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Grand Prix Costa Rica
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Sunday, 10:00 a.m. - Drafting with Ben Stark

by Nate Price

"This deck could have been a masterpiece. Give me a couple of Centaur Coursers..."

Seated atop the standings, Ben Stark headed up a powerful pod, including the player just to his left, his eventual Round 9 opponent, Shuhei Nakamura. Stark is renowned as a great drafter. He consistently puts up stellar performances in the Draft rounds of Pro Tours and is often looked to as a resident Draft expert when testing with team ChannelFireball. One thing I enjoy about him is that he understands what he is doing so well, and is very eloquent when explaining things that may otherwise seem complex.

Watching his draft, he was immediately faced with a difficult decision. His opening pack had the powerful sorcery Talrand's Invocation...as well as the bane of all Drakes everywhere: Silklash Spider. Stark mulled over this decision for the full amount of time before choosing the Spider.

"This was a tough pick. In general, green is the best color, because it has the most playable and powerful cards, and blue is the worst. But you can't let that color your pick. Talrand's Invocation is a very powerful card. Honestly, if this had been any green card that is even slightly worse than this, like a Centaur Courser, which is still very good, I'd have taken the Invocation. Plus, I didn't like the idea of taking the blue card and then passing the best card against blue to Shuhei [Nakamura], who is going to be my first-round opponent. It was only a minor thought, since Shuhei is going to be a tough match regardless and I have to plan for all three rounds, not just one, but I'd be lying if I said the thought didn't cross my mind."

In the end, the Spider ended up becoming the first card in Stark's pile. His next pick afforded him a decision worth mentioning, easy as it was for him to make. His pack contained Searing Spear, Faerie Invaders, and Centaur Courser. It's worth noting that after passing the Invocation to Nakamura, the Invaders didn't even get brought to the front of the pack. Stark knew that Nakamura was going to take the Invocation and be blue, and there was no sense in making both of their decks worse to hook Nakamura and then switch. Instead, he chose to abandon any thought of blue and figure out which color he was in the perfect seat for. The other interesting decision in this pack came down to the Courser versus the Spear. Stark revealed his general order for green commons to me after the draft, which is why I brought this up to him.

"It's generally Prey Upon over everything, then Centaur Courser, then Arbor Elf. Courser and Arbor Elf are both really good cards, and the Courser is the key to most green decks. But I would take the Searing Spear over it in a heartbeat. Good, cheap removal like that is so hard to come by, so there's not really much of a decision here. Yeah, I like the Courser a lot, but it's no Searing Spear."


Ben Stark

The next pack netted him a Battleflight Eagle out of a pack that had virtually no green or red cards, something that caused him to twist his lips a little in disappointment. His next few packs contained a Turn to Slag and a few mediocre green and red cards, such as Rummaging Goblin and Timberpack Wolf. There really didn't seem to be much in the way of quality green or red cards. At the end of the first pack, Stark's deck seemed a bit Spartan, with only about four or five cards that he was looking to include in his deck for sure, the rest all chaff.

He again looked disappointed as he opened his second pack. The only cards of note in the incredibly weak pack were a Mogg Flunkies and a Vampire Nighthawk. At this point, Stark considered the possibility of switching in to black, as the Nighthawk stayed at the top of the pile for a long time.

"I figured it was likely that I was in a great spot for red, and there are two colors that I really like to pair with red: black and green." In the end, however, Stark ended up shelving the Nighthawk in favor of the Flunkies.

His next pack held a wonderland of goodies. To his left, Nakamura had opened a pack with Predatory Rampage, Rancor, and Prey Upon, all of which Stark would love to have in his deck. He thought for a while about taking the Rancor, but ultimately decided on the game-breaking Instincts. This decision would have a lasting impact on the remainder of the draft, as he was now forced to pay even closer attention to the low end of his curve in order to take full advantage of the Instincts.

He picked up a few great cards for his deck over the net few picks, including a Furnace Whelp, Krenko's Command, and Arbor Elf. These cards were either powerful or cheap, providing him the early creatures required to fill out his curve, or the late game power to end games. Then he was faced with an interesting decision. He chose a Sunpetal Grove over a Farseek in the next pack.

"If I'm red/green, I often find myself splashing white. White's common removal, Pacifism, is much more splashable than black's Murder is. When I took the Grove, I wasn't even thinking about the Battleflight Eagle I'd gotten in the first pack, I was just prospecting for any Oblivion Rings or Pacifisms that I might see in the future."

The rest of the first pack brought him an Evolving Wilds and a Farseek to help his splash, as well as an Essence Drain out of a lackluster pack, just in case he might need it.

His final pack was going to need to contain some goodies if he was going to fashion a deck he was hapy with. During review, I counted thirteen or fourteen cards that Stark was likely happy to have in his pile. That left nine or ten cards that he needed to pick up in the final pack, a daunting task. Things started off incredibly well with a Thragtusk, Sentinel Spider, and Prey Upon in the first three picks. He had to take the Prey Upon over a Turn to Slag, a decision he made with curve considerations in mind.

"My deck was fairly heavy on five-drops already, especially after the first two picks in that pack, so I was leery about having another five-drop. Plus, if there's a situation where I'm a little behind on like turn six, which can happen when your deck is slower like mine, the fact that Prey Upon costs one can allow me to catch back up by playing a five-drop and then using Prey to kill off one of my opponent's creatures. That's a much bigger swing than if I had to use Turn to Slag to kill the biggest threat and then wait a whole turn to play my big guy."

Curve considerations came up frequently in our conversation during his build.

"As the draft goes on, and the number of picks you have remaining gets lower and lower, you have to be more and more concerned with the state of your curve. Early in the draft, you can just take the most powerful card because you don't have a curve yet and you still have so much time to create one. As each pack passes, however, you begin to put less value on the powerful, expensive cards, and more on the cards you need to flesh out your curve. In this draft, for example, if I'd seen a pack with a Sentinel Spider and an Elvish Visionary around the middle of pack three, I would have taken the Visionary without a thought, even though the Spider is a more powerful card. You should constantly be reevaluating potential picks from the reference point of what you need. If you need power, you take power. If you need two-drops, you take two-drops. And as the draft goes on, each later pick should make it that much more pertinent that you preferentially take what you need. It was in my mind the entire draft that my power level was pretty good, but my curve was bad, so I made adjustments to my card evaluations."

This seems like one point that many players don't seem to give a much weight as they should, which is why I brought it up with Stark. There is no hard and fast number where you have "too many" of a casting cost or "too many" of a card. It's all relative to the rest of the deck and what your choices are. For example, if you are short on early creatures, you might be fairly happy when you get a Crimson Muckwader late in the third pack, as Stark did. You might, in fact, be happy enough that you'd be willing to use your pair of Evolving Wilds and your Farseek to fetch out Swamps to power him up, as Stark did. And you might even be willing to let the card define your splash, bringing in Essence Drain, as Stark did.

"I really needed a two-drop, and this Muckwader was perfect. With all of the land searching I have, it lets me play one Swamp to turn him on, and it even lets me play this Drain from my card pool. You've got to really aggressively take Evolving Wilds because they allow you to do things like this, and you never know when you're going to need to. Since there are such powerful splashes out there, like Pacifism in white, it is beneficial to be able to take them and not have to worry about how you were going to pay for them. Without these Wilds, this splash wouldn't be happening, ad my deck would be much worse."

Overall, Stark was pleased with his deck, but still maintains that it is a few cards away from being a masterpiece.

"My deck is expensive, horrendously so. I have so many five-drops. But there's the chance I can fire off a Plummet or one of my Searing Spears on turn three or four to help me survive the early rush and get to my later drops. I do have a few good stalling cards to help me out. I really don't think this is a great deck for Predatory Rampage, but I can't not play it. I'm not sure. We'll see how it goes. Shuhei in the first round is going to be tough."

When I wished him good luck after our interview, he turned, smiled, and said, "Thanks. I'm going to need it."

 

Round 9 Feature Match - Shuhei Nakamura vs. Ben Stark

by Marc Calderaro

It's hard not to cover the last undefeated match-up anyway. There's inevitable tense build-up between players who've both been playing fantastically and have yet to meet on the battlefield. It becomes downright impossible not to cover such a match-up when the last two undefeated players are Ben Stark and Shuhei Nakamura. The stars of Draft Pod 1 made some strong decks and they planned on bashing them against one another until the better one was left standing. That player would be rewarded with a 9-0 record.

The drafts went well for them both and started off with a bang. Stark had a choice between Silklash Spider and Talrand's Invocation. He took the Spider and fed Nakamura the blue sorcery. Stark had good reasons for his choice (which I'm sure will be expounded in Nate's draft article following Stark's draft). The biggest one was just that he didn't want to start a blue deck, then pass his eventual opponent the best way to kill a blue deck – a repeatable Hurricane.

And so it went. Shuhei ended with a Blue-Black deck and Stark with a Red-Green, Gruul-style. Stark has a scary amount of monsters, but never discount the trickery of Dimir. It only takes a Mark of the Vampire on a decent creature, or really anything with evasion, to seal up a game in short order.


Shuhei Nakamura

Game 1

Shuhei started with an Island and Swamp and cast Essence Scatter on Ben Stark's first play – Rummaging Goblin. Nakamura made a 3/3 Primal Clay the following turn, then hemmed and hawed a big show about whether or not to attack into an empty board of Stark. He through he hands up, then collapsed onto the table in classic Nakamura fashion. He was playing around Yeva, Nature's Herald. Though he hadn't seen it during the draft, since Stark was playing Red-Green and had no plays on his first three turns, Shuhei thought it wise to play it safe. He didn't attack and passed back to Stark.

Stark took out the artifact with a Searing Spear and followed with a Fire Elemental. Nakamura cast an end-of-turn Faerie Invaders, suited it up with a Mark of the Vampire then swung in. The life totals jumped to 26-14 and Nakamura made a Knight of Infamy. If this board went unanswered, it would be lights out in about two turns.

However, Stark was ready with answers. Plummet nailed the Faeries and Prey Upon made the Elemental fight the smaller Knight to the advantage of the big scary monster spirit. Then Stark commenced the beat-down. Sentinel Spider, Elvish Visionary and Yeva's Forcemage all came down in quick succession. Even though the Japanese player had gained six extra life from his previous aura, it mattered little against twelve-power in board disadvantage.

Shuhei tallied up the incoming life-loss and went to the next game.

Ben Stark 1 – 0 Shuhei Nakamura


Ben Stark

Game 2

This game was over by about turn three. Shuhei had to mulligan and kept a gambling hand. He knew that he would have to get lucky to beat Ben's deck at all, so he wanted power over consistency. His gamble didn't play off.

With no correct land in the first few turns and a Timberpack Wolves and Reckless Brute from Stark, the Hall of Famer was losing life in chunks of five.

Crimson Muckwader came to play the next turn and Nakamura knew he had no response. This wasn't the best way to for Ben Stark to become the only undefeated player, but he'd take it.

Ben Stark 2 – 0 Shuhei Nakamura

 

Sunday, 12:00 p.m. - A Quick Look at Pod 2

by Marc Calderaro

In terms of name recognition, Pod 2 was the pod in the room. I felt a bit bad for Mexico's Victor Garcia, as he was a bit surrounded with some strong, known players. Starting from him the table went Christian Calcano, Max Tietze, David Ochoa, Pascal Maynard, David Scharfman, Miguel Gatica and Ryan Bogner. It's safe to say most of these people know how to draft M13. Which, of course, is what made it all the better to watch the draft fall apart.

Just about everyone wound up with a subpar-ish deck. The biggest issue was a total of five Green drafters at the table. Everyone had with some decent green, but not enough. Went I walked over to Tietze and started making notes about his deck, he tried to stop me. "You don't have to write about this one. Don't worry." Tietze was able to recover a bit with his fairly strong black component, but still lacked punch. A couple Murders and a Public Execution was going to have to do a lot of work for him.


David Ochoa

The Green was so dry David Ochoa, who had first-picked Elderscale Wurm, wasn't even able to play it. Though he still ended Red-Green, the triple-green color commitment was too strong for him. He settled for three Mindclaw Shaman, Silklash Spider and a Magmaquake for his top end. At least Ochoa knew it: "Green was way over-drafted. I got a bit lucky that Red was as open as it was. But I could've gone this color too." Ochoa pointed to his Artic Aven that wheeled all the way around the table in the first pack.

Oddly enough, Victor Garcia wound up with the most solid pile including a couple Murders and a Mutilate. And at least Ryan Bogner's deck had a solid plan. He laid out in front of me three Vastwood Gorger, a Kitesail, a Ring of Kalonia and two Mark of the Vampire. "This has a plan and has a way to get execute that plan. You can't ask for too much more than that." But both these players still longed for Blue.

The Blue theme was constant for the draft. Every drafter I talked to who played some degree of green all said they wished they'd drafted Blue. Ochoa, Scharfman, Tietze, and Bogner all talked about how they should have went into Blue earlier, and whoever had definitely made a good deck. Ironically, there were two Blue drafters at the table, and both of them were shaking their heads furiously during the building phase.


Max Tietze

Costa Rican Miguel Gatica's deck was a bit schizophrenic. He had a stellar Blue-Black Control top-end, but with a couple out-of-place Welkin Terns near the bottom and a missing Fog Bank or two. "I just need better small cards." He looked at the Walking Corpse currently sitting in his sideboard and worried whether he should put it in. He couldn't imagine where his cards had gone. But I knew.

They went directly into Quebecois Pascal Maynard's deck. Maynard had been trying to craft a fast White-Blue Aggro deck, and was almost there. Welkin Terns were conspicuously absent and in their place were two Fog Banks.

"I don't even know why I have to play these. What am I stalling into?" Maynard pointed at his top end which consisted of a few plucky flyers, but nothing that would turn a game around. "I went for the War Falcon deck, but the soldiers just disappeared." Though he still ended up playing two Falcons, he just couldn't justify the third with his low Soldier/Knight count.

So most of the drafters were envious of the people playing Blue, but the blue drafters split their cards too evenly and wound up with an aggressive deck with a control low end and a Control deck with an aggressive low end. And where did all the soldiers go?


Christian Calcano

They went to Christian Calcano, who stayed out of the fight, for the most part, and drafted White-Red. He had three Aven Squires (which Maynard would've killed for), and a bevy of red removal with Chandra's Fury, Searing Spear, etc. Calcano had a strong-looking aggressive deck that could catch any of these green mid-range decks off-balance and strike without warning. But even he was sniped a bit by the great red cards Ochoa had picked up for himself. I'm guessing Calcano wouldn't have minded a second Firewing Phoenix in his four-drop slot.

Overall, each deck matches up decently against one another, but it was quite humorous to watch each player claw and climb over one another, each pulling the other one down from the mountain, and all winding up at the same general elevation without even knowing it.

 

Round 10 Feature Match – Brian Kibler vs. Misha Gurevich

by Nate Price

"If you want to watch some fun Magic, you will love watching Misha's deck."

With these words, my coverage compatriot Marc Calderraro led me down this path. I wasn't sure what I was getting into, but I figured that, if nothing else, the kids at home would enjoy getting to see some action from Brian Kibler in the process.


Brian Kibler

Game 1

Kibler used a Farseek to fetch a Swamp, allowing him to start tossing out giant threats, starting with a Spiked Baloth and following that up with a Garruk's Packleader. Gurevich, meanwhile, took the smallball route, playing an Arbor Elf and an Elvish Visionary. When Kibler attacked with the Baloth, a Titanic Growth made the Visionary too big to fail, taking the Baloth down. Kibler followed that up with a Centaur Courser, drawing himself another card.

Gurevich brought out the big guns in another way. After having built up his mana as much as he had, he was able to cat a Diabolic Revelations for two, netting himself two mystery cards, sure to be revealed soon. Gurevich was at a lofty 16 life, but Kibler had some large beasts. Things got even nastier when he used Rise from the Grave to get back his Spiked Baloth, drawing a card from the Packleader. Gurevich dropped to 8. The two cards he got were going to have to be good.

The first of them was Liliana of the Dark Realms, which he immediately used to kill the Packleader. When Kibler attacked for the win on the following turn, Gurevich used a Cower in Fear to shrink Kibler's team, allowing him to trade his Visionary for the Baloth on Kibler's side. It also made Kibler's Fungal Srouting make a mere two tokens instead of three. Gurevich dropped to 4. A Bloodhunter Bat put him back up to 6, and an Elixir of Immortality threatened to put him higher and shuffle in all of the goodies that he had lost. Kiber attacked in once again, and Gurevich used a Murder to kill the Centaur and blocked one token, dropping to 4. Kibler was left with only a Deadly Recluse and a single Saproling in play.

Gurevich thought on his upkeep about whether or not to pop his Elixir, ultimately deciding that he had enough of his good cards in his graveyard to warrant the recursion. He ended up drawing into a Jayemdae Tome, but he still needed answers to the situation on the board. Little by little, Kibler's team chipped away as he added one more threat after the other. Gurevich's deck was not forthcoming with answers, even with him drawing two cards a turn. Within three turns, Kibler had swarmed over for the last points of damage, taking the first game of the match.

"I almost cast that Fungal Sprouting before I attacked that turn. Now that I see you had Cower in Fear, I'm glad I didn't," Kibler laughed after the game.

"Yeah, that would've been a nice turnaround," Gurevich agreed.

Brian Kibler 1 – Misha Gurevich 0


Misha Gurevich

Game 2

Gurevich started off the second game with a good defensive draw, playing Elixir of Immortality into Deadly Recluse, sure to give Kibler some pause during attacks. Kibler made a Recluse of his own, which was much less impressive on his side than Gurevich's. That is until it picked up a Ring of Kalonia. Gurevich continued to climb, using a Ravenous Rats to put a little speed bump in Kibler's way on the way to Liliana of the Dark Realms. He used her first ability to snag a Swamp from his deck and passed the turn back to Kibler.

This is where the power of Gurevich's Recluse shined. Kibler had to think for a while about his attacks on the following turn. He played a Duty-Bound Dead, but decided not to run his large Recluse into Gurevich's. Gurevich began to use Liliana to piece away Kibler's board, killing the Recluse. Kibler had an immediate answer with an Essence Drain to kill Liliana, but her Specter sprung forth to take her place. Gurevich found a window with Kibler tapped out right there to play Staff of Nim, killing the Duty-Bound Dead, clearing Kibler's board. Kibler's last card in hand met a Ravenous Rats, and he looked to be just about done. A few 6-point swings from Gurevich's Shade was enough to finish things off.

Brian Kibler 1 – Misha Gurevich 1

Game 3

"Liliana is a very good card," Kibler lamented as he shuffled up for the final game.

Kibler was on the play in the deciding game, and he got onto the board with a quick Deadly Recluse. Gurevich built the mana that his relatively expensive deck needed with a Farseek. Kibler once again had a Ring of Kalonia to put on his Recluse, allowing it to start growing on the following turn. He followed that up with a Spiked Baloth, opening up a large lead on Gurevich. For his part, Gurevich knocked a second Recluse out of Kibler's hand with a Ravenous Rats and made a Liliana's Shade to fight Kibler's creatures.

Kibler had a wonderful out, however, when he played a Kitesail and equipped it to the Baloth and attacked. Gurevich couldn't block the Baloth now, and he didn't want to block the Recluse, and his life looked to be in great peril. He was at 9 life, and Kibler had a five-power flier. Gurevich made a Vastwood Gorger to once again hold down the fort, but it would likely end up just trading with the Recluse. When Kibler attacked with his team, Gurevich stuck his Gorger in front of the Recluse, but the Baloth dropped him to three. After combat, Kibler used Rise from the Grave to reanimate the Gorger, prompting Gurevich to exclaim, "But I wanted to have outs!"

Unfortunately for Gurevich, outs are precisely what he was out of. He took a long look at his hand, tried to imagine some way that his Diabolic Revelations could dig him out of this predicament. When he came up with none, he conceded, laying his hand on the table.

"That Kitesail was just too much. That, and all of your creatures have trample..."

Brian Kibler 2 – Misha Gurevich 1

 

Feature Match Round 11 - Max Tietze vs. David Ochoa

by Marc Calderaro

In Pod 2, just about each round becomes a little feature match. Max Tietze is a player I've really been enjoying giving covering. He's so placid and unmovable it's fascinating. He doesn't get excited when he wins; he doesn't go on tilt when he loses. This makes him a fascinating player to watch. It also makes him a very difficult player to photograph. I sometimes take ten pictures of him during a given round and still wind up seeing the exact same expression from him, just in different poses – stoically drawing a card; stoically declaring attackers; stoically beating his opponent mercilessly. At this point, I'll accept just getting a shot of his eyes looking somewhere other than directly at the table. It's like a challenge.

And David Ochoa, or should I say, Bronson, is just the nicest all-around guy on the scene. It makes things all the better that he's pretty ridiculously good at Magic. His Red-Green deck seems well positioned to attack Tietze's deck where it hurts. The three Mindclaw Shaman will likely strip away the strongest part of Tietze's base-Black deck – the removal. And getting basically 2-for-0'ed is generally a non-winning strategy.


...David Ochoa, or should I say, Bronson...

Game 1

David Ochoa's Mogg Flunkies came down on both turns two and three. He had no intention to give Max Tietze's deck breathing room. It had thus far only made for Tietze a Kitesail, and dual 3/3s gave him cause for pause. However, on Ochoa's attack step, Tietze used a Murder to keep both goblins at home. Ochoa could have followed up with just any new attacker to make sure the Flunkies could get in the next turn, but he instead cast a Firewing Phoenix. It was pretty good.

But Tietze cast a Vampire Nighthawk and, as usual, it single-handedly stabilized the board. Ochoa had to cast a pre-combat Mindclaw Shaman to divine what to do next. He was hoping for some obvious removal to take out the Nighthawk, no fuss, no muss. What he got was a conundrum.


David Ochoa

Servant of Nefarox, Mwonvuli Beast Tracker, Prey Upon, Crippling Blight. "That sucks," Ochoa said. The only target was the Prey Upon, and it didn't work as elegantly as Ochoa would've wanted. If he used the Mindclaw Shaman to fight, the Nighthawk wouldn't even die, and killing either his own Phoenix or his Flunkies wasn't exactly ideal.

Ochoa thought for a long time and eventually chose to cast the Prey Upon and trade the Phoenix for the Nighthawk. This was likely the best maneuver in the long run, because he could return the Phoenix later on. But just to add a little insult to injury, because he had cast the Shaman before the combat step, there was now no one to join Flunkies in the red zone and Ochoa passed without an attack against Tietze's empty board. The next turn, a Mindclaw Shaman got in unimpeded and Tietze's Servant of Nefarox traded with the Mogg Flunkies. The scores went back to 20-20.

It seemed that Tietze might have staved off Ochoa's initial assault and he searched up a Sentinel Spider with Mwonvuli Beast Tracker. Then, he equipped the Kitesail to the 2/1 and passed back the turn. But Ochoa had another spider to combat the Sentinel – his Silklash Spider. All of a sudden the Kitesail became a liability to Tietze rather than a boon.

Both green monsters brought the board to a standstill. Neither player was in a great position to attack, and this made Ochoa's new Rummaging Goblin all the better.

However, the ChannelFireball player knew the 1/1 was not long for this world. The Crippling Blight was still in Tietze's hand. The Goblin ate it hard, as the Sentinel Spider (with a shiny new Mark of the Vampire) made the score 24-14 for Tietze. Ochoa brought the Firewing Phoenix back making his board a bit more robust and hoping to compensate for this latest twist in the board-state.

Tietze was down to only one card, and Mindclaw Shaman #2 made sure the remaining card was indeed a land, as Ochoa suspected (and hoped). Ochoa sent the Phoenix and Shaman in. With a Prey Upon in-hand, Ochoa knew that if the 6/6 Lifelink chose to block, it would be taken out for just one mana. Tietze knew something was up and just took the damage; he would still make-up the life loss with a single spider attack.

On Tietze's next turn, he Kitesail'ed up the Spider and swung over the rest of Ochoa's team. Ochoa only had six mana which was not really enough to kill the 6/6 flyer with the Silklash Spider's activated ability alone. After two rounds of attacks, it was 19-7, still heavily in Tietze's favor. However, Ochoa continued to race, and the next turn he attacked with everything.

Tietze made an extremely defensive move by making a 1/6 Primal Clay, then gave it the Kitesail. It was the next attack that would be the game. Ochoa again swung with the team and the Clay blocked a Shaman. Ochoa used a Titanic Growth to make the Shaman a 6/6 which first killed the blocker, then killed the Sentinel Spider with the aid of Prey Upon.

With a lowly Kitesail left to fight for him, Tietze saw the writing on the wall. And once a Sands of Delirium came down and started milling, just so Ochoa could see more of Tietze's deck, the quiet player stoically scooped up his cards.

David Ochoa 1 – 0 Max Tietze


Max Tietze

Game 2

Tietze stoically started this game with a Chronomaton, an Arbor Elf and then another following close behind. Ochoa again had a turn-two Mogg Flunkies, but decided on a different tack turn three.

As always, before a player casts an early Sands of Delirium, they pause to consider the ramifications. Is "wasting" the third turn, while also revealing a new strategy worth the power of the artifact? Ochoa decided it was, and then used his next turn to use Flames of the Firebrand to sweep away Tietze's two Arbor Elves. This would buy Ochoa the precious time he needed to get the Sands of Delirium going.

Tietze tried to get some offense on the table – his Chronomaton now a 3/3 – but Torch Fiend held that plan off marvelously. Then, a Servant of Nefarox was hit by Tietze's own Public Execution, thanks in large part to a Mindclaw Shaman. Which had revealed Public Execution, Prey Upon and Crippling Blight.

With now no gas to his name Max Tietze was like Mel Gibson in Road Warrior, minus all the gas he had and the tire armor.

Mogg Flunkies and Mindclaw Shaman started hitting for five damage per swing. And just in case, Sands of Delirium was still working its magic.

Tietze stoically extended his hand and congratulated David Ochoa.

David Ochoa 2 – 0 Max Tietze

 

Sunday, 2:15 p.m. - Quick Hits: What’s your Ravnica guild affiliation?

by Marc Calderaro

Brian Kibler – Selesyna, duh. Because creatures are awesome.
Ryan Bogner – I wish I were Izzet, but I’m probably Dimir. My personality is certainly Izzet, but I just love Dimir cards. I’m definitely NOT Azorius.
Ben Stark – Azorius. It does both things I love to do: counter things and gain life. [Sam Black: "You like to gain life?"] Yeah. When I can and still win. Did you know how happy I was when I started putting Glimmerpost in Valakut?!
Sam Black – Casually, I love nothing more than Simic.[Ben Stark: "Yeah and in Pro Tours and Grand Prix!"] Usually the best thing to do in those formats is make mana and draw cards. I really like doing both those things.
Shuhei Nakamura - Orzhov. [Ed. Note: Because he’s a little bit Jesus and a little bit Rock and Roll.]
David Ochoa – Grixis. [Me: David, that’s not a guild; it’s a shard.] Oh man, you’re right. Well then both Rakdos and Dimir. Together they give the range of decks I like to play. Rakdos can be aggro, but it can also be a grindy machine. And though Dimir isn’t the best at being aggressive, it’s really tricky. I like tricky.
Misha Gurevich – Simic. I like body modification.
Josh Utter-Leyton – Izzet. Wait everyone’s said Izzet so far, right? It’s passionate research. Isn’t that what every Magic player is?
 

Sunday, 2:40 p.m. - Quick Hits #2: So far, what’s your favorite card from the Return to Ravnica card previews?

by Marc Calderaro

Ben Stark - I like to gain life and draw cards. Sphinx's Revelation, please. Also, Dreadbore because I hate Planeswalkers. I don't like when the game becomes more about on-board complexities and less about hidden information. Shuhei Nakamura - The cycle of uncounterable spells [Abrupt Decay, Supreme Verdict, Counterflux, Loxodon Smiter, Slaughter Games]. Even though counterspells are less powerful now, these cards help affect formats that still use them frequently, and might make it OK to make some better counterspells.

Sam Black - Abrupt Decay. It's going to affect all formats. And it's good against the decks I play with, but not the decks I want to play with. For example, it's great against Delver of Secrets, but real bad against Diabolic Revelations for Thragtusk. Brian Kibler - Lotleth Troll and Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord. I promise, the Splinterfright deck is in the works. Nihil Spellbomb is leaving the format; it's coming soon. Also can I say Quirion Dryad? With all the multicolor in Ravnica, it might as well be a Ravnica preview.

Misha Gurevich - Vraska the Unseen. Her abilities are so flavorful for a Gorgon. I'm sure the ultimate ability is story-related, and it sounds awesome. Ryan Bogner - Supreme Verdict. It's really good, and it makes the Miracle Legacy deck better.[Misha Gurevich: "And because he hates fun."]

David Ochoa - Abrupt Decay. It's really powerful. Really powerful. But it's also flavorful color-wise. It's at the intersection of both Green and Black, because Green often gets uncounterable spells and Black often gets to destroy things. Josh Utter-Leyton - Trostani, Selesnya's Voice. The Selesnya guild leader might just be unkillable in the format. She dodges both Abrupt Decay and Augur Spree. And if the token support for her is there, it'll be very good. Also, the Rakdos Charm that was just [revealed] today is awesome. The Selesnya Charm and Azorius Charm both offer three bad card options, which together make one decent card. The Rakdos Charm has three narrower abilities which give it the potential to be a great card. I think the one damage per creature is going to be very relevant.
 

Sunday, 4:15 p.m. - Drafting Building with David Ochoa

by Nate Price

David Ochoa. The Ocho. Webb. The Voice of Good.

Regardless of how you refer to him, David Ochoa is one of the clearest voices when it comes to Magic Draft strategy. Normally soft-spoken, with an air of wry sarcasm, Ochoa's writing in the articles he produces for channelfireball.com takes on a life of its own, as Ochoa, the Voice of Good, takes on an assortment of foes as he drafts and dissects formats. His prowess on the Magical battlefield was more than enough to earn him a spot as one of the sixteen players vying for the very first Magic Players Championship trophy, and the title of Player of the Year, the best in the world.

Before I get into anything, it warrants saying that this is one of the best Draft pods I've ever seen at a Grand Prix. Shuhei Nakamura, Ben Stark, Josh Utter-Leyton, David Ochoa, David Sharfman, Max Tietze, William Ruiz Gonzales, and AJ Sacher make for an impressive lineup if ever there was one. This table was going to be tough.


Nice Pod.

One of the first things I noticed when putting this piece together was how much more centered on the building process it was than the previous work I had done with Ben Stark. Stark's draft was filled with interesting decisions and close calls, Ochoa's was filled with fairly straightforward picks, but difficult building decisions. This was a perfect example of the two phases of drafting and how important they both are to consider when sitting down for a draft.

Ochoa opened up a pack with a Garruk's Packleader, Arms Dealer, and Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis. He quickly took the Nefarox and added it to his pile.

"Nefarox is just a really good card, not a reason to look to go exalted, so don't think of it like that. Also, I could have gone green from the first pick, but I had to keep in mind that Josh Utter-Leyton and Ben Stark were to my right, and they like the same Jund colors that I like, so I decided to stay away from the green."

He continued to build his black base, taking Liliana's Shade, Sign in Blood, and Crippling Blight over the next few picks. One thing that stood out to me as the picks went on were the number of Sign in Bloods that he got. By the end of the first pack, he had three in his pile, which seemed a bit overboard to me.

"Sign in Blood isn't an amazing card by any stretch of the imagination, but since I was going to try and avoid green, I figured that blue/black was the way to go, and in the blue/black decks I like to draft, Sign is a bit better than in most. They need the card drawing to make sure that they never miss land drops, because the deck tends to be a bit on the expensive side."

After the first pack, things didn't look too good for our hero. He was basically monoblack, with only a Divination and Vedalken Entrancer to mark another color. He was very light on creatures, and all of his spells drew cards, but he didn't have any real business.

In the second pack, he moved into red with a Flames of the Firebrand second pick over a Faerie Invaders. This was supported with a Gem of Becoming that he picked up quite late in the first pack. This was the first real business spell he had laid eyes on, and he snapped it up quickly. A couple of picks later, he got the bomb his control deck was looking for: Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker. While Bolas is a very expensive card, he simply cannot be beat if he hits the table and you aren't leagues behind. This card was perfect for the slower, more controlling deck that Ochoa was gearing towards with his draft so far. Unfortunately, despite the addition of a couple of solid cards for his deck, it was still lacking a large amount of substance. He didn't have the removal or early defense required to keep himself alive while fighting towards eight mana. He needed the next pack to come through in a big way.

Things started off extremely well with a Murder in the first pack and an Augur of Bolas in the second. A few picks later he was greeted by a second Augur, but he was forced to take a Public Execution over it.

"It was kind of backbreaking to have the Augur and Execution in the same pack. I really needed the defense, but I also really needed the hard answer that Exection offered."

Rounding out the pack, he picked up a second copy of Faerie Invaders, a Primal Clay, Rise from the Grave, and an Unsummon, which could be useful to buy himself some time while setting things up. In the end, he wasn't incredibly pleased with how his draft had gone.

"It could have been better," he told me as we sat down to build. "I just didn't see enough of the right cards for this deck. There were no Deadly Scorpions, no Archaeomancers...those are the cards you are looking for when you want to draft this deck. I saw none of either card."

There were a couple of situations that occurred in the draft where a good card was in the pack, but Ochoa chose to forgo it because it was a poor card choice for his deck plan. One such example is his decision to take a weaker card over Sleep, normally an incredibly powerful card in a blue deck.

"Sleep just isn't very good in these control decks. Sure, you can cast it and buy yourself a few turns, but where it really shines is in the aggressive decks, where you can cast it and attack for 20 over the next couple of turns."

He also had the option to take Walking Corpses over many of the card drawing spells that he took early in the draft, cards that his deck ended up sorely lacking.

"I definitely took some Sign in Bloods over Walking Corpses, but I figured that whatever I paired my black with would be able to shore up those holes as the draft went on. In retrospect, that didn't happen, but it is still the appropriate way to think about it. It's better to fill those holes later and take the marginally better spell earlier. Creatures are replaceable."

After he had his deck laid out in front of him, Ochoa went deep into the tank. Our conversation slowed to a crawl and then stopped entirely as he sunk deep into thought. When I asked him what he was thinking about, he explained one of the most difficult sets of decisions that each drafter faces: how he was going to arrange the last few cards in his deck.

"First, I'm trying to decide if I want to run seventeen or eighteen lands. Right now, I'm leaning towards eighteen. I can't miss a land drop with this deck. On the other hand, I have a trio of Sign in Bloods, this Divination, and Gem of Becoming...I have a lot of card drawing, so eighteen might be too many. Plus I'd have to cut a spell, and I'm not sure what it would be. Maybe a Sign in Blood, maybe this Essence Scatter. I could cut a creature, I suppose, but I have few enough as it is. I could always cut a Sign in Blood and replace it with a Rise from the Grave. That's always another creature, and I do have two Mind Rots... You know what, screw it. 41 it is. I'm loose. I just can't play seventeen lands in this deck. I have to hit one every turn."

With that fairly rapid diatribe out of the way, Ochoa set about registering his deck. There were some notable cards left on the cutting room floor, and a couple of cards that almost didn't make it.

Here were the outliers, the ones that didn't quite make the cut:

The third Sign in Blood

"I have enough card drawing without this, and considering the fact that my deck is a bit on the slow side, the cost of life is actually relevant. If I had a bit more to keep myself safe, I'd almost certainly play this. I should be fine enough without it this time."

Mark of the Vampire

"I can always side this in if I play against a green deck, where I'll feel a little safer putting it on a creature. I've only really got three or four creatures I'd like to put it on, too, which isn't enough for me to feel comfortable. Especially because one of those cards is likely to win the game on its own. Against a slower deck, or a mostly green deck, I can bring it in because it will either allow me to take the lead or because it'll be safe and the lifegain will be relevant. For this deck, it's a good sideboard card, but not good enough to make the maindeck like it would be in many other decks."

Here are the ones that just snuck into the maindeck:

Essence Scatter

"I only have five Islands, so it's unlikely that I'm going to get to play it on turn two consistently, so it's more likely to come into play on like turn five or six. I thought about just making this the third Sign in Blood, but the potential for it to help me out in the early game, even if it isn't a surefire thing, makes it worth leaving in the maindeck."

Rise from the Grave

"This is effectively another creature, and combined with my discard, I may get to really get something good with it. In any case, it supports my deck better than any of my other option since it has the potential to be really powerful, but at the very least will be a consistent card to return. I really do wish I had an Archaeomancer to go with it, though..."

Well there you have it, a look at deciding the last cards of your build with David Ochoa. Hopefully this, combined with the look Ben Stark gave you earlier, helps get a better idea of some of the finer points of drafting. Now go out, grab a few friends, crack some packs, and put your newly learned skills to the test!

 

Sunday, 4:45 p.m. - Draft Tech: Pascal Maynard Mono-Mill

by Marc Calderaro

Everyone wants to be able to draft this deck. We all know it exists, but making it actually happen is a difficult feat. Mind Sculpt makes for an interesting gambit, and there are good mill support cards in Blue, but it suffers from collateral damage. Archaeomancer, Divination, Fog Bank and Augur of Bolas all go great into non-mill blue decks, so nabbing the necessary cards to fill out the deck can be very difficult.

To make your opponents lose by emptying their libraries then attempting to draw a card and fail to do so requires very specific card interactions. Having Mind Sculpts is great, but you still need to, you know, not lose during that time, and also another mill card. Because unless you get about six Mind Sculpts you can't rely on them alone. Archaeomancer can return them; Augur of Bolas can find them; Jace, Memory Adept can just do it himself; but anyway you chose, you have to do something else. And that can be hard as well.

But French-Canadian Pascal Maynard has done just that with his second draft of the day. With a grand total of four Mind Sculpts, three Archaeomancers, two Augur of Bolas and a Sands of Delirium, Maynard has a veritable Partridge-in-a-Pear-Tree of milling goodness.

He destroyed his Round 10 opponent with ease. "I milled him out turn six in the first game." Quite impressive on its own, but Maynard continued, "And even though he sided in more cards and went up to about 50 in the second game, it didn't matter very much." (For those interested, the six-turn kill was: T1 Kraken Hatchling; T2 Mind Sculpt; T3 Mind Sculpt; T4 Archaeomancer returning Mind Sculpt; T5 Mind Sculpt, then UnsummonArchaeomancer; T6 Re-cast 'mancer, re-buy Sculpt, then re-cast it.)

His favorite part about the deck is the ability to see everything in the opponent's deck in the first game. "After that, you know exactly how to sideboard and know how to beat them again."

About his chances in the remaining rounds, "I think the deck is well-positioned in this draft. I don't want to play against anything red – White-Red, Black-Red," he continued, "basically the Mogg Flunkies deck." But Maynard said that from what he observed, there was one, maybe two aggressive decks at all in the draft, and it didn't look like he was going to get paired against the players playing those decks.

Pascal Maynard had never really drafted this as a main deck before, though he'd used it as a sideboard plan, but he said he just might do it again because it felt pretty good to wheel every card he wanted to. "Literally, every single card I wheeled, I got. And four of my last six picks are in my main deck. And the other two are good sideboard cards."

While we were talking, Sam Black wandered by and commented that there was no way only playing two of the three Jace's Phantasms was correct, but Maynard answered, "Look at the rest of my deck. I have no creatures with any power. I can't trade with anything. The card will never be a 5/5 unless I get two Mind Sculpts. The first one will get them to seven cards in the graveyard and they'll never get to ten."

I certainly see Black's point, but watching this deck play, it's hard to believe there is a single thing wrong with it. Even without the Sands of Delirium it would be amazing. And it has one of those!

If Pascal Maynard 3-0s this draft, he has a great shot of making the Top 8. We'll have to see how the rest of the event shakes out, but I have a feeling that if we don't see Maynard under the lights tonight, it'll be because of tie-breakers, not because this deck didn't smash everything in its path.

Pascal Maynard (Draft #2)
Grand Prix Costa Rica 2012

 

Round 13 Feature Match - Jackie Lee vs. Pascal Maynard

by Marc Calderaro

Jackie Lee has on her war paint. During her visit to Poás volcano on Friday, she grabbed a handful of volcanic ash and put it in her pocket. At the Grand Prix she's liberally applied it under her eyes as intimidation. It's pretty intimidating.

This match-up against Pascal Maynard is sure to be difficult for her. Lee is playing a Blue-Black Control deck splashing Green from Thragtusk. It's a strong deck, but she has already seen Maynard's mill deck working. And if there's one thing a Control deck has trouble with, it's an aggressive strategy that doesn't revolve around creatures.

After some thought Jackie chose to draw. She knew her best chance to win was to get to either her Stormtide Leviathan or her Talrand, Sky Summoner. Without either of those, the game would be tough.


Jackie Lee

Game 1

Pascal Maynard started off and cast an Augur of Bolas. It net him a Talrand's Invocation. He attacked in and made a Watercourser the next turn. Jackie Lee set up her board just about as aggressively as her deck could muster, with a turn-two Welkin Tern into a turn-three Fog Bank.

Maynard continued his creature-casting with two 2/2 Drakes on turn four. Lee had the Essence Scatter sitting in her hand, but there was no reason to keep the mana open for the fourth turn because of that pesky sorcery status on the Invocation.

Welkin Tern gained a buddy in Servant of Nefarox and took Maynard to 15. The scores were 18-15 in Lee's favor, but Maynard swung with everything the following turn into the Servant, Fog Bank and one open Island. Lee traded the Servant with the Watercourser and post-combat Maynard returned the Invocation with an Archaeomancer.

Lee was staving off Maynard's damage assault fine, but the milling angle had yet to even be revealed. Lee just knocked Maynard to 13 and passed, with a Faerie Invaders in-hand, awaiting the call. But instead of calling on the 3/3, Lee used two of her five mana to cast Essence Scatter on Maynard's own Fog Bank. Lee sunk to 11 on Maynard's attack. After a returned Welkin attack it was 11-11. This Control-on-Control had turned a big aggro on us.

Maynard was unsure how to proceed. He assumed Invaders from Lee and so he cast his own before combat to see if it would hit another Essence Scatter. It didn't so he felt confident attacking with everything else. With a 3/3 of his own in the air, he could win the creature war. As Maynard predicted, Lee's own Faerie Invaders came out and swallowed a Drake whole (which, I admit is an odd image).

Lee took herself to 7 with a Sign in Blood and saw only two more land. She cast and equipped a Ring of Xathrid to her Welkin Tern and passed the turn back to Maynard. Like often happens in this blue battles, there's no ground stall, but an air stall, and so Maynard started going to Plan B (which, really, was his Plan A). He cast his first Mind Sculpt. He took scrupulous notes of what he milled, then followed with the recast Talrand's Invocation.

Jackie Lee passed an uneventful turn back and now Pascal Maynard had in his hand two more Archaeomancers to fetch and re-fetch his Mind Sculpt. He cast the first one and put the Mind Sculpt on the stack. Lee thought before allowing the spell to resolve whether or not to scoop, as to hide the rest of her deck. She started resolving it and putting cards into her graveyard but, then had some second thoughts.

"Judge, can she scoop while revealing cards?" Maynard posed. The judge confirmed that she indeed could, and Maynard continued taking notes of the cards. When Maynard got the turn back, he repeated his actions and this time, Lee picked up her cards. There was nothing else to see here.

Pascal Maynard 1 – 0 Jackie Lee

Lee put together a five-card sideboard which consisted of two different strategies. First, cards like Tricks of the Trade, that can allow some form of aggression. And second, a one-card kill-machine: Elixir of Immortality. If Lee can land that card at the right moment, Maynard's main plan will be all-but extinguished.

After sideboarding, Maynard asked, "How many cards are in your deck?"

"Forty." Lee quipped. Her face showed no trace of a smile. Her war paint was on.


... Her war paint was on...

Game 2

Lee kept her opening seven which indeed contained the Elixir she wanted. This was going to be a game.

Maynard again started with a Augur of Bolas revealing a Talrand's Invocation, but on the following turn he also revealed that he had no third land. He played a Jace's Phantasm and passed the turn.

The 1/1 creature traded with Lee's Welkin Tern and Lee followed with a Scroll Thief. It wasn't going to get by the Augur single-handed, but it stopped Maynard from dealing any damage, which was good enough for now. The Quebecois again missed his land drop and discarded a Faerie Invaders.

Lee, now up to five lands, cast Rise from the Grave on Maynard's discarded Invaders. This would have been a crushing blow if Maynard didn't have the Unsummon ready to return the 3/3 to his own hand. Lee, undeterred, cast a Ring of Evos Isle and equipped her Scroll Thief, while Maynard finally got some land going and made a Watercourser and Talrand's Invocation on successive turns.

After Lee played a couple Divinations and a Fog Bank, it looked a bit like game one but Maynard was about four turns behind. He was still in it though.


Pascal Maynard

The big swing of the game came in. Maynard cast a Duress. Lee hadn't seen the Duress game one, and she had a Public Execution and the Elixir of Immortality still in her hand. After splaying the cards on the battlefield, she paused, then moved the Public Execution to the graveyard as Maynard requested. He didn't care about the Elixir; he was going to win with damage. Maynard re-bought the Talrand's Invocation with his first Archaeomancer and passed the turn, the scores 14-20.

Next turn he made two more Drakes and attacked again. Lee was flooding out. Even though her Scroll Thief was growing and growing (currently with +4/+4) and had the infinity blocker in Fog Bank, Maynard had eight power of flyers. Lee dropped 6. It was 6-20.

Lee still had an Elixir of Immortality, but instead of a back-breaker it became a bandage on a deep incision. She Essence Scatter'ed Maynard's end-of-turn Faerie Invaders, but that hardly slowed the Canadian down. He cast Unsummon on the Fog Bank and attacked in with everything.

Lee sacrificed her Elixir and made a 2/2 Drake disappear with Unsummon, but it wasn't enough. Maynard's MonoMill could still use its real Plan B to get there.

So is Mind Sculpt really the star of this deck, or is it the Archaeomancer?

Pascal Maynard 2 – 0 Jackie Lee

Pascal Maynard moves up to 30 points and still has a good shot for the Top 8 if he can win next round.

 

Round 14 Feature Match - Willy Edel vs. Andres Loria Rojas

by Marc Calderaro

Willy Edel is one of the more well-known Latin American Magic players, hailing from Brazil. He has been a fixture on the Pro Tour for an incredibly long time, and was ranked as the best player in 2007, when he represented Latin America as their representative in the Invitational. Edel has three Grand Prix Top 8s, including one at Atlanta earlier this year, as well as two Pro Tour Top 8s to his name. His opponent this round, Andres Loria Rojas, is one of the large contingent of Costa Rican players looking to keep the trophy on Costa Rican soil. Both players have put themselves in a position where one more win secures them a spot in the Top 8, while a loss spells almost certain doom.


Andres Loria Rojas

Game 1

Edel started first, playing a War Falcon on the first turn. This isn't a play that is seen very often, even in drafts, where players have a much finer control over the contents of their decks. When he played an Aven Squire on the following turn and attacked for 3, his blazing start looked bad for Rojas. Rojas had used a Farseek to power into a third-turn Spiked Baloth, but the Baloth looked to be held at bay when Edel played an Attended Knight, the first strike providing a large barrier for Rojas's fragile Baloth. Fortunately for him, Rojas had an Angelic Benediction to tap the Knight, and he smashed over for a quarter of Edel's life total.

The commitment of an entire turn to set up the attack and not really develop his board cost Rojas, and with the way completely clear, Edel was free to attack with all of his creatures, dropping Rojas to 8. After combat, Edel made a Griffin Protector to keep him safe on the attack back. Rojas removed it with an Oblivion Ring, attacking into a tapped board to knock Edel to 10. Despite this, the turn spent playing the Benediction was one that ultimately cost Rojas. Edel amassed such a large army that he was able to swarm over the meager defenses Rojas was able to recruit before the Baloth became lethal. Edel's army of little men was more than enough to get the job accomplished, even in the face of much larger creatures.

Sometimes it's not quality, but quantity.

Willy Edel 1 – Andres Loria Rojas 0


Willy Edel

Game 2

Edel went to his sideboard after the first game, taking four cards out of his deck and replacing them. Considering how little he had seen from Rojas's deck, it was more likely that he had decided that there were cards in his sideboard that were better suited to the maindeck.

Rojas had to mulligan for the second game of the match, and he chuckled when Edel once again opened with a War Falcon. The Falcon didn't get turned on until turn 3, when he played an Attended Knight. On Rojas's side, he did quite well building his own board, making a Silvercoat Lion, Yeva's Forcemage, and an Attended Knight of his own. Edel's Falcon had the skies to itself, and he kept attacking, joined by the Attended Knight and a Walking Corpse when the opportunity presented itself. He added a Pillarfield Ox to his side as well, providing a large toughness that slowed Rojas down.

Edel cracked the game wide open when he attacked with his team on the following turn. Rojas tried to trade Attended Knights and his Lion for the Corpse, but a Cower in Fear turned it into a one-sided affair. At that point, with half of his team gone and demoralized, Rojas played out the next couple of turns, but he couldn't do anything to stem the tide. Within two attacks, Rojas was dead.

After the match, Edel consoled that there was a chance, albeit slight, that Rojas could still make Top 8, even with a loss. It would be 25 long minutes until they knew for sure.

Willy Edel 2 – Andres Loria Rojas 0

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