2009 Grand Prix Chicago: Day 1 Blog Archive

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  • Saturday, 11:45 a.m. – Close to Home
    by Blake Rasmussen
  • The largest Grand Prix in North American history doesn't happen without players from all over the place making their way to the Windy City. But Grand Prixs in the Midwest are a treat for the trove of Wisconsin players that have made a name for themselves. Adrian Sullivan, Brian Kowal, and Owen Turtenwald are among the throngs of locals vying for the title this weekend, and each one has a unique take on the format.

    Adrian Sullivan
    Mad deck-builder and Starcity Games columnist Adrian Sullivan is known for going a little rogue (and flipping a giant penny), and when he wasn't able to test as thoroughly for Legacy as he liked, he turned to a reliable source for deck-tech: Adrian Sullivan. Sporting an updated version of one of his past creations, Sullivan once again went outside even the metagame he envisions. "There will be lots of Counterbalance decks, with Tarmogoyf or Dreadnaughts, Goblins, some Storm, and after that the kitchen sink." Sullivan expects Counterbalance variants to make up nearly half the top eight, with some number of Storm, Dredge, and Goblin lists rounding it out, plus "one surprise." Could that surprise be another Sullivan brew?

    Brian Kowal
    Brian Kowal is running pretty hot these days on the heels of a 22nd place finish in Kyoto and the resounding success of the R/W "Boat Brew" deck he's credited with creating. Like a number of other pros, Kowal hasn't tested nearly as much as he'd like. Also like a lot of pros, he's viewing Legacy through the lens of a certain Coldsnap enchantment. "This is going to be the Counterbalance GP," said Kowal. "You have to have an answer to Counterbalance."

    For that reason, Kowal thinks Goblins should do unexpectedly well. "I probably should have played it myself, as good as it is," he said. "I mean, it's Goblins."

    Owen Turtenwald
    One player who knows exactly how good Goblins can be is Own Turtenwald, who took 2nd at Grand Prix Columbus running the little green men in a field full of Hulk Flash. Now, in a slightly less degenerate field, Owen thinks the tribe that would not die can do it again. "Goblins is better than people give it credit for," said Turtenwald. "And the Counterbalance deck is overrated." Still, he thinks sheer numbers and the fact that Counterbalance is the choice of many top pros will carry it to a few top eight appearance, alongside Goblins, Storm, and the pet of dealers everywhere, Natural Order. Turtenwald had one more prediction, too: "The sky is blue, and LSV will win."

  • Saturday, 11:50 a.m. – Grand Prix Trial Winners
    by Bill Stark
  • Want a sneak peek of some of the archetypes seeing play this weekend? Here are the decklists from last night's Grand Prix Trial winners.

    Matthew Bartlett
    Trial 5

    Daniel Signorini
    Trial 7

    Main Deck

    60 cards

    Bloodstained Mire
    Flooded Strand
    Polluted Delta
    Tropical Island
    Underground Sea

    20 lands


    8 creatures

    Force of Will
    Snuff Out

    32 other spells

    Diabolic Edict
    Engineered Plague
    Krosan Grip

    15 sideboard cards

    David Caplan
    Trial 16

  • Saturday, 12:45 p.m. – Traveling from Afar
    by Bill Stark
  • Blake covered some of the local heroes looking to make good on this Legacy weekend, but that's only one side of the story. Looking to steal the thunder out from underneath them are a host of the Pro Tour's biggest names, traveling from all over the world. We sat down to chat with a few of them regarding their thoughts on the format, predictions on the weekend, and more.

    Can playskill alone carry Martin Juza this weekend?

    Martin Juza has been on a tear over the past few months of the Pro Tour season, finishing as high as the Top 8 at Pro Tour-Berlin. He came into this weekend hoping for a solid finish, but had a sheepish admission when questioned about how much preparation he had managed to get in. "Zero testing." He responded, adding "I looked at some decks online and compiled a deck from that." What did he think the best deck in the format is? "Dredge. Maybe Goblins if players don't have the hate for it." And his prediction on most played deck? "Counterbalance/Top."

    Luis mugs for the camera with fellow Kyoto finalist Gabriel Nassif

    Second on the list was Luis Scott-Vargas, a player famous enough to need no introduction. He's fresh off his Pro Tour finals appearance just a weekend ago in Kyoto, where he was playing Black-White Tokens. How much prep had he gotten in? "I like Legacy, but not as much [testing] as I would have liked." He had the same answer for both which deck was the best in the format and which deck would be the most popular: "Counterbalance/Top." He was quick to lean in, adding "A lot of people will be playing Progenitus, but I think it's not that good. We may find out that it's really cool, but not the right call."

    Manuel Bucher spends more time in America than Europe these days!

    Finally we have Manuel Bucher, who has practically become adopted by a group of Michigan players and spent more time on the North American continent in 2009 than on his native European one. "I've been playing Legacy since getting back from Kyoto," he explained when asked about how much testing he had done for the event. He also parroted LSV in naming Counterbalance/Top as both the most powerful deck in Legacy as well as the most played this weekend. His prediction for the winning deck, however? "I predict Faeries will win!"

  • Round 2: Richard Feldman vs. Sean Weihe
    by Blake Rasmussen
  • Richard Feldman, longtime Starcity Games writer, came out pretty boldly and pretty publicly earlier this week that Dredge was The Deck to Play. He backed it up by bringing the graveyard-flooding monstrosity to the table in Chicago.

    Sean Weihe is a regional player from Mankato, Minn. who claims he played Legacy “before Counterbalance” (hereafter known as B.Cb.), but not much since (A.Cb.). But he was running Merfolk, a decidedly new-flavored deck from the A.Cb. Era that harkens back to Fish while running new standouts from Lorwyn like Silvergill Adept, Cursecatcher, and Merrow Reejerey.

    Neither player had dice or any sort of randomization device, so instead of a roll-off, Sean won the odd “coverage reporter writes down an even or odd number and the players guess which it is.” For the record it was 456. I have no idea why.

    Game 1
    Sean kept his opener while Richard sent his back for a better six. Dredge is known for being able to mulligan well, so successively lower hands weren’t necessarily a problem. Sean led with Flooded Strand into an Island of the basic variety before playing an Aether Vial. Richard countered with a blind Cabal Therapy naming Force of Will. He hit (you sunk my battleship!) one and revealed a Wasteland, Standstill, Silvergill Adept and Merrow Reejerey.

    Sean ran the turn 2 Standstill out, banking on his Aether Vial to get him there. Richard wasted no time in breaking with a Tireless Tribe. Sean vialed out a Cursecatcher then played a Silvergill adept on his turn before he passed back.

    Richard had no upkeep discard, instead choosing to draw a card and play a Gemstone Mine. Instead he discarded Golgari Thug and cast Breakthrough for one, netting a Narcomeba in the process, but not finding any more dredgers to rev his engine.

    But the engine was almost immediately stuck in neutral, as the cagey Minnesotan revealed his maindeck surprise, Relic of Progenitus.

    “Yeah, why not,” reasoned Sean.
    “Wow. Bold.”

    After that, Richard could only laugh and pass back.

    “I’m going to keep my composure, I did see that coming,” Richard offered before swinging in with a lonely Narcomeba.

    Sean added a Mutavault to the table and Vialed out a Merrow Reejery during combat, followed up with a Wake Thrasher, who was a very angry 8/8 after Richard passed with no play.

    When Sean Vialed out a second Reejery and played a Cursecatcher to tap both blockers, Richard was forced to scoop up the very important Game 1.

    Sean Weihe 1 Richard Feldman 0

    Game 2
    Between games they debated the relative merits of the main-deck Relic of Progenitus, as much of Dredge’s game plan revolves around winning a hate-free Game 1. Maindeck Relic changes that equation quite handedly.

    Richard led with a turn one Pithing Needle on Relic of Progenitus, while Sean could only pass with a Polluted Delta.

    Richard then cast Careful Study, pitching Golgari Grave-Troll and Bridge from Below, then played a 2nd Study to dredge, hitting mostly blanks. He discarded two dredgers and passed.

    Sean’s second turn only made a Silvergill Adept while revealing a Cursecatcher.

    Richard then lined up a pretty monster turn three, as dredge does so often. Richard dredged then cast Breakthrough for zero, milling most of his library in the process and netting two Narcomoebas. He then popped Cephalid Coliseum to kill nearly the rest of his library. Four Narcomoebas started sacrificing themselves for the greater good, one for Cabal Therapy naming Tormod’s Crypt. Sean revealed two Echoing Truths, Standstill, a Cursecatcher, and another Adept. When all was said and done, Richard had accumulated eight zombies, two Narcomoebas and a 22/22 Grave Troll.

    “Geeze, I feel done. Go.”

    Sean ran out a Cursecatcher as a blocker, and passed back.

    Richard triggered three Ichorids on his upkeep, then swung in with the team. The zombie tokens were hit by Echoing Truth, and the three Ichorids took Sean down to 10. The attack did, however, cost Richard his Bridge from Belows.

    Sean didn’t find the right answer this time, and three Ichorids got there on Richard’s next turn.

    Sean Weihe 1 Richard Feldman 1

    Game 3
    Sean, on the play, kept his seven, as did Richard. Sean went to 19 to fetch out a basic Island, and led with Aether Vial. Richard countered with his own one mana enabler in Tireless Tribe.

    Sean simply played a Mutavault and passed with no action. Richard discarded a Darkblast and started dredging on turn two thanks to two Careful Studies. Sean simply vialed in a Cursecatcher at end of turn, then ran out a Wake Thrasher on his own turn, threatening a large attacker.

    Richard started turn three by bringing out an Ichorid, and followed with a draw step dredge and a Cephalid Coliseum sacrifice, jumping three Narcomoebas into play along the way. Richard attempted to flash back a Cabal Therapy, but Cursecatcher countered the offending discard spell and removed the balance of the Bridge from Belows in Richard’s graveyard.

    Sean simply attacked with a 5/5 Wake Thrasher on his next turn, which was blocked effectively by a Tireless Tribe, then added a Merrow Reejery before passing back. Richard re-grew three Ichorids and swung in with all of them and three Narcomoebas before his attempted Dread Return was countered by Force of Will.

    Sean simply untapped and attacked with two Merfolk, and again Richard had two discards to block the Wake Thrasher. On his upkeep, Richard brought back the full playset of Ichorids as his library ticked town toward empty. He then attacked with all four Ichorids and two Narcomoebas. The Ichorids were Echoing Truthed, leaving Sean holding on at four life after the attack.

    Still, Sean sorted through his cards trying to get eight points past Richard’s Tireless Tribe and single untapped Narcomoeba. The Wake Thrasher itself was big enough at 8/8 to do the damage on its own, but Sean wasn’t sure he could get around Richard’s “Tireless” defenses. In the end, he swung with only two men, and clocked Richard down to six before playing Cursecatcher to untap his Wake Thrasher with Reejerey’s ability.

    It wasn’t enough, as though only three Ichorids could return this time around, three was enough to do the job as Richard swung for exactly lethal with a single card left in his library.

    Richard Feldman defeats Sean Weihe 2-1

  • Round 3: Carlos Irizarry vs. Patrick Chapin
    by Bill Stark
  • Patrick Chapin is a many of many Magic hats, writer, deck designer, famous pro, VIP. He entered the third round of Grand Prix-Chicago short a bye that would have guaranteed him a 3-0 start on the weekend. His opponent for the round, Carlos Irizarry, was less well known but didn’t flinch, winning the die roll and opening on a Tropical Island. Chapin played an Island of his own, albeit of the basic variety, then a Sensei’s Divining Top.

    Carlos Irizarry makes his debut in the Feature Match area.
    Irizarry, facing a tapped out opponent, was all too happy to stick a Counterbalance, and the match was shaping up to be a drawn out, control on control bloodbath. When Chapin attempted to play a Counterbalance of his own a turn later, Carlos responded with Brainstorm. He reset the top three cards of his deck, then attempted to reveal for his Counterbalance. That prompted a judge call from Pat.

    “If Counterbalance is a may trigger, does my opponent have to declare it going on the stack before he Brainstorms?” The judge ruled in Pat’s favor, meaning Irizarry couldn’t reveal from his Counterbalance. However, Irizarry had a Daze hardcast to counter the troublesome enchantment anyway, and Chapin was forced to pass the turn without making a land drop. Looking to capitalize, Irizarry played Trygon Predator, then Sensei’s Divining Top a turn later, completing his Counterbalance lock.

    Chapin took a final peek at the top three cards of his deck then, seeing no help coming soon, opted to concede from a very bad board position. The drawn out control mirror hadn’t panned out at all, and the players reached for their sideboard with forty minutes on the clock.

    Irizarry 1,

    Force of Will was the first play of the second game, and it came from Patrick Chapin when Carlos Irizarry attempted a first-turn Sensei’s Divining Top. The Alliances powerhouse was enough to prevent the artifact from hitting play, but a turn later Carlos was able to resolve Counterbalance unmolested from Chapin.

    Could Patrick Chapin overcome a rough Game 1?
    Unlike the first game, Patrick Chapin was finding himself plenty of lands, but after his opponent’s Counterbalance had resolved, Pat fell increasingly behind on the board. In addition to his Coldsnap enchantment, Carlos had managed to add both Sensei’s Divining Top and Tarmogoyf to his board. The game wasn’t looking good for Chapin, and he was forced to do something about it.

    At 12 life, Pat played Swords to Plowshares targeting the ‘Goyf. Carlos activated his Divining Top in response, the moved to reveal for Counterbalance. Chapin pointed at the enchantment saying “You forgot to trigger it again,” and Carlos rolled his eyes in frustration. Clearly his longtime pro opponent wasn’t going to give him any inches in the matchup.

    Irizarry found himself a second Tarmogoyf, but Chapin was ready. He used Krosan Grip to blow up Counterbalance, then used a second Swords to Plowshares to hit the Tarmogoyf. When Carlos tried a second copy of Counterbalance, Chapin was ready with Force of Will, but he didn’t have an immediate answer for a 1/1 Nimble Mongoose Irizarry played in the same turn.

    Both players were missing land drops, with Carlos Irizarry stuck on three while Chapin had four. Trying to get ahead in the card count, Pat played and successfully resolved Intuition, hunting up Life from the Loam, Windswept Heath, and Lonely Sandbar. Carlos gave him the Windswept Heath, then spent his own turn playing a third copy of Tarmogoyf. Chapin didn’t seem fazed, cracking his Windswept Heath to find Dryad Arbor, then tapping four mana to play Natural Order. It was a techy series of plays that potentially could end with Chapin having Progenitus in play. Irizarry spun his Sensei’s Divining Top, desperately hoping for an answer, and looked to the heavens thankfully when he found one: Force of Will to counter Natural Order. Chapin nodded, and passed the turn.

    Carlos quickly sent his team in to the red zone, attacking Chapin down to just 2 life. He played a post-combat Sensei’s Divining Top before shipping the turn, but the play may have been a mistake. With six cards in his graveyard, just one card short of threshold, Carlos could have attempted to find a means of getting a single spell into his graveyard pre-combat against a tapped out Chapin, then attacked for exactly lethal as his Mongoose got +2/+2. It was moot in any case as Chapin was unable to stick an answer on his own turn, and Irizarry attacked for lethal, ending the match in his favor.

    Carlos Irizarry 2, Patrick Chapin 0

    Editor’s Note: After the match, the ruling regarding Counterbalance was brought to the attention of head judge Jason Ness. He issued a corrected version of the ruling that will allow players to trigger their Counterbalance even if they’ve used abilities or played cards in response to a spell without specifically pointing out that they’re leaving a Counterbalance trigger on the stack.

  • Saturday, 2:20 p.m. – Steve Sadin, Legacy King
    by Blake Rasmussen
  • It’s been a few years since Steve Sadin rocked Columbus with Hulk Flash, but that doesn’t mean the reigning Legacy king has lifted his finger from the pulse of the format. That pulse, though, hasn’t really changed much, he said.

    Not much out of Shards or Conflux particularly excited him, though he acknowledged the much ballyhooed existence of Progenitus. Other than that, he doesn’t see that much has changed since the Legacy portion of Worlds. So much so, that he based his deck choice off that very assumption.

    “There is Progenitus, but it’s not something I’d play,” said Sadin. “It’s just a creature. I don’t want to invest four slots on a kill unless it’s really fast. If I get into an attrition war, I don’t want to start drawing blanks.”

    Beyond the decks headlined by Legacy’s version of Tinker for Darksteel Colossus, Sadin sees a wide-open field full of “a lot of Counterbalance decks, and 8-10 other decks. Like Affinity, Dredge, Survival, Stax, and Goblins.”

    He nodded toward 42-land and combo as well, but said he expected “Counterbalance decks are going to do extremely well. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Dredge puts a few in the Top 8, as a lot of people completely removed their Dredge hate from their sideboards.”

    It’s a far cry from Columbus’ “Flash or no?” metagame that Sadin sat atop, but the crown is his until Sunday at least. Until then, someone will have to take it from him.

  • Saturday, 2:43 p.m. – Poor Nate Price
    by Bill Stark
  • Being a coverage writer is hard, sometimes thankless work, but to keep fresh many reporters relish the chance to cut their teeth at premier events like Grand Prixs. Nate Price, fresh off the coverage team from Pro Tour-Kyoto, found himself in those shoes this weekend as he set forth to battle using the Legacy format. After just one round, he looked a bit bruised and battered.

    “How come no one told me there was second-turn Progenitus in this format?” The Indianapolis native questioned, exasperatedly. Inquiring further into what he meant, he explained “My opponent, Brian Gustafson, opened on first turn Gaea’s Cradle, remove Elvish Spirit Guide to play Llanowar Elves, play a second Elf with Cradle, go, untap, Natural Order for Progenitus.” A rough beat to be certain, particularly when you consider the fact Nate himself had simply opened on Wasteland and Sensei’s Divining Top. As they say, welcome to Legacy!

  • Round 4 Gabriel Nassif vs. Charles Gindy
    by Blake Rasmussen
  • With the three bye rounds out of the way, the pros have flooded into the standings. And while many pros are still playing against the Joes, the round four feature match pits two pro tour champions against one another.

    Two pro tour champions, the imitable Gabriel Nassif only one week removed from winning Pro Tour Kyoto, and Charles Gindy who also won a Standard Pro Tour when he took PT Hollywood in 2008 with B/G Elves.

    Both past champions were sporting pretty similar looks at the Countertop archetype, with Gindy opting for a few more animals with Nimble Mongoose.

    Game 1
    Both players kept their initial hands, and Gindy led with Polluted Delta into Underground Sea into Ponder. Nassif skipped the Delta and just ran Underground Sea into Sensei’s Divining Top, signaling the mirror.

    Gindy had the turn two Dark Confidant, which Nassif allowed after considerable, um, consideration.

    “This is going to be a boring game,” offered Gindy as Nassif Topped on his upkeep.
    “Yes,” Nassif offered, content to just play Polluted Delta and pass.

    Gindy continued to lay pressure on the board with a Tarmogoyf after some Bob beats put Nassif to 18. Nassif again thought long and hard before declining to respond to Gindy’s second brutal two-drop.

    Nassif countered with his own important two-drop with Counterbalance, which Gindy allowed to resolve. Resolving Counterbalance/Top was key to controlling the match-up between these similar decks.

    Gindy’s Confidant revealed another, and Gindy tried to then cast his own Counterbalance, which Nassif allowed to resolve despite activating Sensei’s Divining Top in response. Gindy, aware the air was clear for more spells that cost two, dropped yet another Dark Confidant, and then dropped Nassif to 12 on the attack.

    The Kyoto champ’s response to Gindy’s growing horde was Vedalken Shackles, a card that could turn the game around if given enough time. An upkeep-revealed Mongoose could get around Shackles, but only if it could first get around Counterbalance.

    Gindy attempted a pre-combat Tarmogoyf, which Nassif stopped with Counterbalance. When Gindy attempted his own Top, Nassif was ready by flipping his with Counterbalance on the stack. Gindy attacked Nassif to three, then played his third Dark Confidant of the match, threatening lethal even if Vedalken Shackles did its thing.

    Sower of Temptation was another story altogether. Gindy declined to reveal for Counterbalance in response to the four-cost faerie, and saw Brainstorm and Swords to Plowshares on his upkeep from his dual Dark Confidants. Unfortunately, Nassif had the Swords on top of his deck to counter the game-winning spell.

    “I hope your hand is only ones,” said Nassif.

    It was good enough, as Gindy simply passed back without attacking, possibly hoping to kill Nassif, who was now at 3, with Dark Confidant. Indeed, Nassif dropped to two on his upkeep when he revealed the known Swords to Plowshares.

    When Nassif tried to resolve Sensei’s Divining top the next turn, a flurry of instants and Brainstorms from both players - two from Gindy and one from Nassif - ended with Nassif forced to reveal a blind Counterbalance. He revealed...Ponder.

    “That was all for nothing,” laughed Nassif as he eventually resolved Sensei’s Divining Top and then Shacklesed the Tarmogoyf. Upkeep reveals on Dark Confidant took Gindy to five and left him with a full grip, but with no plays for his turn he passed back, with Nassif at one and needing to reveal a land to his Dark Confidant.

    “No land in the top three,” Gindy pleaded. And, indeed, Nassif had no land in the top three, which forced him to Swords to Plowshares the stolen Tarmogoyf with Bob on the stack. He had a Tarmogoyf of his own to follow up, but a blind Counterbalance held the fort for the moment. Nassif then ended his turn by attacking with the Sower of Temptation to drop Gindy to three, and a Ponder-induced shuffle.

    On his upkeep, Gindy’s two Confidants revealed a Daze and...Force of Will.

    Gabriel Nassif 1 Charles Gindy 0

    During the break they both lamented the ponderous nature of the mirror. Top, Counterbalance, Dark Confidant, and...

    “We took half an hour,” pointed out Nassif.
    “Geeze,” said Gindy.
    “We’ll try and play a little faster.”
    “Faster than the last one at least.”

    Game 2
    Both kept and Gindy led with a turn one “good in the mirror” Nimble Mongoose while Nassif had Island, Sensei’s Divining Top. Just how good in the mirror the Mongoose that could was would be evident shortly (foreshadowing!)

    Counterbalance from Gindy met Force of Will from Nassif, and he followed up with a Counterbalance of his own. Nimble Mongoose failed to find a way through Counterbalance, and Gindy was resolved to simply swing.

    On his turn, Nassif cast two Tops, then passed while tapped out, inducing Gindy to play a Dark Confidant. Nassif had the two-drop on the top of his deck, and the subsequent Top flip to stop another Mongoose, especially important now that Gindy had Threshold.

    Dark Confidant began to put Nassif ahead in every metric except life total, and his turn consisted of multiple Top activations and Brainstorms, while Dark Confidant attacked back at Gindy.

    On his turn, Gindy continued to attack, putting Nassif to six with his single Mongoose. Able to freely counter anything his opponent plays, Nassif seemed unbothered by the 3/3 shroud. That would change.

    More Top activations, more fetch lands, and another Top rounded out Nassifs turn, while Gindy was content to simply attack and pass. Nassif blocked with his Confidant to preserve his life total while at six, then searched for an answer to Gindy’s Mongoose during his main phase with another flurry of Top activations and Brainstorms. He finally played a Dark Confidant to chump block, and passed, while Gindy played “attack go” once again.

    The following turn he found the answer he was looking for in Perish. Gindy, however, had the right answer in Force of Will and, despite having the “lock,” Nassif was forced to scoop his cards even though Gindy resolved approximately one spell all game. That one spell was a doozy, though.

    Charles Gindy 1 Gabriel Nassif 1

    Game 3
    After an epic Game 1 and a significantly faster paced Game 2, under seven minutes remained for the penultimate game. Both players kept, noticeably playing faster than previous games.

    Nassif led with fetch land into Ponder, and Gindy followed suit with fetch land into Sensei’s Divining Top, though Nassif had the Daze.

    Nassif’s own Top hit, and Gindy tried to resolve Counterbalance. Nassif’s second Daze once again held Gindy back.

    Gindy struck back by Krosan Gripping Nassif’s Top, but Nassif simply untapped and offered a replacement. Naturally, Gindy had the second Krosan Grip.

    And since he’s Gabriel Nassif, he calmly untapped and played his third Sensei’s Divining Top.

    “Must be,” said Gindy.

    Gindy then resolved his own Top and a Tarmogoyf, and Nassif had a Brainstorm end of turn to set up a Countrbalance on his own turn. Nassif had the controlling combo again, but was once again facing a fat green creature on the board, albeit one he could actually target.

    The Tarmogoyf took Nassif to 14, and Gindy tried a second, which resolved. Sower, however, took it right away.

    Gindy then resolved a Counterbalance on his own turn to level the playing field. Nassif’s Threads of Disloyalty was out of Counterbalance reach, however, and stole Tarmogoyf. Nassif swung for seven and passed with lethal on the board. When Gindy couldn’t resolve a Nimble Mongoose the following turn, he offered his hand to last week’s Pro Tour champ.

    Gabriel Nassif defeats Charles Gindy 2-1

  • Saturday, 4:45 p.m. - Shards in Legacy
    by Blake Rasmussen
  • While everyone is always excited to break out their dual lands, Goblin Lackeys, Force of Wills, and Hecatombs (I saw it, I swear), a number of new cards from Shards of Alara and Conflux have made their way all the way to Legacy.

    The talk of the weekend was, of course, Progenitus (via Natural Order), and as of round five the 10/10 had several players lurking hear the top tables. Pregenitus decks came in several variations, as some players tacked it (alongside Werebear and Dryad Arbor) onto Threshold/Counterbalance decks. Others (like Nate Price’s round one opponent) tried to run out the monster turn two through various elves and fast mana, often combined with a Survival of the Fittest engine.

    Relic of Progenitus, however, has been the biggest news, and probably the most played, Shards or Conflux card on the weekend. Relic has been a replacement or a supplement to Tormod’s Crypt and other graveyard-hating sideboard cards. Some even justify running it maindeck, since it cycles in a pinch.

    Ad Nauseam found its place in Legacy immediately upon its release in Storm-based decks, and many players have been seen paying five mana and nearly all their life to draw upwards of 20 cards. Finding enough cards to produce a lethal Tendrils of Agony after that is fairly academic.

    Prison-style decks have a smattering of showings here and there, helped out by a few Shards and Conflux beauties. Oblivion Ring is an answer to, well, pretty much anything (except, of course, Progenitus). Elspeth, Knight Errant provides a tough-to-kill win condition, as well as food for Smokestack and Tanglewire, and seems to be standard in White Prison lists. Path to Exile has seen play, but usually in its “four more Swords” role, as in Jaime Cano’s Grand Prix Trial-winning deck. Another GPT-winning deck by Fredrick Chang played a single Sigil of Distinction in his mono-blue Faerie-Stompy deck, a deck that runs cheap blue creatures with bonuses and supplements them with explosive equipment like Sword of Light and Shadow

    Other cards have helped supplement old strategies. Elvish Visionary is fairly common in combo and non-combo elf decks alike, and Wild Nacatl has seen play in both Zoo-ish decks and alongside Ponder and friends as a more reliably large Nimble Mongoose. Other aggro decks have readily adopted Tidehollow Sculler and Hellspark Elemental as well, both likely ports from Extended decks.

    Finally, Conflux was spotted on the floor, but in a list of 68 cards. We’re pretty sure it’s not the hot new tech, but we applaud someone for trying.

  • Round 5 Feature Match: Luis Scott-Vargas vs. Carlos Romao
    by Bill Stark
  • “Do you have a die?” Carlos asked his opponent Luis as they sat down in the feature match area.

    “No,” he responded, adding “do you?” When it became apparent neither of the two had a means of randomly determining who would begin the game, they turned to the crowd of onlookers for help.

    “Do you guys need dice?” A bystander asked, offering up a six-sider. Luis managed to win the die roll, opening on the play and a Polluted Delta. The California standout is on an absolute tear over the past few months, with a Pro Tour win, Pro Tour finals appearance, Pro Tour Top 16, and two Grand Prix titles to his resume. Were it not for Gabriel Nassif’s Pro Tour win over Luis in Kyoto just one week ago, there’s no doubt he would have claimed the title of “best player on Tour” with no resistance.

    Former World Champion Carlos Romao.
    Be that as it may, Carlos Romao was certainly no slouch. The former World Champion spent his early turns cycling lands, playing Mox Diamond, and setting a Chalice of the Void on one, a solid start for his Aggro Loam deck. Luis Scott-Vargas played right through, dropping a Dark Confidant on the second turn and a Trygon Predator the turn after. The 2/3 Dissension uncommon gave Carlos pause, as he’d need to come up with an answer or the critter would munch his Mox and Chalice.

    An answer he had, in the form of Devastating Dreams for three. Luis waited for his opponent to finish discarding three cards for the spell, then nodded, allowing it to resolve. The play left Romao with his Mox and Chalice on one, but he immediately began skipping land drops. Unfortunately for him, his opponent wasted no time getting back on the board, dropping a Dark Confidant followed by back-to-back Tarmogoyfs. Thanks to the Devastating Dreams, the Goyfs were gigantic, and LSV made a heads-up play to give them +1/+1 by dropping Sensei’s Divining Top. With Carlos’ Chalice on one, the Top was countered and added a new card type to the graveyard. Romao nodded at the play, then conceded, too far behind to catch up and staring down too many giant monsters.

    Luis Scott-Vargas 1, Carlos Romao 0

    The second game kicked off with a very aggressive start from Carlos Romao, who played a sac-land to find Taiga, a Mox Diamond discarding Volrath’s Stronghold, then used his two mana to play Life from the Loam to get his lands right back. Luis Scott-Vargas wasn’t impressed, opening on a first-turn Relic of Progenitus which he immediately used to nail the Life from the Loam and set his opponent’s primary game plan back a step.

    Romao didn’t let on how painful the play was for him, instead re-playing his Wooded Foothills from the first turn, then a Chalice of the Void set to one. Scott-Vargas was happy to play Counterbalance, then Tarmogoyf a turn later, but the Brazilian was ready for the troublesome Coldsnap enchantment. He flipped Krosan Grip onto the board, killing the enchantment after Luis failed to reveal a three-drop to counter from the top of his deck. The split second ability of Krosan Grip meant Luis wasn’t able to respond with activated abilities, but because Counterbalance‘s effect is a triggered ability, he got one usage out of it to try to get lucky in countering the Grip. It was a bummer for him to miss, but the heads-up pro didn’t let the Disenchant sneak by without at least attempting to stop it.

    Countryside Crusher soon joined the team of Carlos Romao, and grew into a 6/6. Luis answered by playing a second Tarmogoyf, but his board position wasn’t that great as Carlos just fired right back with a Tarmogoyf of his own and a Dark Confidant. Trying to gain some traction, Luis played Trygon Predator but an attack from the Crusher put the totals at 16-12 in Carlos’ favor.

    The 2/3 Predator got through in the air, eating the Chalice of the Void set to one and allowing Luis to play two copies of Sensei’s Divining Top in one turn. Romao opted to use a second Krosan Grip to blow up Scott-Vargas’ Relic of Progenitus, then attacked with both his Crusher and Tarmogoyf. Luis quickly put both of his own ‘Goyfs in front of his opponent’s, then used Swords to Plowshares to off the Crusher. Romao split the damage from his Tarmogoyf amongst both of the American’s, indicating a possible post-combat Devastating Dreams.

    Instead, Carlos used Burning Wish to find Morningtide after exiting the attack step. By removing both graveyards from the game, Carlos ensured the death of his opponent’s Tarmogoyfs and ended the turn well ahead on land with Dark Confidant on the board and Life from the Loam in his hand. Luis wasn’t exactly out of things, however, as he dropped a Counterbalance to join his Sensei’s Divining Tops on the table and blew up Romao’s Mox Diamond by attacking with Trygon Predator. By the time Scott-Vargas passed the turn, it was 14-10 in his favor.

    Krosan Grip hit the table for Carlos, who used the instant to blow up Counterbalance. That freed him up to start getting back on the Life from the Loam train, and he soon found himself a Tarmogoyf as well. Naturally Romao’s ‘Goyf came a turn after the Pro Tour-Berlin champ had played one of his own, but the board was soon cleared entirely of creatures as Carlos used Devastating Dreams to Armageddon Luis and Wrath both of the players. With his opponent having access to Life from the Loam, four mana, and Volrath’s Stronghold to start recurring Tarmogoyfs, Luis Scott-Vargas conceded.

    Luis Scott-Vargas 1, Carlos Romao 1

    The opening turns of the third game were all about card drawing; Luis Scott-Vargas plopped Sensei’s Divining Top onto the board while Carlos Romao made Dark Confidant, accelerated thanks to an opening Mox Diamond. Luis played the second half of his “combo” on his second turn by dropping Counterbalance, then snagged a free counter from it as he blindly revealed a Dark Confidant on the top of his deck to counter Carlos Romao’s attempt to Burning Wish.

    LSV’s hot streak keep going?
    Luis played the 2/1 when he was given the turn back, then passed with a Polluted Delta up. The two pros had thirteen minutes left to finish their match, so both went on the warpath with their Dark Confidants. That left the totals 14-13 in Luis’ favor, and he played Tormod’s Crypt to threaten Romao’s valuable resource: the graveyard. The Brazilian didn’t seem overly concerned, attacking one of his opponent’s valuable resources in lands by using back to back Wastelands to keep Luis’ mana flow tied up.

    The two continued with attacks putting the totals at 10-8 in Luis’ favor when Carlos attempted a Seismic Assault. The American took a spin of his Top and used a sac-land to try to find a way to prevent the troublesome enchantment from resolving, but nothing was forthcoming and the Assault stuck. Carlos immediately pitched a land to blow up Luis’ Confidant, then passed the turn.

    Krosan Grip managed to find its way to the American’s side of the table, and he used it to dispatch the Assault, but he still needed to find a solution to the 2/1 Confidant beating him down. He did exactly that as he plucked a Tarmogoyf from the top of his deck and cast it. The tables had turned! Now it was up to Carlos to find a solution to the very large ‘Goyf, or risk taking lethal damage as his life total had fallen to just 5. He didn’t find a removal spell, but at least he had a Dark Confidant to block.

    Or so he thought. Luis spun his Top again at the end of Carlos’ turn, finding a Sower of Temptation. The 2/2 allowed him to steal the chump blocker, paving the way for him to attack for lethal and the match.

    Luis Scott-Vargas 2, Carlos Romao 1

  • Saturday, 6:25 p.m. - Photo Essay
    by Bill Stark
  • Cedric Phillips is all business on top…

    …all party on bottom.

    Luis Scott-Vargas and Gerry Thompson, an imposing site at any Grand Prix.

    Head Judge Jason Ness gives a shout out to his students at Bow Valley High School.

    A player who knows how to ride in style.

    Tournament Organizer Alan Hochman models the spiffy GP-Chicago playmat, free to players!

    Special guest: artist Rob Alexander.

  • Round 6 Feature Match: AJ Sacher vs. Ari Lax
    by Blake Rasmussen
  • AJ Sacher and Ari Lax are up-and-coming players and writers who find themselves at 4-1 slightly past the midway point of the giant GP. Ari was fresh off a narrow miss in Kyoto, where he finished in 15th place, missing out on the Top 8 near the end. AJ Sacher meanwhile had placed as high at 19th at Berlin and has been chronicling his adventures for TCGplayer.com as of late.

    Both players were slightly surprised to find themselves in a feature match.

    “Are we serious the best people? Are we seriously the feature match?” wondered Ari. “I’m like 0-x in feature matches. And by 0-x I mean 0-2.”

    Both players had a gift for the gab as they chatted about past formats at lightning speed while shuffling up, recalling long-gone metagame with ease.

    Ari Lax
    They brought radically different decks to Chicago, with AJ opting for the long-game potential of Survival of the Fittest, while Ari sleeved up Dredge.

    Game 1
    AJ kept his six and led with Dryad Arbor.

    “Yeah, I know what you’re playing,” offered Ari, who ended his turn with no play in order to discard Golgari Grave-Troll, signaling he was running the dredge engine.

    AJ followed up with his own engine in a turn two Survival of the Fittest, while Ari merely dredged and played a Tarnished Citadel. The Citadel wasn’t long for the word, however, as AJ sent it to the Wasteland the following turn, then discarded Dark Confidant to search up the quirky dredge-slaying Spore Fog and play it.

    Ari dredged, played a Cephalid Colesium and again had to pass the turn with no action. AJ attacked and ran out Tarmogoyf, who was rather large thanks to the dredge action on the other side of the board. AJ merely drew and discarded before, once again, passing back.

    A Cabal Therapy from AJ named Breakthrough, missed, but saw two Bridge from Below, one Narcomoeba, a Dread Return and three dredgers. AJ then used Survival to find Squee, Goblin Nabob to jump start his engine. Flashback on Therapy hit Golgari Thug, before Ari once again played draw-go.

    With his engine running on all cylinders, AJ found and played Dark Confidant, which revealed a damaging Wasteland the following turn. After dredging nothing of consequence, Ari scooped.

    “I think I actually want to board in 15 cards,” said Ari. “That did not end well.”

    AJ Sacher 1 Ari Lax 0

    Game 2
    Again while shuffling up the two traded thoughts on the very match-up they were playing.

    “How’s your match-up here?” Ari asked. Whether he was fishing for information or just continuing to chatter is hard to say.
    “Eh, it’s alright.”
    “Better when you win Game 1, I bet,” to which AJ obviously could nod in agreement.

    Again AJ has to trade seven for six, while Ari keeps and leads with a Gemstone Mine and nothing. AJ has the first turn Aether Vial, while Ari kicks off the dredging with an end of turn Firestorm. However, the next turn dredge reveals nothing relevant and Ari passes the turn back.

    AJ Sacher
    Like Game 1, AJ played Cabal Therapy naming Breakthrough, which missed, but revealed Firestorm and some dredgers. The following turn dredge revealed multiple dredgers, but Ari was still forced to pass the turn back without another play, all the while attempting to guess what hate he had coming his way.

    Yixlid Jailer?”
    “Yup,” offered AJ with a shrug. “Go.”
    “So obvious. Right after I used my Firestorms to keep going.”

    Over the next few turns, Aether Vial kicked out a Tarmogoyf and a Viridian Zealot to start attacking, while Ari only had an anemic-looking Narcomeba holding back the Jailer.

    “Ugh,” said Ari, “I have no clue what I’m doing in this format.”

    When AJ brought out Magus of the Moon to go with Yxilid Jailer, Ari saw no more outs without his two Firestorms and scooped up his cards.

    “Yeah, that was pretty much just him failing to get there,” offered AJ after the match.

    AJ Sacher defeats Ari Lax 2-0

  • Saturday, 7:45 p.m. - Old Pros, Same Game
    by Blake Rasmussen
  • When Grand Prixs feature old cards, old players come out in droves to play with their favorites. This includes a number of former pros, names you may or may not remember, from days when, for instance, no one was blogging about them and posting pictures for the entire world to see.

    Ah, the good old days.

    But we were able to catch up with a few of the old guard as they came to game in Chicago.

    Scott Lewis
    Scott Lewis is an Iowan who was part of a “Justice League” long before a few certain judges grabbed the name. Scott was a regular on the early tour, often qualifying season after season by PTQ if necessary. He said his last pro tour was “In Chicago, though I’m not sure when,” (bets are it might have been Bob Maher’s Chicago PT) and his last high-level event of any kind was the Madison Team Trios Grand Prix a few years back.

    For Lewis, still an occasional FNMer and local player, it’s the people who bring him out. Friends he hasn’t seen for years were what drew him this year.

    “It was the location that brought me too,” added Lewis. “I would have played anything.”

    Even though he’s long removed from his days on the Tour, Lewis never really quit.

    “I’ve never thought of myself as not playing Magic,” said Lewis.

    Eric Froehlich
    Eric Froehlich, on the other hand, hasn’t played Magic in the past three years despite enjoying a breakout season in 2002 and being a storied member of the old “Magic Colony” (think Beach House). His last Pro Tour was, like Lewis, a team event, this time at Pro Tour Charleston.

    So why come back after so much time?

    Force of Will. I have cast it since I was 12,” he said of the ubiquitous blue instant.

    Craig Wescoe
    Craig Wescoe is a pros pro, as his name came up repeatedly when other “modern” pros were asked. And even if they didn’t know him, they knew who he was.

    Wescoe has recently hopped back on the train, qualifying for Pro Tour Hawaii just last weekend by winning a PTQ in Indianapolis, the same place he played in his last Grand Prix. For Wescoe, he never really quit, he just sort of took a break.

    “No one ever quits Magic,” he said. “There was a period of a few years dedicated to academics in there.”

    He’s excited for Hawaii, as well, as he rattled of the names of a few other old pros who have qualified recently, including Osyp Lebedowicz and Brian Kibler.

  • Round 7 Feature Match: Gerry Thompson vs. David Caplan
    by Bill Stark
  • “Any chance you’d want to switch sides?” Gerry Thompson asked his Canadian opponent as they sat down for their feature match, clearly biased as to which side of the table he wanted to sit on.

    “Sure,” the amiable Caplan responded, getting up to rotate. From the peanut gallery, Hall of Famer and former Pro Tour-Champion Bob Maher was aghast.

    “Don’t let him sit on the side he’s most comfortable on!” The Wisconsite jokingly exclaimed.

    Could Gerry Thompson win a second Grand Prix title?
    Thompson is a well respected American pro originally from Minnesota with a host of Grand Prix Top 8s on his resume. He finally managed to seal the deal in 2008 with a win at Grand Prix-Denver. David Caplan hasn’t had as much success on the Pro Tour scene, but is a respected Vintage and Legacy player with Top 8s in the respective formats’ World Championships. The old format pro opened aggressively with Nimble Mongoose followed by Tarmogoyf.

    Gerry T wasn’t about to allow the ‘Goyf onto the board, using Brainstorm to find himself a Daze and attempting to take advantage of the fact Caplan had used all his mana to play the Future Sight rare. Caplan seemed nonplussed, revealing a Daze of his own, sticking the Tarmogoyf, and ending the turn with two creatures and a land to Gerry’s now empty board.

    Thompson tried to rebuild with a Sensei’s Divining Top followed by a Tarmogoyf, but David interfered using Force of Will to counter Gerry’s creature. When Caplan played a second Mongoose and continued on the warpath, Gerry soon found himself at just 8 life. He furiously spun his Top to find a solution, ending up with Dark Confidant on the board as a chump blocker.

    “That’s right!” Bob Maher, the Invitational winner depicted on the card, said from the peanut gallery.

    “Yeah, a lot of good you’re doing me!” Gerry responded.

    Caplan smiled at the two players’ antics, but spent most of his turn figuring out the best method of killing his opponent. He played Brainstorm, giving him a count of five cards in his graveyard, then bashed in with his team, sending Gerry to 2. A post-combat Nimble Mongoose from David got a Force of Will from Gerry, dropping the Midwest all-star to just 1, but Caplan had a Daze to force his third ‘Goose onto the board and send the match to a second game.

    David Caplan 1, Gerry Thompson 0

    Sensei’s Divining Top was first on the board, entering play on the very first turn for Gerry Thompson. His opponent fired right back with Nimble Mongoose while Gerry made a second-turn Dark Confidant. Caplan’s Force of Will targeting the 2/1 met a muffled cry of “No!” from spectator Bob Maher, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Ravnica rare from going to the graveyard straight off the stack. It looked like Thompson had few in any counters in hand.

    Caplan decided to test that theory, dropping Wasteland then playing Tarmogoyf. The beatstick hit the table unmolested, and threatened to quickly send the match to Caplan in similar fashion to the first if Thompson didn’t come up with some defense. Trying to do exactly that, Gerry played Thoughtseize, nabbing a Nimble Mongoose from David’s hand, then played a Tarmogoyf of his own.

    A flurry of Wastelands was the next series of plays, with David Caplan using not one, not two, but three copies of the card to strand his opponent on just one land, an Underground Sea. Still, with Sensei’s Divining Top going and a Tarmogoyf holding down the fort, Gerry looked to be in good shape but David had a Force of Will to counter the Top after Gerry was forced to cash it in early and attempt to replay it.

    The two players fell into a pattern of draw-go, both on just two lands. Gerry attempted Dark Confidant, but it was countered by Spell Snare. A second copy of the card from Thompson was met with Fire of Fire/Ice fame, but Thompson had Force of Will to run cover and his 2/1 started putting him ahead in the card count. He even found a Wasteland of his own to give David a taste of his own land destruction medicine, leaving Caplan on just two lands.

    Gerry Thompson had seen a string of solid hits from a combination of Dark Confidant and his draw step, each time revealing a land to Bob and taking zero damage. Caplan appeared to be getting a bit disgruntled with his opponent’s good luck, but Thompson kept right on at it, revealing an Island to skip damage yet again. He added Counterbalance to his board of the Confidant and Tarmogoyf, and when Caplan played Nimble Mongoose, Gerry hit blindly off Counterbalance, revealing Swords to Plowshares for the free counter.

    A few turns later, Gerry managed to land Sensei’s Divining Top to complete his lock, and David looked all but out. When Gerry was able to present a relevant clock shortly after, Caplan packed it in for a third game.

    David Caplan 1, Gerry Thompson 1

    The two players started off with their favorite plays of the match so far, Gerry on Sensei’s Divining Top and David on Nimble Mongoose. The first two-drop on the board was Dark Confidant for Gerry Thompson, but when Caplan tried for a two-drop to call his own in Tarmogoyf, Thompson fired right back with Force of Will, countering the creature. A second Caplan Tarmogoyf resolved successfully.

    David Caplan, a master of “old” formats
    Of course, David’s Tarmogoyf wasn’t long for the world. Swords to Plowshares got rid of the creature for Gerry, and he followed up with Diabolic Edict to Nail David’s Nimble Mongoose. The life totals stood 19-15 in David’s favor, who used Lightning Bolt to kill Gerry’s Dark Confidant. With Sensei’s Divining Top going, and facing an opponent low on mana, Gerry tried to take advantage of the situation by playing a Tarmogoyf. Caplan had no counter for the critter, and it started munching on his life total, dropping him all the way to 15.

    Still, the wily Canuck wasn’t out of tricks. Gerry activated his Top to look at the top three cards of his deck, then responded with a sac land activation. That would allow him to search out a land, then look at the top three cards after doing so, seeing a fresh set for the following turn. David responded with Submerge targeting his opponent’s Tarmogoyf, putting the critter back on top of Gerry’s deck. Thompson tried to cash in his Top to draw the beater, but David was ready for that with a Stifle, and Gerry lost his attacker to the convoluted series of plays.

    Thompson continued trying to draw down David’s resources with his Top. David spent a good portion of his cards dealing with back-to-back Counterbalances from Gerry, and it left him with little more than lands. Gerry, meanwhile, had two cards in hand, a sac land, and an active Divining Top. It didn’t look good for David Caplan, but he wasn’t going down without a fight. A topdecked Brainstorm yielded some goods, and he managed to stick a fully-powered Nimble Mongoose.

    The 3/3 immediately went on the aggro, dropping Gerry to 10 over the course of a few turns and Thompson found himself again on the backfoot. He used Sensei’s Divining Top to find Dark Confidant, which he attempted to play. David used his final two cards to Force of Will, and Gerry furiously used Top to find help, cashing one in and playing a second. The Mongoose munched him to 4 life, two attacks away from a victory for Caplan.

    Sower of Temptation hit the board for Gerry, but would be little more than a chump blocker against his opponent’s Mongoose. David plucked a juicy Brainstorm from the top of his deck, down to a single card in hand, and quickly played it. He then attacked, and Gerry took the damage rather than waste his 2/2 blocking; he fell to just 1 life. Was it possible Gerry was going to lose this game after seeming to be so far ahead for so long?

    The Sower of Temptation was moved to the red zone to chump block, and David flipped the card he had drawn for the turn: Lightning Bolt. Gerry checked his life total, looked at the Swords to Plowshares in his hand, and nodded in defeat.

    “You’re kidding me! You didn’t draw anything from that Top?” David asked, shocked.

    David Caplan 2, Gerry Thompson 1

  • Saturday, 8:38 p.m. – Owen Turtenwald Saves the Day
    by Bill Stark
  • Let’s pretend for a moment that it’s Round 3 of the largest North American Grand Prix in history. You sit down to play your match, pile shuffle your deck and, horror of horrors, realize there are 11 cards missing from your it! In a panic, you recall that during your Round 2 match, you forgot to pick up your graveyard after the match and are now missing those cards. What do you do?

    If you’re Illinois native Noah Swartz, you accept a game loss for your error, then frantically rush around the tournament hall to see if you can find 11 replacements for the missing cards! That’s exactly what happened, but as Noah moved from the Lost and Found to each dealer in turn, it began to dawn on him that he probably wouldn’t be able to find the replacements in time. Enter Owen Turtenwald.

    Busy enjoying his third of three byes, Owen, who made the finals of the last Legacy Grand Prix in Columbus, was surprised when a winded Swartz rushed up to him. “Owen, give me your deck!” The young player huffed, while Owen looked on with a raised eyebrow. It turns out Owen and Noah were playing the exact same seventy five cards, making Owen’s deck a perfect replacement for Noah’s for one round. Turtenwald shipped the deck, then went off to hunt down additional copies of cards for his friends. That gave Swartz just enough time to come back from the 0-1 hole he dug himself and win the match.

    Owen Turtenwald; unassuming hero (at least for Noah Swartz) of Grand Prix-Chicago!

    Owen Turtenwald (L) saved the day for his friend Noah Swartz.

  • Round 8 Feature Match: Gavin Verhey vs. Michael Jacob
    by Blake Rasmussen
  • Michael Jacob is the reigning U.S. Champion and World’s Team Champion (alongside luminaries Paul Cheon and Sam Black). Gavin Verhey is a longtime junior-level competitor who broke through at Pro Tour Berlin. The winner was guaranteed to make day two, as both players stood at 6-1 after seven long rounds, making their pairing at the feature match table fairly predictable.

    Said Verhey, “I said down and I said to Micheal ‘I’m waiting for the feature match announcement.’ And there it was.”

    Gavin Verhey.
    Despite their success, neither player was particularly enthused about the format.

    “All the decks in legacy suck,” said Michael.
    “It’s true,” quipped Verhey.
    “All my extended decks could beat all these legacy decks.”
    “It’s true, I built a faeries deck that was almost Extended Faeries.”

    Game 1
    Michael won the roll, kept, and led with Aether Vial off a Taiga, while Gavin played Plains, go.

    A Survival of the Fittest was Force of Willed on Michael’s second turn, while Gavin merely played Mishra’s Factory, go.

    The second Survival from Jacob resolved, and was immediately used to pitch Squee, Goblin Nabob, fetching out Mesmeric Fiend.

    Gavin cycled Eternal Dragon in Michael’s end step, and Michael Vialed in the Mesmeric Fiend on Gavin’s turn, taking Swords to Plowshares. Gavin revealed a hand full of lands, Wrath of God, and Force of Will.

    On his upkeep, Squee jumped back into Michael’s hand, then jumped right back out to find Genesis before a Cabal Therapy on Force of Will continued to strip Gavin’s dwindling hand.

    With little else to do, Gavin swung with his Mishra’s Factory into an Aether Vial with two counters and Survival mana up. Michael responded by Survivaling for Tarmogoyf and Vialing it in. Gavin’s draw step had yielded a Swords to Plowshares, allowing the Factory to get through un-’Goyfed.

    Michael again spent his upkeep using Survival, searching up Anger and Tarmogoyf. The Flashback on Cabal Therapy removed Gavin’s Wrath of God, clearing the way for Tarmogoyf and the Fiend to attack for six, sending Gavin to 12.

    When his next draw step yielded nothing, Gavin simply opted to move on to Game 2.

    Game 2
    With no mulligans, Jacob made the first play of the game with a turn two Mesmeric Fiend. Brainstorm hid some cards in response, and the fiend took Enlightened Tutor, leaving two Moats in Gavin’s hand, among other things.

    What Gavin hid was revealed the next turn as he played Sensei’s Divining Top and Wasteland before passing the turn back. The Top, however, wasn’t long for the world as Michael had Krosan Grip, a popular sideboard card this weekend.

    Gavin’s next play was an Aura of Silence, hoping to slow down the Survival engine. Jacob simply swung with the Fiend and played Eternal Witness, returning Krosan Grip. Gavin played draw go, missing important land drop number four to power out his Moats. Jacob swung Gavin to 14 before a Harmonic Sliver destroyed the Aura of Silence.

    Shrugging, Gavin simply ran out Moat #1 after hitting land #4, aware of the Krosan Grip in Michaels, um, grip. However, Jacob, sensing a window of opportunity, chose instead to resolve Survival of the Fittest, activating it immediately to search up a Birds of Paradise. Naturally, Squee, Goblin Nabob was the creature discarded.

    Gavin wasn’t out yet, as an Engineered Explosives destroyed Survival and released his Enlightened Tutor from the Mesmeric Fiend. But Michael simply replaced the lost discard with a Duress, revealing Humility, two Counterspell, Moat, and Swords to Plowshares. In order to save everyone the rules headaches, he took the Humility.

    Michael Jacob.
    “I suspected you had that,” offered Michael before playing a second Survival of the Fittest.

    Gavin showed that he too could search his library for silver bullets, with an upkeep Enlightened Tutor fetching Crucible of Worlds, which allowed him to start recurring Flooded Strand.

    However, Michael fired back by searching up both Mesmeric Fiend and Magus of the Moon, while Gavin had only one land available and couldn’t counter. Fiend predictably took Swords to Plowshares, clearing the way for Magus of the Moon. The Magus left Gavin with only an Island and a Plains for non-red mana.

    The Krosan Grip from the start of the game then made a return appearance and destroyed Moat. Michael attacked for three and passed the turn.

    Another Enlightened Tutor found Circle of Protection: Green, which, red mana or not, could severely hamper Jacob’s offense...if he didn’t have Krosan Grip. He did, and he played it during his upkeep before passing priority, earning a trip to day two.

    Michael Jacob defeats Gavin Verhey 2-0

  • Round 9 Feature Match: Mark Herberholz vs. Nick Wise
    by Bill Stark
  • Nick Wise is no stranger to the feature match area, receiving not one but two such matches at Grand Prix-Kansas City. That said, it was his opponent Mark Herberholz hogging the spotlight from the peanut gallery as they sat down to battle in the final round of Swiss play. Mark, or Heezy as he’s known to his friends, is a former Pro Tour champion emerging victorious in Honolulu just a few seasons ago. That format was Standard, but the players were awash in a world of Legacy for Grand Prix-Chicago.

    Rookie Nick Wise takes on the veteran pro for Day 2.
    The two settled in to the first game, the match an elimination bout as they had both entered the round at 6-1-1. All 6-2s would be making Day 2, so their draw was a functional loss and either needed a win to proceed to Sunday action. Wise got things started with a Mother of Runes and Figure of Destiny off of Plains and Wasteland. Herberholz led with standard Counterbalance/Top lands in the form of Polluted Delta and Island.

    The Figure was soon on the rampage as a 2/2, joined on the table by Umezawa’s Jitte. Mark did his best to stay in the game playing Counterbalance but could only watch silently as the Jitte was equipped to Figure and the two combined dropped his life to 9. With Mother of the Runes active, Mark would need two removal spells simultaneously to deal with both creatures. He played Thirst for Knowledge, carefully examining the top three cards of his deck. Not happy with what he saw, he conceded to a somewhat surprised Nick Wise.

    Nick Wise 1, Mark Herberholz 0

    Mark kicked the second game off with a one-drop in the form of Sensei’s Divining Top, but Nick also had a one-drop in the form of Duress. The discard spell, representing a color not seen from Wise’s deck in the first game, stole a Counterbalance from Heezy and prevented the Pro Tour champ from establishing his deck’s combo lock on the second turn. Wise followed up his first Duress with a second, but it was countered by Mark’s Spellstutter Sprite. That opened the doors for Nick to land Aether Vial, which would provide him access to free creatures down the road, protected from Mark’s counterspells.

    It was Herberholz, however, who was on the war path using Spellstutter Sprite to start getting aggressive against Wise. Mark cashed in his Top for the top card of his deck, then discarded it to a Thirst for Knowledge. Nick capitalized by Extirpating the pesky artifact, shutting Mark out of hitting it for the rest of the game.

    That left Herberholz with little choice but to stay on the offensive, and he did exactly that playing Venser, Shaper Savant to bounce his opponent’s Aether Vial. Nick responded by putting a free Figure of Destiny into play, then continued taking damage from the flying Spellstutter Sprite. The game was looking bad for him as Mark was way out ahead on land and had managed to find an Umezawa’s Jitte to suit up his Spellstutter Sprite. Equipping the artifact to the 1/1 flyer meant Wise’s Mother of Runes was soon dead to a -1/-1 activation.

    Trying to stay in it, Nick played Jotun Grunt, and even managed to connect during an attack, leaving the totals at 16-12 in Herberholz’ favor. Mark fired right back with a Vendilion Clique, but found his Spellstutter Sprite dead to a Nick Wise Swords to Plowshares. He didn’t seem to care, equipping his Jitte to Vendilion Clique and bashing Nick to 5. Nick got right back in to the red zone himself, putting Mark at 4, but the young Nebraska player was facing a lethal counter attack. When Mark didn’t forget to turn his flyer sideways, Nick conceded.

    Nick Wise 1, Mark Herberholz 1

    A first-turn Aether Vial from Nick Wise was met with Force of Will from Mark Herberholz, who removed a Daze from the game to pay the alternative casting cost of the card. Wise shrugged nonchalantly, then played a Figure of Destiny on his second turn. Mark had Sensei’s Divining Top for his play, passing back to Wise with only a single blue mana open.

    Dark Confidant came down for Nick, the Ravnica rare a popular feature match denizen on the weekend. That merited a spin of the Top for Herberholz, but he didn’t find what he was looking for and the 2/1 resolved successfully. Instead of a counter, however, Mark revealed he did have an answer to the sneaky Wizard using Swords to Plowshares on his turn to answer the Invitational card before it gave Wise any free draws. Mark then got on the board with a creature of his own, playing Vendilion Clique. The play didn’t come with out cost, as Nick used a window to Extirpate Mark’s Force of Wills, nabbing one of the counters from Herberholz’ hand in the process.

    The next plays centered around two casting cost spells with Nick resolving an Umezawa’s Jitte while Heezy cashed in his Divining Top to play Counterbalance. Once he re-played his artifact the following turn, he was going to have his lock established and the world would be looking up for him. Of course, considering the fact Nick Wise was still stuck on two lands well in to the mid game while Mark had more lands and more cards in hand, it was already looking pretty bad for the youngster.

    Mark Herberholz looks to squeeze in to Day 2.
    Heezy used his own copy of Umezawa’s Jitte to legend rule Nick’s, then spun his Top with a sac land to Counterbalance an attempted Tidehollow Sculler from Wise. Turn after turn Nick tried to maneuver a spell onto the board, and each time Mark was able to spin his Top into the right converted mana cost to stymie all those efforts. Sensing the coast was clear, Mark dropped a Vendilion Clique to join his Mutavault in the red zone. Wise fell to 20 after gaining life from Jitte and a Swords to Plowshares.

    The 5-point clock Herberholz had put together with Vendilion Clique and Mutavault became a 3-point clock as Nick used Wasteland to kill his opponent’s creature-land. Unfortunately for Nick, a second copy of the Morningtide standout was waiting for his opponent, and he was soon at 10 life. When his draws continued yielding no action he could finagle through Mark’s Counterbalance/Top combo, the Nebraska player fell to the Faerie and creature-land in defeat.

    Mark Herberholz 2, Nick Wise 1

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