for his opponent. Heffley was going to need something big. He sunk to 1 on William's next attack step and desperately cast his Skaab Ruinator, but with the multiple fliers from Midnight Haunting coming out the next attack, it was all for naught.
Williams turned his creatures sideways for the last time in the match.
David P. Williams 2 – 1 Shane Heffley
"Man, when is the next Grand Prix?! This is fun!" That's that, folks. Play Magic for two weeks, sometimes you get a feature match.
Round 4 Feature Match - Luis Scott-Vargas vs. Shahar Shenhar (Cleavered)
by Blake Rasmussen
It's getting harder and hard to write a good "introduction" for Luis Scott-Vargas. Anyone who doesn't know Mr. Scott-Vargas probably doesn't know Magic. Besides just being one of the best players in the world (just), besides nearly winning Player of the Year in 2011, besides being the face of the most successful Magic team on the tour right now, and besides hosting a series of Magic videos online he's...well, he's all of those things and a threat to win any tournament.
But the man sitting across the table from him in round four has won a tournament even more recently than Scott-Vargas. Shahar Shenhar stormed onto the scene just two months ago when he proved his mastery of Innistrad limited by winning Grand Prix San Diego. His blue red deck was packed full of powerful rares, and it seemed likely he had one of the strongest pools in the room.
Meanwhile Scott-Vargas had let Twitterverse know he wasn't thrilled with his deck when he Tweeted "This is going to be a short GP."
If nothing else, it certainly was a short game one. Shenhar was first on the board with a Civilized Scholar that quickly fell to a Victim of Night while Scott-Vargas' Falkenrath Noble matched up against Selhoff Occultist and Butcher's Cleaver. Blazing Torch killed the Noble, and Scott-Vargas followed up with a Rotting Fensnake.
"Baited you out," Scott-Vargas said.
Stuck on three lands, Shenhar was still putting a ton of pressure on the board. A Selhoff Occultist fell victim to the night, and Scott-Vargas crashed in for five with a very imposing Fensnake. The Zombie Snake died to Brimstone Volley the following turn, but not before it had a Cackling Counterpart made.
In consecutive turns Shenhar played Stitched Drake and Kruin Outlaw while Scott-Vargas sat behind One-Eyed Scarecrow, Skirsdag Priest and, eventually, a Cackling Counterpart of the Priest.
However, the Outlaw soon became a terror...a Terror of Kruin Pass to be exact. Between that and the Drake Shenhar was able to attack for 8, dropping Scott-Vargas to 11.
Dissipate halted another werewolf, but Scott-Vargas appeared low on action. Appeared being the key word.
The Terror attacked in and killed the Scarecrow, but a Snapcaster flashed in before regular damage and turned on Morbid for the Priest, and suddenly Scott-Vargas had a 5/5 demon token hoping to turn the game around. A Snapcastered Corpse Lunge even killed the Terror of Kurin Pass.
However, it turned out not to matter. Shenhar cast Invisible Stalker, which eyed the Butcher's Cleaver lustily, or at least I imagine it would if it were not made of cardboard. And invisible.
And when the Stalker picked up the Cleaver the next turn, Scott-Vargas didn't even wait a turn to concede.
Shenhar 1 Scott-Vargas 0
Scott-Vargas chose to draw for what he hoped wouldn't be the final game of the match. Stalker/Cleaver is very difficult to beat and almost impossible to race, but Scott-Vargas' plethora of removal looked like it could handle the hexable portion of Shenhar's deck.
Deranged Assistant and Civilized Scholar, both for Shenhar, were the first plays, while Scott-Vargas only managed a lonely Lantern Spirit. With 5 mana on turn 4 and Scott-Vargas tapped out, Shenhar played both Invisible Stalker and Butcher's Cleaver. Scott-Vargas' Moan of the Unhallowed didn't look like it could race.
And, true to form, Stalker/Cleaver got in there the following turn. It looked all but over. Until you realize that if anyone can get out from under a Stalker/Cleaver, it was Scott-Vargas.
A Dissipate stopped Shenhar's newest unfair card, Sturmgeist, and a Deadweight finally killed Civilized Scholar, draining Shenhar when Falkenrath Noble also made an appearance.
Life totals stood at 12-11 in Scott-Vargas' favor when Shenhar untapped with only Stalker/Cleaver and Deranged Assistant. The parade of rares continued for Shenhar as Stromkirk Noble joined Selhoff Occultist in play.
Cackling Counterpart made another Noble and suddenly Scott-Vargas was in position to gain just as much life as Invisible Stalker could steal. An attack from Mr. Channelfireball left him at 12 and Shenhar at 5. Scott-Vargas then cast Delver of Secrets and looked like he might actually win the race against Stalker/Cleaver.
Stitched Drake provided Shenhar with another blocker, and moving Butcher's Cleaver on to the Selhoff Occultist made attacks so unprofitable, Scott-Vargas had to pass with no attack after playing Rotting Fensnake.
Deranged Assistant milled a Silent Departure, which gave Shenhar pause. Instead he moved Cleaver to and from Stalker to attack again. Now dead on board to Stalker/Cleaver, Scott-Vargas was forced to attack with his entire team. He needed creatures to die so his life total could nudge above four. With four creatures dying, he did just that and stepped back up to 12, losing one Noble and both Zombie tokens. He then played Skirsdag High Priest.
Shenhar saw an opening and attacked with all of his non-Deranged Assistant creatures. Once again life totals swung wildly as Scott-Vargas fell to three and Shenhar went to 10. And when Silent Departure killed the Falkenrath Noble token, that was enough to swing the Cleaver-fueled victory Shenhar's way.
Shahar Shenhar 2 – Luis Scott-Vargas 0
Round 5 Feature Match - Eric Froehlich vs. Cedric Phillips
by Marc Calderaro
The first thing Cedric Phillips did when he sat down at the table was take out his Bloodline Keeper and Delver of Secrets. "What you got over there?" Eric Froehlich inquired with a smirk.
"Some friends." The PT Top-8 vet smiled.
"I'm happy," Phillips said as he looked at his opening hand. Froehlich was equally happy and the game proceeded as scheduled.
Walking Corpse and Village Cannibals from Phillips off two Swamps and an Island, while Froehlich had Avacynian Priest off three Plains. After Cedric attacked to drop Froehlich to 16, he said "Birdie," dropping a Moon Heron on the field. A Bonds of Faith kept it in check.
Froehlich was behind 14-20 when he dropped the Tormented Pariah, answering Phillips' Bitterheart Witch. Froehlich was very far behind on the board. But to look in his hand was to know the truth: a bevy of removal and tricks, and a Blasphemous Act lurking somewhere in his deck. Though Froehlich held things like Into the Maw of Hell and Moment of Heroism in his hand, he was doing things like casting a post-combat Crossway Vampire, so he didn't die to Phillip's stream of Blue-Black beats, even though it prevented his Tormented Pariah from flipping.
The Pariah flipped soon enough into the Rampaging Werewolf it had always wanted to be. The 6/4 then made the totals 11-10 in Phillip's favor; it was getting closer.
But Phillips was non-nonplussed. He sighed, killed the Avacynian Priest with a Victim of Night, brought Froehlich to 4 and sent it back. Froehlich attacked, then vacillated back and forth a bit and shrugged his shoulders before wiping all Phillips' creatures off the board with a Blasphemous Act. He net two Moon Herons, a Walking Corpse, and a Bitterheart Witch that didn't search out anything.
And that, as they say, was that. In three turns, Froehlich took the game. Though his Elder Cather was killed, and his Skirsdag Cultist was given Claustrophobia, his Terror of Kruin Pass picked up a Butcher's Cleaver and smashed some serious face. Like, a lot of it.
Eric Froehlich 1 – 0 Cedric Phillips
"I was very sure you had Blasphemous Act from, like, turn three." Phillips lamented.
"I definitely drew it the turn before I cast it." Froehlich answered.
Another Priest start for Froehlich joined by a Shaman in Skirsdag Cultist. They knocked around Phillips a bit while his Lantern Spirit did some damage of his own. When the Priest started working her tapping magic, the Shaman got in uncontested. The Totals were 18-13 in Froehlich's favor. The two seemed content with the board state, adding nothing but lands for turns on end.
A 3/2 Crossway Vampire from Froehlich went up against the 2/3 Selhoff Occultist and the game state was back to the way it was turn four...except it was now turn nine. Phillips' flying Heron was answered rather well by Froehlich's Kruin Outlaw. As Phillips cast an Armored Skaab, he said as he milled, "No vampire please. I really need it to win." This was certainly something Froehlich was considering while he eyed the Into the Maw of Hell in his hand. Skaab hit no vampire – just a Grasp of Phantoms.
After a Lost in the Mist counter and bounce (returning the Cultist), the life totals changed for the first time in a while with the Lantern Spirit deciding to tussle on into the red zone and shift the abacus down two. Cackling Counterpart made a copy of a Moon Heron for Phillips, while making sure that the Outlaw would remain sans double-strike. Froehlich had a gripful of cards, with Phillips relying on only two.
Froehlich tossed the cards back and forth in his hands, shifting in his chair. And then he did it again. Blasphemous Act came down. Though it did a bit less damage this time. Froehlich followed with a Gallows Warden that was not long for this world; it was beaten up in an alley, becoming a Victim of Night. The bounced lantern Spirit came back down, as did the bounced Cultist, and it was looking a lot like turn four ... again.
14-13 in Froehlich's favor. Grasp of Phantasms and Silent Departure allowed Phillips to stall and draw into some more gas. He flashed back the Cackling Counterpart on Froehlich's end step to double his Lantern Spirit pleasure and make the totals 8-13. He had the lead for the first time in the game. Surprising, considering how he seemed constantly ahead.
The cards gradually emptied from Froehlich's hands, while Phillips helped to fill his own by using Altar's Reap. After some trades from Ghoulraiser and Silverchase Fox, Hey, we're back to the creatures we started with. But it was 6-13. Advantage Phillips. Froehlich still had Moment of Heroism and Into the Maw of Hell in his hand when he cast a Thraben Sentry. The Lantern Spirit's two damage was slow but inevitable. It could avoid any damage from the Cultist and it flew safely out of reach from the land-bound creatures.
Froehlich had a plan though. He sacrificed the Cultist to itself on his end step to transform the Sentry into Thraben Militia and make the Spirit bounce. The Militia then had its Moment of Heroism and the life totals swapped to 11-6. Though Phillips' board was still quite large – Armored Skaab, Delver of Secrets, Stitcher's Apprentice and that pesky, pesky Spirit.
All of those creatures blocked the Militia and the Apprentice's 2/2 Homunculus and Armored Skaab were the only things left after that bloodbath. Oh yeah, and then the Bloodline Keeper finally decided to show up. And that Into the Maw of Hell that had been patiently waiting gave the transforming bomb a swift and graceful exit. Bonds of Faith stopped the Homunculus and the two players both kept bleeding one at a time. It was about now that I noticed there were not many cards left in either player's library. Especially Phillips, who had cast Armored Skaab twice and a draw spell.
Angel of Flight Alabaster from Froehlich died as a Victim of Night. The one-powers continued to trade damage. 8-4, 7-3. We're at the point in the game where Claustrophobia on an Ashmouth Hound was a huge play. It's 6-2, and Phillips is in reach of the cup ... oh wait ... there're no cards left in his library, are there?
Eric Froehlich 2 – 0 Cedric Phillips
Round 6 Feature Match - Andrejs Prost vs. Haibing Hu
Do you feel lucky, Prost? Well...do ya?
by Blake Rasmussen
Haibing Hu steps onto the feature match stage at GP Austin as one of the faces of Texas Magic thanks to his place on the 2011 U.S. National team. A number of people have carried the public torch for Texas Magic scene over the years, including Dave Williams and Kyle Sanchez, but with his appearance on the national team, his performance at Worlds and his work at local PTQs, a case could be made that it was Hu's time to shine in the Lone Star State.
Prost, meanwhile, is coming off a Top 8 at Pro Tour Philadelphia, where he fell to eventual champion Samuele Estratti. He hadn't had any Top 8s prior to Philadelphia, but a Pro Tour Top 8 in the last few months is nothing to scoff at.
A turn two Delver of Secrets is far, far worse than a turn one Delver of Secrets, but Prost felt he needed to get a little lucky to win anyway.
"Alright, let's see how lucky I am," Prost said, as he looked at his top card on his next upkeep.
Do you feel lucky, Prost? Well...do ya?
Not lucky enough to flip on turn three this time. Instead, he played Armored Skaab revealing Dream Twist, two lands and a Rebuke.
Prost was, however, lucky enough to flip on turn four, and attacked Hu down to 15 before the Texan gave the Human Insect a case of Claustrophobia.
In what would become a recurring theme, Prost played a Stitched Drake, but lost it quickly to Silent Departure. Hu then completed shifting the game back in his favor with a Galvanic Juggernaut.
Prosts's One-Eyed Scarecrow wasn't going to stop the Juggernaut, and Skirsdag Occultist even gave Hu a way to untap the 5/5 reliably.
Meanwhile, Prost's Shimmering Grotto was working overtime, casting a Thraben Sentry out of his otherwise blue and red deck so far. Prost had said he didn't like his deck, and the color spread was giving a glimpse as to why.
Pitchburn Devils gave Hu something juicy to sacrifice, and he wasted no time using the Cultist to kill the Thraben Sentry and send three damage straight to Prost's dome.
While the swing would have seriously harmed the chances of lesser men, Prost was hardly deterred. He used a Grasp of Phantoms provided some reprieve from the Cultist, and a Sensory Deprivation made the Juggernaut a bit less Juggernauty, relieving most of the pressure temporarily. Hu simply replayed the Cultist alongside a Stitcher's Apprentice for even more sacrifice shenanigans.
Somewhere in there the Stitched Drake made a second brief stop in play before once again departing silently.
The following turn, Prost made an interesting attack. At 7 life and with Hu at 13, he attacked with an Armored Skaab into an army of creatures that could not only block it, but do it without killing it for any potential Morbid. Hu probably thought longer and harder about a 1/4 attacking into a 2/5, 1/2 and 2/2 than anyone else in that situation ever. Eventually he blocked with Stitcher's Apprentice and, awesomely, nothing happened.
The plan became clear, however, when Blasphemous Act cleared the board of anything with less than 13 toughness. Which was everything.
The Stitched Drake made its third appearance, only to find itself trapped under Hu's second Claustrophobia. Shrugging it off, Prost just cast a second Drake and one turn later, upping the ante, a Skaab Ruinator.
Meanwhile, Hu cast a Selhoff Occultist and attacked through the Drake the following turn with Crossway Vampire.
However, we all saw a demonstration of why Silent Departure is so good against Innistrad's blue zombies when Hu's second Silent Departure permanently benched the Ruinator, as most of Prost's graveyard had been exiled.
When the Departure was flashed back the next turn, again on Stitched Drake, Prost conceded.
Hu 1 Prost 0
Prost sideboarded a bunch of cards for game three, adding in a few One-Eyed Scarecrows, Avacyn's Mask and taking out at least the Skaab Ruinator, which was actively bad against Hu's Silent Departures.
Prost's first turn Delver of Secrets never got to delve even once, as Hu quickly dispatched it with Geistflame. Only that just allowed Prost to cast an early Stitched Drake. Ironfang entered the battlefield for Hu and Silent Departure, once again, bounced the Stitched Drake.
Hu is the quiet type. Silent, even. That is the closest I can come to a Silent Departure pun, I'm afraid.
Now on all Islands and Plains, Prost cast Thraben Sentry, which found itself vexed by Crossway Vampires the following turn. Prost then passed with no play, representing one of the two Rebukes he had revealed through milling the previous game.
He did indeed Rebuke the Ironfang, but that merely allowed Hu to cast Stitched Drake.
In a turn of events, Hu's Drake quickly found itself trapped under Claustrophobia, though without his 5th land drop, Prost couldn't keep up and fell to 4 when Hu flashed back Silent Departure on the Sentry.
When Prost couldn't find red mana for the Blasphemous Act in his hand, he was forced to concede.
"This is my worst matchup. My deck can't beat one silent departure," Prost said having been Silently Departed roughly 87 times in just two games.
Hu 2 Prost 0
Grinding works like a charm(breaker Devil)
by Blake Rasmussen
With the recent announcement that the Top 4 finishers at Grands Prix would receive Pro Tour invites, these large tournaments provide one of several possible avenues to aspiring pros who have yet to taste the big stage. And often times, the path to those heights starts the day before the tournament at the Grinders.
Three of yesterday's nine winners took time out of their busy schedule of aiming for Day 2 to talk about their decks, the format and how they got into the game.
Jayson Hartless is playing in just his fourth Grand Prix ever, having achieved a money finish at GP Denver. He took down grinder number three with a controlling red black deck that leaned heavily on Charmbreaker Devils to recur any of his Geistflame, Traitorous Blood, Sever the Bloodline, Victim of Night or Bump in the Night.
He originally had a blue black white deck built, but with about two minutes to go realized his deck was poised to take advantage of the Charmbreaker Devils. The decision apparently worked out.
"It worked like a charm," he said.
(No fair groaning, it was an accidental pun. Even if it was possibly the best pun ever.)
He also splashed both Daybreak Ranger and Kessig Wolf Run and said he benefit from always finding his green mana when he needed it.
His advice for other grinders was pretty straightforward.
"Play your best cards and find your two most powerful colors and come up with a gameplan," Hartless said.
One player who definitely came up with a gameplan was Thos Fisher, a Dallas player fighting through his first Grand Prix. Doing so with three byes coming in was certainly an advantage, but there's no doubt looking at his deck that he earned it.
Fisher played a mere 16 lands and played very aggressively with two Bloodcrazed Neonates, two Crossway Vampires and with a pair of Rage Throwers at the top of his curve. He recognized that, even though he prefers control, he didn't have the cards to make it work.
"I thought I would lose with any other deck. I don't really like playing aggro," Fisher said.
Even though he was mostly attacking, that' didn't mean Fisher didn't get tricky. He used a brilliant sideboard plan to fight the decks that were good at combating his aggressive game one deck by sideboarding in green cards that thrived on his creatures dying, such as Splinterfright, Festerhide Boar and Spider Spawning. He said the plan was instrumental in his finals match win.
"I lost game one and it just became obvious that I wouldn't beat this guy any other way," Fisher said.
Fisher has only been playing since July and is competing in his first Grand Prix. He said Duels of the Planeswalkers drew him back in.
Ruben Tadeo Garcia is also playing in his first Grand Prix, this one after 11 years as a casual player. The San Antonio resident said some of his friends drew him into playing Friday Night Magic and he soon caught the competitive bug.
Like Hartless, but with fewer puns, he also had a Charmbreaker Devils , but with even more meat to feed it. Two Brimstone Volley, Harvest Pyre, Into the Maw of Hell and Moment of Heroism were all very good targets for the most Charming of Magic Devils.
Still, despite the powerful interactions, Garcia wasn't happy with his deck.
"I was basically playing The Rock, it just had enough power," he said, comparing his deck to the oft-maligned midrange strategy.
Garcia also credited GP LA Top 8 competitor Mat Marr with shaping his game and helping him make the move from strictly casual to Grand Prix Trial winner.
After six rounds, all three remain in contention to make Day 2. Garcia and Fisher are both 4-2 and Jayson Hartless looks poised to make the leap at 5-1.
"If I leave Austin and I Top 64, I'll be happy," Fisher said.
Grinder #6 Thos Fisher
GP Austin 2012
Grinder #7 Garcia Ruben Tadeo
GP Austin 2012
Grinder #7 Garcia Ruben Tadeo
GP Austin 2012
Round 7 Feature Match - Josh Utter-Leyton vs. Ben Rasmussen
Grinder #3 Jayson Hartless
GP Austin 2012
by Marc Calderaro
Josh Utter-Leyton has been having a great couple years and has really made a name for himself. Recently, he finished second at Pro Tour Philadelphia, Top 8 at Grand Prix Dallas and Nashville, and, don't forget, he was the US National Champion of 2010. Yeah, he's made quite a name indeed. He's looking quite suave in his snazzy ChannelFireball> sweatshirt.
Ben Rasmussen, Madison, Wisconsin staple, and Grand Prix Indianapolis Top 8er, who lines his playmate with endless PTQ Top 8 pins, has a decidedly less formal approach. Though he's no longer wearing his trademark Metallica hat (I think it simply imploded due to use), he's donning a shirt that reads, "Science flies you to the moon; Religion flies you into buildings." I ask him about the hat and he said it's alive and as well as can be expected, but it's taking a bit of a breather.
Diregraf Ghoul and Walking Corpse started the game for Rasmussen. Utter-Leyton had a Delver of Secrets, Deranged Assistant and a Selhoff Occultist. The 2/3 proved just good enough to dissuade Rasmussen's 2-powered friends from attacking. Utter-Leyton pressed the issue with a turn-four Pitchburn Devils. The Assistant was really doing his job to power up the curve.
Rasmussen dropped land four, now showing two Swamps an Island and a Mountain against similar colors from Utter-Leyton. The Devils crashed in and traded with a Typhoid Rats, dragging the Corpse back to the grave with him.
Makeshift Mauler was Utter-Leyton's follow-up. Rasmussen was down to one creature against Utter-Leyton's four, and his hand was mostly land. He used the non-land portion to Sever the Bloodline of the new 4/5 zombie. And just when Rasmussen seemed all right, the Delver finally flipped into an Insectile Aberration. Utter-Leyton sunk Rassy-ras to 14 and cast a Skirsdag High Priest.
Even with the Wisconsinite's Village Cannibals, Utter-Leyton was still ahead on the board, and his hand had a Desperate Ravings, Brimstone Volley and an Olivia Voldaren in it. Rasmussen's had two land. The totals went to 11-18.
Rasmussen flashed back his Sever the Bloodline on the High Priest, allowing Utter-Leyton to respond by triggering his High Priest's morbid with a Brimstone Volley on the Cannibals. Next turn, the new 5/5 Demon, the 3/2 flyer, and the 2/3 miller made the scores 3-18. Rasmussen's Think Twice netted a second Think Twice (a little ironic), but that was it. Those spells wouldn't stop the steamroll coming at him the next turn. Though it might make me think of a certain 90s Alanis Morissette song.
Josh Utter-Leyton 1 – 0 Ben Rasmussen
Rasmussen led this game with a Typhoid Rats, Selhoff Occultist, and all three Grixis-aligned lands. Utter-Leyton simply cast a turn-four Moon Heron. He was down to 15 before attacking with the Heron. The 2-for-1 Hill Giant, Pitchburn Devils followed closely behind the attack, and now Rasmussen, still stuck on three land, was in danger of falling behind. He used a Devil's Play to take out the flyer which blunted Utter-Leyton's offense, but the former Nation Champ had more than enough defense in his hand to make up for it. A Sever the Bloodline, an Armored Skaab and a Selhoff Occultist all waited in between his fingers. The Occultist came down before the Devil attack, then Utter-Leyton dropped a land and cast his Skaab.
Rasmussen's hand was filled with goodies. A Sever the Bloodline of his own, a Garruk Relentless and a bevy of creatures, but the land to cast any of them were scarce. He used Silent Departure to delay the Devils, then, drawing a land on his next turn, Severed the Devils' Bloodline. If the Devils had a fee tail on any of their property, it would pass to the next future-interest holder – if you know what I mean.
Utter-Leyton didn't even blink. Not at my obscure property law reference, nor the actual Severing of his Devils' Bloodline. He drew, dropped a Deranged Assistant and a Makeshift Mauler. A veritable wall of blue creatures now stood in front of him. (Important to note, however, this wall does not fly. So the new Moon Heron from Rasmussen would get through unimpeded.) Rasmussen's two Typhoid Rats proved too juicy of a target for Utter-Leyton to avoid, and used his Sever the Bloodline to eradicate their fee tails as well (and their rat tails).
After a bounce, Utter-Leyton's last two cards in-hand were Fortress Crab and Makeshift Mauler. They both came down to remake a bigger and better wall of blue. Rasmussen meek-looking Walking Corpse and Occultist were all that remained after a Brimstone Volley took out his spectral bird.
An uncastable Morkrut Banshee and Moan of the Unhallowed were stranded in Rasmussen's hand. And if he didn't do something soon, the bevy of big blue butts make the totals more lopsided than they already were at 13-10 for Utter-Leyton. The next attack sunk Rasmussen to 6 and lost his Corpse in the process. The second swamp was finally found after some Selhoff triggers and the two 2/2 zombies came down after a distinct Moaning sound.
But hey, remember those Sever the Bloodlines sitting in each players' graveyards? I don't think Rasmussen did. Utter-Leyton simply dropped a land and pointed the black card at both of the Zombie tokens and Rasmussen had to scoop them up.
Josh Utter-Leyton 2 – 0 Ben Rasmussen
Saturday, 7:05 p.m. - Jeff Zandi and the Texas Guildmages: Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose!
by Marc Calderaro
Origins Game Fair, Fort Worth, Texas, 1993. That's where Jeff Zandi first encountered Magic. "I'm pretty sure that was one of the first places you could encounter it. They didn't actually have any cards, but there was a brochure." I sat with him between rounds, watching him reshuffle his sideboard out of his deck. He had just won a long round, and was as happy as ever. In fact, he was so happy, he started talking to me and introduced himself before I had a chance to do the same myself and ask if I could interview him.
His love affair with the game started a little while after that first encounter back at Origins. It began with a Unlimited Starter deck and a cutout panel in a rulebook – allowing to send away and become a member of the DCI equivalent of the day. "I received a hand-laminated, hand-written card with my four-digit DCI number." Fast-forward fourteen years, and his playgroup and team, the Texas Guildmages, have just held their 736th weekly meeting. Skipping weeks only for holidays, the team has been meeting for the better part of 15 years. Magic in the Dallas region runs deep and true.
With currently 35 lifetime members, though rarely going over an active member number of 8, the goal of the Texas Guildmages was modest: to always have eight people consistently excited about playing Magic and striving to improve. The most illustrious alumni of the crew are probably Neil Reeves and superstar Dave Williams, but the Guildmage history goes further than that. "When we first formed, Dave was fourteen. There was time when we had seven and just needed an eighth and so Dave became that eighth."
The small size invariably leads to some elitism. "Some people call us clique-y, but there's a surefire way to become a Guildmage: Just keep contributing and just keep coming." Zandi said it's pretty funny because since the Guildmages have bit of a reputation at this point, when people come over to play for the first time, they are always excited, but then a little bit disappointed at the realization that it's just dudes playing Magic. But kids, that's what it's all about: Dudes playing Magic (non-gender specific use of "dude", of course). And with the consistency of membership activity that the Guildmages present it'd be hard to deny their significant influence on the community and an aspect of Magic sociability that every community should have.
As I talked to Zandi about his involvement in the Texas Magic community, younger players, some whom I recognized, some I did not, came up giving Zandi updates on their performance. Sometimes he'd be hit on the shoulder and hear "2-0!" shouted in passing, other times he'd be regaled by a sweet-beat story. As we talked, Texas Magician and writer extraordinaire Kyle Sanchez sat down an contributed to the story telling. Zandi sure is a part of something good.
He's not without a twinge of sadness about the team though. He said that the team's been very good, fantastic even, at getting people onto the Pro Tour, but then they get involved in larger communities than the small northern Texas team. However, it's exactly things like achievement and change that a) bring more interest and intrigue to the team, and b) allow younger players to become of a part of the community and get more involved. If the same original eight team members of Texas Guildmage were still the only eight, well, who knows where Dave Williams would be?
Zandi often mentions players and friends, saying that even though they aren't members of the team, there are frequent and numerous guests who take part in the Guildmages' meetings and happenings. And he'd know exactly who's attended over the years. Because, in addition to the group's stellar track record for meetings, Zandi has a stellar track record for note-taking. He's written down every single match of Magic he's played. Period. This tactic started on pencil and paper, eventually moved to a Palm pilot (on which he created an app to allow him to download the content to a spreadsheet) and now on that whole mobile device thing or whatever kids are using nowadays. He's also taken meticulous detailed notes about meetings. A quick look at his notes from the 736th Guildmage meeting showed stats of all the attendees. Their lifetime number of attendances, matches played, and tons of more info therein. What does he use said information for, you ask? Well a) good question. And b) data. It's no secret Zandi loves data. And I can imagine the ultimate spreadsheet of his entire Magic career adorning a wall one day.
However, there's also a very real practical application: Anniversaries. "Not too long ago a team member had his 100th team meeting, so we made him a cake." It's little tidbits like these that really build that tight-knit sense of community Magic thrives on. And he's not just community-minded when it comes to his playgroup, he's also a level two judge, and he's written several articles about the importance of playgroups and the social mentality.
Jeff Zandi has been a mainstay in the strong world of Texas Magic which says a lot – Texas is big, and it's idiosyncratic. The players here have their own sense of the world, just like Texas proper. As Sanchez extolled, they're known for building their own decks, loving Rock decks, and staying the hell away from combo. "It doesn't matter how good the deck is, if it's combo, they're probably not going to play it," Zandi added. And just looking around the room at the myriad Texas shirts and apparel, whether they be school-affiliated, sports-affiliated or just state-affiliated, it's safe to say Texans are proud, strong, and just pretty awesome. I think all those words describe Jeff Zandi pretty well. He's proud, strong, and pretty awesome. And a great bastion for Texas Magic to the world.
Round 8 Feature Match - Paul Rietzl vs. Brian Kibler
by Blake Rasmussen
Brian Kibler is returning to the scene of the crime, so to speak, as he revisits Austin for the first time since winning Pro Tour Austin IN DATE.
After Kibler rolled a 12, Rietzl held them up and yelled "look at this!" and mock checked the dice's corners.
He and Kibler were more than familiar with one another at this point, having played, well, a lot.
"We play in every tournament,"
Except Kibler knew they didn't play in Amsterdam or Honolulu. Suffice to say, these two longtime pros were very familiar with one another.
"Do you shuffle a certain amount of times, or just till you feel like it's good?" Rietzl asked Kibler.
"Till I feel like it," responded the shuffle master.
On the play Kibler led with an Ashmouth Hound and a Deranged Assistant, which then let him cast a third turn Skirsdag Cultist that would prove to be key.
Rietzl neutered the Hound with Bonds of Faith and followed up with a Disciple of Grisleback, which was key to activating Morbid and sacrificing any of the Humans that create Spirit Tokens, but was otherwise pretty pale looking facing down Kibler's newly cast Pitchburn Devils.
Reitzl's second creature, Screetching Bat was allowed an opportunity to transform, and Rietzl took it, turning it into Stalking Vampire but not attacking.
Kibler's Cultist threw Ashenmouth Hound at the Disciple and then used Into the Maw of Hell to remove the vampire and attack Rietzl to 10.
Rietzl followed up with an Avacyn's Pilgrim and Markov Patrician, while Kibler milled his second Brimstone Volley with Deranged Assistant. He used the Cultist to throw the Assistant at the Patrician and attacked Rietzl to five.
Heavily outgunned on the board and well behind in life, Rietzl took a look at the top of his library before conceding game one.
Kibler 1 Rietzl 0
On the play for game two, Rietzl was first on the board with a Village Cannibals.
"Always a nice creature to have first on the board. Scathe Zombies!" Rietzl said.
The Cannibals were good enough to attack past Kibler's Lantern Spirit, and Rietzl used a splashed Brimstone Volley to kill a Moon Heron.
The Heron fueled a Stitched Drake, but even the Drake refused to block the marauding Cannibals as Kibler played around any number of tricks before attacking in with both fliers the next turn.
However, when Kibler passed the turn without any plays, it caused Rietzl to raise an eyebrow. His attack put Kibler to 10, but he was behind in the race.
A Disciple of Grislbrand led Kibler to search for some Forbidden Alchemy and then Harvest Pyre the Village Cannibals, still in response. Moment of Heroism saved the Cannibals, but tapped Rietzl out in the process.
The fliers got in for five one more time, dropping Rietzl to 6, and then threatened more damage next turn with Pitchburn Devils and a Brimstone Volley in hand.
"It's getting brutal," Rietzl said, trying to find a way out of the position he found himself in. "I really feel like you have Brimstone Volley, but I don't think I can arrrggghhh."
Or at least that was an approximation of the groan Rietzl let out before he played an Elder Cathar and passed with one mana open.
Kibler simply shrugged and attacked with everything.
"Just those?" Rietzl said.
Going through the motions toward the inevitable Brimstone Volley, Rietzl was dead before showing that he needed a second white mana for the Fiend Hunter that could have turned the game around.
Brian Kibler 2 - 0 Paul Rietzl
Round 9 Feature Match - Reid Duke vs. Ricky Sidher
by Marc Calderaro
"So I've heard you're pretty good at this format," Reid Duke said to Ricky Sidher as they sat down to the match. He's put his finger on something. Sidher has been on a tear in this format ever since winning his grinder at Grand Prix San Diego shattering souls IRL in addition to online under ___SipItHolla. I admit, not exactly fear-inducing, but still effective.
"Yeah, I guess I am. That's good because I was terrible before this format." Now all this talk about Ricky Sidher was taking the focus off Duke, or by his nom de guerre, reiderrabbit, the current reigning Magic Online Champion. Sidher made it to that Championship as well, but Duke took it down.
Both of these players are having great days at 7-1. But a win here would put them in a much better position going into tomorrow.
A foil Snapcaster Mage came out on turn two for Duke. "It's the world's most expensive Ambush Viper," he quipped while sinking Sidher to 18.
A Vampire Interloper was matching the Mage and the two players traded blows despite various comings and goings of creatures. Duke's Murder of Crows died a quick death, then the Mage soon after. But that's ok, because their bodies were ripped apart and sewn back together as the very, very large Skaab Goliath.
It was 12-16 in Sidher's favor after he reset Sidher's board (so to speak) with a Slyer of the Wicked taking out the lone Interloper. Sidher filled his empty zone with Bloodgift Demon and passed back to Duke, who suited up his Slayer of the Wicked with a Blazing Torch and a Bonds of Faith making a 5/4 that can't be blocked by Zombies or Vampires and could tap to deal 2 damage.
On the attack, the modified Human rumbled into the red zone and Sidher though hard about blocking, eventually offering the trade of his Demon. But Duke never planned on trading. A Moment of Heroism allowed the Slayer to survive and made the totals 19-10 in Duke's favor.
Removal after removal was thrown out on both sides and all that was left standing was a lonely Stitcher's Apprentice for Duke. He shuffled in for 2 damage before a Geistflame plus flashback took it out.
"What are you at?" Duke asked
"Four." Duke eased back into his seat and dropped a Doomed Traveler and an Invisible Stalker on the field.
"You just dropped the one card I can't beat." Sidher buried his hand in his chin. It was over soon after.
Reid Duke 1 – 0 Ricky Sidher
The two shuffled up for the match. Sidher chose to draw. "Go ahead, punish me with the Invisible Stalker," he said.
"I'll keep my hand."
Sidher shook his head, "Invisible Stalker. I knew it."
But, in fact, no Stalker. Duke instead started with a Silver-Inlaid Dagger, an Abbey Griffin and a Silverchase Fox. Sidher was having none of that and cast Brimstone Volleys on the both of them and cast Bloodgift Demon.
Duke casually laid his Moorland Haunt, and started using a Spirit to stab Sidher with a Dagger. After a Demon bash it was 15-16 for Sidher. When he cast Heretic Punishment the next turn it caused Duke a pause. He had no verbal reaction, but he couldn't hide how devastating that card could be to his game plan. He sat and thought.
Sidher lightened the mood by accidentally dropping an Into the Maw of Hell. "Well, now you know I have that." The two of them chuckled. But only for a moment. Then Sidher cast a different awesome spell.
"Oh man, look at this!" Duke exclaimed as Sidher cast a Kessig Cagebreakers.
"The last five cards I've cast may or may not be good." In case you weren't keeping count, the only spells Sidher had cast this game were two Brimstone Volleys, Bloodgift Demon, Heretic Punishment and the Cagebreakers. This is Sealed, I promise.
Duke's Moorland Haunt was still in the hunt; Duke was still ahead 10-9. But two Punishment activations later, Duke was at 2, and Cagebreakers were in the process of making three attacking 2/2 Wolves.
Reid Duke 1 – 1 Ricky Sidher
Sidher was the aggressor this game starting with a Skirsdag High Priest and a Kessig Wolf (you know, the one that made the Kessig Wolf Run in less than 12 parsecs). Duke countered with another blank Snapcaster Mage and that lovely Invisible Stalker. Sidher sighed.
The two traded spell for creature, spell for creature, until Duke cast a Murder of Crows. This was the defining play of the game. Sidher thought for a moment, then let it resolve, the made Duke choose between the Crows and the Stalker with a Tribute to Hunger. Duke thought. A lot. Eventually, the new 4/4 hit the bin. 16-22 after the Tribute to Hunger resolved.
The next turn Duke revealed his nitro booster to win the race. A Butcher's Cleaver on the Stalker. Sidher immediately realized the one spell that could truly punish his decision to kill the Crows. He could've raced just about anything else. But not a 4/1 Unkillable, unblockable Lifelinker. A few turns later, the scores were 22-10 and no other spells had been cast. Then 23-6.
Sidher drew blank after blank – nothing that would either kill or race the Stalker.
"I should've responded to the Murder." There were some other spells cast, but really, did they matter?
Reid Duke 2 - 1 Ricky Sidher