|| Follow live streaming video coverage of Grand Prix Denver at ggslive.com with Rashad Miller and Robert Martin.
Saturday, 9:00 a.m. - Friday Night Magic
by Nate Price
Welcome to Denver! Home to the Great American Beer Festival, the Flobots, and Carmelo Anthony (at least for the time being), the Mile High City boasts a bevy of sweet things to see and do. Nature lovers can check out the endless string of mountains and national parks. Entertainment lovers can cruise through downtown or out to Red Rocks to catch a show. And Magic players, we've got the Grand Prix.
Two glorious days of Scars of Mirrodin Limited nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. What could be better? If a glance around the event hall is any indication, the answer is "not much." Players from all over the world have come together in Denver to compete for the Grand Prix. Some of the faces in the crowd I last saw sitting at a numbered table in Paris just last weekend. Top 8 competitor Patrick Chapin and eventual winner Ben Stark proved their dedication, making the trip to Denver even after having spent four grueling days at Magic Weekend Paris. Drafting at the same table as Stark were Luis Scott-Vargas, Eric Froehlich, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa...a veritable murderer's row of high profile players.
All night long, players hit the tables, looking to get those elusive three byes to tomorrow's tournament. Interestingly enough, I saw a few players dotting the Grinder tables that I did not expect to see. Shuhei Nakamura, the seasoned Japanese pro, made the jump from Paris to Denver and spent his night looking for a little extra experience. AJ Sacher was there, too, trying hard to grasp things himself. He had no experience with Mirrodin Beseiged, and the Grinders offered him one last chance to get some experience before he had to sleeve cards up for the real deal. Even Brad Nelson, who took over Player of the Year duties (like waving to crowds from on top of floats) from Yuuya Watanabe just this last weekend after an incredible series against Guillaume Matignon at Magic Weekend Paris. "I really want to win this," he said. "All of the Player of the Year stuff got to me a little and kind of hurt my concentration in other events. This time, I am focused and ready to win."
One especially surprising face in the crowd was belonged to Paul Cheon. There had been rumblings that the former US National Champion and Colorado native was going to make an appearance at the event, and it was good to see that they held the truth. It's been a little while since we've seen Cheon sleeve up Magical cards to make a run at a title. Work has kept him pretty busy, but a Grand Prix on what he once called home turf proved too much to resist. While Cheon had two byes already, having a third could only help.
For those not interested in trying for byes, Friday night at a Grand Prix could only mean one thing: SUPER Friday Night Magic! Over a hundred players signed up for an evening of Scars of Mirrodin Sealed Deck, with seven packs of Mirrodin Besieged and a playset of shiny Spellstutter Sprites waiting for any players skilled enough to pilot their Sealed Deck to a perfect 4-0 record. In addition to the cool schwag, all participants get that extra little bit of experience they might need to put them over the top in tomorrow's competition. Considering all of the faces in the crowd, players are going to need every edge they can get if they want to be the champion here at Grand Prix Denver!
Saturday, 10:00 a.m. - A Look Back at Denvers Past
by Bill Stark
Grand Prix Denver is the second stop on the North American Grand Prix circuit in 2011 after Atlanta. However, this weekend is not the first time the Mile High City has hosted a professional level Magic event. In fact, Denver is playing host to a Grand Prix for the third time. Let's take a look at the previous events...
Turn the time machine knobs back all the way to 2001. The month is August, and 402 players have shown up to Colorado to battle using the Invasion Block Constructed format. Future Hall of Famer Darwin Kastle manages to sneak into the Top 8 as well as his Your Move Games teammate Danny Mandel. The day will be ruled, however, by a young Brett Shears. At the age of 17 and after a 24 hour bus ride from Los Angeles, Shears managed to take the event down using a blue, black, and green tempo style deck inspired by legendary deckbuilder Brian Kowal.
(Read full coverage of the event here.)
The second stop in Denver wouldn't come for another seven years, almost to the day. In August of 2008 the Grand Prix train rolled into the Mile High City for the second time, with 620 players once again playing Block Constructed. This time, however, the format was Lorwyn Block. Brushing off an early retirement, Antonino De Rosa managed to battle his way into the single elimination rounds. There he was joined by fellow pro and friend Gerry Thompson. They managed to hold on and turn back a tide of surging Pro Tour up-and-comers at the event with Thompson eventually hoisting the championship trophy.
(Read full coverage of that event here.)
How will this weekend's story turn out? You'll have to watch as it unfolds live here at DailyMTG.com!
Saturday, 12:30 p.m. - Lessons from the Grinders
by Nate Price
Winning a Grand Prix is hard work, just ask anyone who's won one. Two days of playing, more than a dozen rounds of play...these things can really start to grind on a player. One thing that makes them go considerably easier is the presence of byes. Awarded to players based on their DCI ratings, byes can also be awarded through Grand Prix trials held around the country on a near-constant basis. These byes allow players to sit back and relax for a few rounds before being forced to enter the fray. Players frequently use these rounds to work on their decks, gain some familiarity with them, and even decide on mistakes they've made and changes that may need to be made in later rounds. Some get themselves some food or a little more sleep. Regardless of how a player chooses to use their byes, the evidence of their effect is undeniable. Players with a three-bye head start have a significant advantage over the other players in the tournament, even those with only one less bye.
What happens if you show up to the Grand Prix without them? Don't worry, for virtually all of Friday, the event organizers run small flights known as Grinders. These 32-man, single elimination tournaments give one last chance to earn those byes for the upcoming tournament. They're extremely popular amongst both players looking for byes and players who already have them that are just looking for a little more play experience. The experience may seem trivial, but this Grand Prix's Grinder results prove why a little extra experience never hurt anyone.
One of the biggest observations from the pre-Mirrodin Besieged format was the dominance of certain deck types. RW aggressive decks and BG infect decks seemed to run rampant over the field, dominating the Sealed portion of the event as well as the Draft. The reason was fairly simple. The format was fast, and those color combinations offer the best mix of speed, aggression, and removal. With the addition of Mirrodin Besieged, and consequently the removal of some of the Scars of Mirrodin, the format has slowed some. This opens up players' options a little more. While you still see some of the same decks running around and winning, Besieged has made many more strategies viable. Look at Andrew Huska's winning UG deck and Ryan Carpenter's winning BW infect deck. Neither of these strategies existed in the previous format.
White and red still appear to be the kings of Sealed, but their grip is slipping, and their look is slightly altered. RW decks won five of the eleven Grinders run yesterday, and red and white appeared in all but two of the other decks. They still offer the best removal in the format (though black is close), as well as some serious bombs to finish things off. The decks have skewed away from the metalcraft dominance of the previous incarnation of the format to one that is less reliant on the presence of artifacts. Cards like Golem Artisan, while absolute studs in the metalcraft deck, are still powerful enough to make an impact in this new breed of RW. The addition of Mirrodin Besieged appears to have added new, more consistent cards to replace the metalcraft cards that filled the older decks. The result is a deck that still has a decent artifact base, but isn't anywhere near as reliant on them.
One last thing of note was the decreased appearance of infect decks in the winner's circle. Considering that many players feel that infect is stronger and richer in the Scars Draft format, it was quite surprising that less players piloted the Phyrexian deck of choice to three byes. Perhaps the answer simply lies in the Sealed pools opened by the players in the event. Whatever the case, it will be interesting to see the results of the Sealed portion of the Grand Prix to see if the same observations still hold true.
Saturday, 12:30 p.m. - Grinder Decklists
by Event Coverage Staff
Grand Prix Denver 2011 - Grinder Decks
Grand Prix Denver 2011 - Grinder Decks
Grand Prix Denver 2011 - Grinder Decks
Grand Prix Denver 2011 - Grinder Decks
Grand Prix Denver 2011 - Grinder Decks
Grand Prix Denver 2011 - Grinder Decks
Grand Prix Denver 2011 - Grinder Decks
Grand Prix Denver 2011 - Grinder Decks
Grand Prix Denver 2011 - Grinder Decks
Grand Prix Denver 2011 - Grinder Decks
Grand Prix Denver 2011 - Grinder Decks
Saturday, 1:30 p.m. - Phyrexians Versus Mirrans Denver Style
by Bill Stark
The war wages on in the world of Mirrodin as the battle between the Phyrexians and Mirrans transitions from Scars of Mirrodin to Mirrodin Besieged. Here at Grand Prix Denver that battle has spilled over into the tournament itself! In splitting the almost 1,000 person event into two flights, the judge staff here in Colorado opted to divide not by color but instead by faction. That means one half of the tournament will be (inadvertently) representing the Phyrexians, while the other side will be Mirran.
So which famous players are on which side? Both have a healthy smattering of the game’s biggest names, so let’s start by examining what the Mirrans have to offer:
Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa
That’s a pretty healthy smattering of Pro Tour champions (Stark, Damo da Rosa, Rietzl, Kibler), Pro Tour Top 8ers (Phillips, Woods, Jacob), and newly minted Player of the Year Brad Nelson. Conley Woods is a hometown hero from the Denver area, hoping to become the first Colorado player to win a Grand Prix title on home turf.
As great as that pod is, however, it may actually pale compared to the Phyrexians. They also have a ton of great players competing on their half of the room:
The Player of the Year count for the Phyrexians is twice that of the Mirrans, (Yuuya Watanabe and Shuhei Nakamura to lonely Brad Nelson), and they have Pro Tour champion Luis Scott-Vargas. They also have former World Champion Carlos Romao of Brazil, and a ton of Pro Tour Top 8s courtesy of players like Tom Ma, Eric Froehlich, and Patrick Chapin. They even have their own hometown hero, Brett Piazza.
So which faction will reign supreme here in Denver? We’ll find out Sunday as the title hoists the crown!
Feature Match - Round 4: Paul Rietzl versus David Ochoa
by Bill Stark
Paul Rietzl has had a pretty amazing run since returning to the Pro Tour two seasons ago. In eight attempts he has managed to earn a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place finish, astounding numbers. His opponent for the fourth round of competition at Grand Prix Denver was the silent but sharp David Ochoa. A member of the ChannelFireball team, Ochoa was the type of deadly player you preferred not to have to face early in the day.
After winning the roll, Rietzl opted to draw rather than play first. He still managed to cast the first spell of the match with a Mortarpod, borrowing a Germ token from his opponent who had come to the match well prepared with dice, tokens, and supplies. Ochoa answered the 'pod with a Cystbearer, a Septic Rats from Paul confirming both players were indeed playing black-green Infect decks.
The Septic Rats died crashing into Cystbearer, turning the green creature into a 0/1 in the process, but a Corpse Cur from Rietzl allowed him to get the creature back. Paul even had an Inkmoth Nexus, and it started to feel like Paul was playing a precon more than a Sealed pool. His opponent trudged along with a Strandwalker to help on blocking duty, but he took 2 damage from a Corpse Cur rather than begin whittling his 2/4 down with -1/-1 counters.
Unrelenting, Rietzl recast his Septic Rats and continued beating down. Darksteel Sentinel from David took out the Cur though infect made his 3/3 a 2/2. Post-combat a Green Sun's Zenith from Paul allowed him to hunt up Plaguemaw Beast before reshuffling itself back into his deck. The 4/3 soon suffered a cruel fate, however, as Ochoa cast Go for the Throat on his turn to kill it before it could start proliferating him out of the game.
Viridian Claw and Trigon of Infestation began doing lots of work for Paul, while his opponent tried to keep up by casting a Quilled Slagwurm. A Rot Wolf from David allowed him to stabilize, but he was not able to get through his opponent's Trigon, which pumped out infectious 1/1s turn after turn. When David began flooding on mana instead of finding a solution to his opponent's token generator, he found himself poisoned to death for the first game as his more powerful creatures were swarmed by his opponent's smaller but more numerous threats.
Paul Rietzl 1, David Ochoa 0
"How good is Mortarpod, seriously? It's actually ridiculous!" Paul Rietzl said in his characteristic outspoken manner while figuring out how to sideboard against his opponent for the second game.
Ochoa, in his own trademark style of conserved silence, responded meekly, "Yeah, it's pretty good."
The second game started with Ochoa opting to draw as his opponent had done in the first. He used a Virulent Wound to take out an Iron Myr from Rietzl, then cast Moriok Replica to answer a Rot Wolf. The 2/2s traded in combat a turn later, netting Paul a card before he cast Blightwidow. The 2/4 managed to get in on Ochoa's health rather than wear down the California pro's newly cast Dross Ripper.
The 3/3 Ripper went on the rampage, crashing into a copy of Moriok Replica that Rietzl had cast. Paul traded the 2/2 in for two cards, casting Phyrexian Juggernaut while his opponent cast Strandwalker, then Viridian Corrupter to blow up the Juggernaut. The Corrupter was a huge blow for Paul who found himself in a new position for the first time in the match: on the back foot. He began falling behind as his opponent continued casting spells, trying to keep up with an Ichor Rats and Copper Myr.
David's forces did not slow, however, and Paul cast a second Rat, this time of the Septic variety. He managed to take out Dross Ripper with a combination of infectious blocks and Virulent Wound, but a second copy quickly replaced it and knocked him to 6 life. Paul struggled to get through on the poison plan, finding his Inkmoth Nexus to help, but a Wall of Tanglecord from David put a major crimp in the effort.
Victory in his sights, David Ochoa cast a Bladed Pinions and equipped it to his Dross Ripper to bash his opponent to a precarious 3. When Rietzl tried to use Inkmoth Nexus to chump-block a turn later, however, David was ready with Slice in Twain to kill the 1/1 and the players headed to the third game tied.
Paul Rietzl 1, David Ochoa 1
With time winding down on the clock, the two players picked up the pace in order to finish their match. Paul opted to draw, forcing David to start but after a mulligan Ochoa had no plays over his first three turns. Across the table from him Rietzl had two equipment in the form of Mortarpod and Viridian Claw before casting a Blackcleave Goblin. The 2/1 was dispatched by Virulent Wound, drawing cries of anguish from its owner who bemoaned the fact he could never keep the hasty beater alive long enough to attack with it.
A pair of Dross Rippers showed up for David while his opponent came up with Melira's Keepers and equipped it with Viridian Claw. Paul's Trigon of Infestation found its way back to his grip and when he cast a Rot Wolf and Contagion Clasp it seemed he had it locked up. His opponent was stunted on mana and had just the Dross Rippers for non-land permanents.
Not pleased with his board state but unwilling to go down without a fight, Ochoa used a Slice in Twain to trade for his opponent's Claw, then a Dross Ripper to trade for the Melira's Keeper. The Slice cantripped him into the sixth land he needed for a surprising bomb: Massacre Wurm. The 6/5 hit with a loud thud against Paul's team of weenie creatures, wiping his board and nailing him for 6 life lost.
That turned the game suddenly in David's favor. Paul made a tiny misstep with his Trigon of Infestation, making a final token with it before using his Contagion Clasp to proliferate, preventing him from adding counters to the artifact. A Quilled Slagwurm joining his opponent's Massacre Wurm spelled trouble for his life total, down to a measly 6, and Rietzl continued berating himself for his play mistake under his breath.
The end game was truly a close one. Paul worked on undoing his mistake by casting Contagion Engine, but Ochoa fired back with yet another fatty: Engulfing Slagwurm. Paul played on another turn, but a combination of his increasingly bad board position combined with his continued frustration over failing to proliferate correctly with his Trigon forced him to concede in frustration with himself.
David Ochoa 2, Paul Rietzl 1
Saturday, 3:00 p.m. - Homecoming Weekend
by Nate Price
There had been rumors circulating all week that a famous face was going to be seen in the event hall this weekend. Paul Cheon, the one-time US National Champion and Worlds Team Champion, would be returning to Denver, once his home. Originally from Los Angeles, Cheon took up residence in Denver for a few years during the peak of his Magic career. For the past couple of years, Cheon's kind of dropped off the map, eschewing professional gaming to focus on work. With the Grand Prix headed to Denver, he couldn't resist the opportunity to get back out and game.
"It's really nice to be here," a fit looking Cheon told me with a smile. "I don't get to travel to many tournaments, but when I found out about Grand Prix Denver, I had to take the opportunity. I miss the gaming, but it's really good to see friends again. I managed to get out to see Luis [Scott-Vargas] a few times, including at his wedding, but it's nice to see some faces I don't get to see very often, like my other friends from California and the ones from here in Denver."
He admitted that he hadn't gotten a chance to game nearly as much as he used to because of work. Being out of touch a little didn't hurt him, though, as he battled through a few Grinders yesterday, managing to secure himself a three round bye for the Grand Prix. That, combined with a decent Sealed pool, should provide him all the tools needed to potentially add another Grand Prix win to his already impressive resume.
Though I only got to sit with him for a little chat, it was nice to hear how Cheon misses the friends he made through Magic. It's easy to forget the social aspect of the game buried under all of the technical coverage, but the ability to meet new, likeminded people is one of the greatest attractions to playing in the first place. Combine that with the sheer number of people that travel the world to play the game, and it's easy to put together a list of friends from all around the globe, much as Cheon has done. Events like the Pro Tour and this Grand Prix provide people the chance to see and hang out with people you get to see once in a blue moon. Even if you don't play nearly as much as you used to.
Feature Match Round 5 - Luis Scott-Vargas vs. Chris Higashi
by Nate Price
There was quite a bit of experience in the Feature Match area this round. Chris Higashi is a long-time player and teacher from Las Vegas who has had quite a bit of success on the Starcitygames Open Series. LSV is...well...LSV. By this point, you should be pretty familiar with him, as his name is constantly mentioned every time someone brings up the "best player in the world" discussion. He is appearing this weekend, sans mirrored sunglasses, opting for a more traditional look.
Right as the players presented their decks for a cut, the judges came over and picked them up for a deck check. Yes, that still happens, even if you're playing under the spotlight.
"At least we knew where to find you," the judge joked as he scooped up their decks.
In the intervening lull, the players had a bit of conversation about other formats, byes, life, love... the usual. Eventually, the judges came back and handed their decks off. LSV had won the die roll and chose to go second.
Saunders started things off with a Copper Carapace, followed immediately by an Ichorclaw Myr. LSV removed the creature for the time being with a Leonin Relic-Warder. Saunders made a Perilous Myr, which looked significantly less scary than his infectious cousin would have when he picked up the Carapace and swung over for three. LSV hadn't been idle, adding a Copper Myr and an Ichor Wellspring to his team. The Copper Myr allowed him to cast a Fangren Marauder on his next turn, giving him a slightly bigger board than Saunders.
That is until the Phyrexian Juggernaut hit the board. Alongside the Ichorclaw Myr he had played on the previous turn, his infectious army was starting to look pretty impressive. Add to that the Copper Carapace, and LSV looked to be in a bit of trouble. He made a Dross Hopper and passed the turn to Saunders. It was time for the first big swing. The Juggernaut picked up the Carapace and swung in. LSV went to double block with his Marauder and Hopper, but Saunders had the Grasp of Darkness to kill them both. After combat, he made a Darksteel Axe, which he put right onto his Ichorclaw Myr.
Chris Higashi makes sure that LSV gets the point.
Over the next couple of turns, Saunders's infectious army systematically ground LSV's into dust. A Tower of Calamities provided some light at the end of the tunnel, but Saunders had even more good targets in his hand. LSV was forced to spend his first activation to kill a Tangle Angler that would have cleared the way for Saunders to poison LSV to death. After that, he didn't have the mana to build his board at the same time as Towering an attacker. When Saunders aimed a Spread the Sickness at LSV's lone blocker, he put an exclamation point at the end of a strong statement game.
Luis Scott-Vargas 0 - Chris Higashi 1
Saunders started first again in the second game, this time finding a Flayer Husk as his early artifact of choice. It was followed by a Viridian Emissary, which meant that LSV would have a little breathing room from the poison hiding in Saunders's deck. LSV made things interesting with a fourth-turn Mimic Vat.
"Mimic Vat," Saunders asked? "Interesting..."
Saunders had a Rust Tick to add to his team, which would effectively keep the Vat under control, but he'd have to wait to use it. After using Instill Infection to kill off the Emissary, LSV found an Arrest to keep the Tick on lockdown. With Mimic Vat online, LSV started churning out little token Emissaries. With the ground cut off, Saunders took to the sky. A Plague Stinger came down and picked up the Husk and a Copper Carapace. LSV found a Glint Hawk to block it, but Saunders used a Grasp of Darkness to kill it. LSV chose to put it under his Vat, giving him an effective three-mana Fog for the Stinger. When he used a Leonin Relic-Warder to get rid of the Carapace a couple of turns later, the Stinger was forced to stay home entirely.
Saunders tried to continue building his army with an Ichorclaw Myr, but LSV immediately dealt with it with a Mortarpod. Mortarpod and Mimic Vat had the potential to be a degenerate little combo. When LSV went to move the Mortarpod over to his Copper Myr, Saunders hit it with a Grasp of Darkness. After untapping, Saunders hit paydirt with a Tangle Angler. The 1/5 infect creature was big enough to survive LSV's removal and could start to wrest control of the board. Unfortunately, he made a slight error on his first attack with it. Instead of equipping it first, he sent it in unarmed. LSV had a Plague Myr with a Mortarpod on defense. When the Angler caught the Relic-Warder's attention, LSV just blocked it and sacrificed his Plague Myr before damage, nullifying the Angler's infect. After combat, Saunders made a Viridian Corrupter, which sent the Mimic Vat packing.
Without the Vat, LSV's board was significantly weakened, but he was by no means dead. A Spread the Sickness took care of the Angler before it could pick up any equipment and start doing damage. Unfortunately for him, Saunders had a Bonehoard hiding in his deck, and the massive enhancer made his Viridian Corrupter a lethal threat. LSV was forced to chump block it for a turn, getting rid of his Relic-Warder and returning the Copper Carapace it was guarding to Saunders. Equipping it to his already impressive Corrupter, he quipped, "all my eggs in one basket..."
LSV just nodded and played a Sunblast Angel. Good retort. With Saunders's board completely devoid of creatures, LSV now had the advantage. Over consecutive turns, he attacked with his Angel and rebuilt his board. Over consecutive turns, Saunders floundered in his attempt to regain control. After a few short swings, LSV had snatched victory from the infectious jaws of a poisonous, poisonous death.
Luis Scott-Vargas 1 - Chris Higashi 1
Saunders chose to go first this game, unlike LSV's slower approach. Considering the draws his lightning quick infect deck is capable of, it was easy to see why. He got out of the gates a little slower this game than he had in the past ones. An Ichorclaw Myr met a Steel Sabotage. His Phyrexian Digester met a Leonin Relic-Warder. His Tangle Angler eventually fell to a Rusted Slasher and Sky-Eel School. The one thing he had going for him was his Lux Cannon, which was slowly building counters. Eventually, it managed to remove the Warder, getting him back the Digester. It got big with the help of a Copper Carapace, with another waiting alongside it to equip next turn. When it finally attacked, LSV just let it hit him before Sunblasting it and a Rust Tick away. Into the void, Saunders had a Bonehoard, which, though impressive, was behind to LSV's army of fliers. When he added a Serum Raker to his team, too, it looked bad for Saunders. Mortarpod gave LSV a chump blocker for the Bonehoard, as well as another random point of damage. Corrupted Conscience took Saunders's victory condition, a Viridian Corrupter, from him. His Lux Cannon was the one thing preventing him from dying on the next turn.
That was until he made a Steel Hellkite. Combined with the Lux Cannon, he now had enough clout to hold LSV off as he established control. LSV made a Clone Shell, hiding a card, and it got Saunders to thinking.
"What is under there...probably nothing. In my experience, it's usually nothing."
When LSV made a Mimic Vat on the following turn, things got even more complex. Saunders wisely used his Lux Cannon to kill the Sunblast Angel before LSV could imprint it.
One more turn, one more haymaker. Saunders untapped and made himself a Massacre Wurm. The Wurm completely obliterated LSV's board. When his Clone Shell hit the graveyard, it opened to reveal a Glimmerpoint Stag.
Wow. That was so much more than nothing. Saunders had been setting up for an alpha strike on that turn by removing all of LSV's blockers. The Bonehoard was supposed to be able to swing through an empty board, or even just alongside the rest of his team, and kill LSV that turn. Instead, his Bonehoard germ was dead, leaving him without enough damage to kill LSV. Worse, the Massacre Wurm let LSV put his Sky-Eel School on the Mimic Vat, giving him access to two flying creatures. His fliers had already dropped Saunders to two, so those two fliers were lethal. Saunders only had a Steel Hellkite for defense, so he was effectively dead on board. It was a stunning turnaround, all made possible due to the Massacre Wurm.
Luis Scott-Vargas massacres his opponent.
Stunned, Saunders just counted in disbelief as he went from a sure victory to utter defeat.
"Unreal. I'm pretty sure that if I don't play this Massacre Wurm, I can't lose."
LSV nodded his head in agreement.
"Well," Saunders said as he faced the crowd around the Feature Match area, "I guess Massacre Wurm doesn't do what I thought it did after all—win the game."
Luis Scott-Vargas 2 - Chris Higashi 1
Saturday, 4:30 p.m. - Talking with Ben Stark
by Bill Stark
There is no question Ben Stark is on an absolute tear right now in the professional Magic: The Gathering world. So far this season he has played two professional level events, and so far this season he has made the Finals twice. He started with Grand Prix Atlanta, losing to Jason Ford in the very last round of play to finish 2nd. His encore was his first Pro Tour victory in his third PT Top 8 during Magic Weekend Paris just last weekend.
The type of player who has been playing Magic for nearly all of his adult life, Ben began playing on the Pro Tour last century during the final days of the 1990s (and for those curious, no we are not related though we are often mistaken for one another within the gaming community). With his powerful start to 2011, I sat down with Ben to ask him about the Player of the Year race, why he's playing so well now, and how the game has changed over time.
Bill: You're off to an incredible start this year after an otherwise quiet return to playing professionally. What do you credit for your success?
Ben: Definitely playing with the ChannelFireball crew and deckbuilders like Patrick Chapin and Michael Jacob. We break it every format. As a player, I'm not a thinker, a guy like Ben Rubin who sits for a long time figuring out every angle. I play fast, and I need to know what's already going on without thinking about it. It took about a year after returning to the Pro Tour to get back to that level. But my success isn't attributable to any one thing.
Bill: Are you taking the game more seriously?
Ben: If anything I'm taking the game less seriously. Like, before on the Pro Tour I was playing a guy and we both had Platinum Angel on the battlefield. We had both used up our Upheavals, and neither of us had a means of removing the other player's Angel. I knew that, so I counted my library to see how many cards I had left. I knew I had more, and my opponent counted his and checked to see he had fewer, than conceded because he "would get decked." Now I wouldn't make that play; if someone plays me to a draw, I want a draw.
There's the story of Kenji Tsumura stopping an opponent to tell him to pay for a Pact. I wouldn't go that far; I'm not going to remind you how to play your cards, but I'm also not going to talk to you during your upkeep to make you forget. I'm not going to trick or bamboozle anyone. Magic is by far the best thing that's happened to me so if I have to lose two matches a year so the community is better, so my opponent's are happier with the Pro Tour, I'll happily do that.
Bill: How do you feel about your success so far this year?
Ben: I feel good about it. I started playing again in 2009 and took a year to catch up to competitive play. I feel better winning than losing and knowing I was punting. I had a tournament last year where I made small mistakes that kept me from doing well, but I know me in 2004 would have won. Magic is a hard game; it's good to be playing it well again.
Bill: Let's talk about the Player of the Year race. How much traveling do you plan to do this season?
Ben: I plan on attending every North American Grand Prix and all the Pro Tours. London and Prague are right next to each other without any events in between, so I'd say I'm about 50/50 to go to those since I can get to two by going to Europe once. There's the Asian Grand Prix right before the Pro Tour, but it conflicts with the StarCityGames Invitational. I'll be at one of those events, but I don't know which one yet. If I'm not level 8, I'll definitely go to Australia or Chile, but I don't think I'll go there just to get points for Player of the Year.
Bill: You're clearly the early favorite this season, having already picked up about half the points the winning Player of the Year had for 2010. Do you feel like the favorite?
Ben: I'm the favorite now, but I think overall I'm 15% to win it? While I'm the favorite presently over any individual player to win, I don't see myself as Player of the Year. There are three Pro Tours left to play, and they will probably have three different 1st and 2nd place finishers. I'd love to win the title, but I'm only the frontrunner because I got 1st and 2nd early, not because I'm the best player.
Bill: If you had to pick someone for Player of the Year, who would you predict?
Ben: *laughing* I'm the most likely Player of the Year. But Luis Scott-Vargas does well at every Pro Tour, which is a lot of points. Martin Juza will travel to every event on earth and do awesome. Paulo Vitor [Damo da Rosa] if he attends a bunch of events. Yuuya and Shuhei...There are so many great players, it's who travels the most. That's why LSV hasn't won yet.
Bill: As a long time Pro Tour player, what are some of the biggest changes you've seen to the circuit over your time on it?
Ben: I love that Wizards has stepped up and stopped cheaters. At my first Pro Tours, people cheated me and it cost me wins. Now I love that the game is fair play. The club system is really good too. I think they could improve it by making it more complicated so the end of the year isn't such a concede fest. But overall I think it's great that they do it; it incentivizes celebrity players to keep playing each year.
Bill: Let's talk about the Hall of Fame. You've been eligible for awhile. Do you feel your recent results make you a likely candidate for inclusion?
Ben: I think I need a few more results, I'm not quite there yet. I need to win a Grand Prix; I have five Grand Prix Top 8s, but no wins. Another Top 8 at the Pro Tour would be good, four is a good number. I've always written about the game, and tried to help everyone get better. I guess I think I should be considered but not in yet.
I think four Pro Tour Top 8s and 6-7 Grand Prix Top 8s would be good enough. To get in on three Pro Tour Top 8s, you need some outstanding community achievements. Brian Kibler has always promoted the game and himself tirelessly, for example. But I think I would probably deserve in on four Top 8s.
Feature Match: Round 7 – Ben Stark vs. Brian Kibler
by Bill Stark
The seventh round of Grand Prix Denver saw quite a treat of a feature match as Ben Stark (no relation to me) and Brian Kibler squared off against one another. Both were old school pros who had come back to the game after entering a time of semi-retirement. Since their returns they have put up the best performances of their careers. Both have won Pro Tours, Stark as recently as last weekend, and Kibler found himself a member of the 2010 Pro Tour Hall of Fame class.
After winning the coin flip, Brian forced his opponent to go first. Ben kicked things off with a Myrsmith while his opponent had Mirran Spy, but both stumbled on three lands. That forced them to sit and stare at each other while no one cast any spells. Using Burn the Impure, Ben flinched first taking out his opponent's 1/3 Spy, then trading his Myrsmith for the Germ token Brian had gotten from casting Skinwing.
Kibler managed to get over his mana stumble, casting a Serum Raker to reload. His opponent came up with a Skinwing of his own, also finally finding himself a fourth mana source. Sky-Eel School for the Hall of Famer gave him firm control of the skies, but he had a Mortarpod exiled by way of Leonin Relic-Warder from Ben, then began getting a serious beatdown from a Psychosis Crawler. With a hand chock full of cards from his mana screw, Stark's unassuming five-drop was a force to be reckoned with.
Just as Stark thought he was going to be able to race, however, he round himself trumped by his opponent's powerful removal spell: Into the Core. Rack and Ruin 2.0 handled two of Ben's threats at the same time, chief amongst them the Psychosis Crawler, and meant in the tempo race his opponent's unblockable fliers were going to kill him first. Doing the math, he picked up his cards and headed for his sideboard.
Brian Kibler 1, Ben Stark 0
The second game started out much faster than the first. Instead of stumbling on mana and spending their early turns drawing and passing, Ben and Brian came out swinging. Kibler opened on Flayer Husk, followed by Mirran Spy and Skinwing. His opponent had Mortarpod, Leonin Skyhunter, and a Burn the Impure to take out the Spy.
As the game headed to the middle turns, Stark found his fifth mana and cast Psychosis Crawler. With three cards in hand the robot Maro was a 3/3. Brian cast Heavy Arbalest and cleared the battlefield of threats by using Slagstorm set to creatures. His opponent didn't seem pleased about the turn of events, but cast a Ghalma's Warden and Gnathosaur in an effort to restart his ground forces.
Despite having been able to Wrath his opponent's team, Brian struggled to build up his forces afterwards. A Blisterstick Shaman and Perilous Myr paled in comparison to his opponent's 5/4 and the Ghalma's Warden. The Gnathosaur and Warden crashed in, the red creature trading for most of Brian's team while the white creature survived. Kibler finally managed to find himself a powerful threat as he cast Argent Sphinx with metalcraft, but his opponent was ready casting Kuldotha Flamefiend right back to kill the flyer.
The back-and-forth continued as Ben tried a Myr Battlesphere only to have it countered by Stoic Rebuttal. Unfortunately for Brian, stopping his opponent's bomb with the counter didn't deal with the Flamefiend and Warden still on the table, and when he failed to draw solutions for those he was forced to concede the second game.
Brian Kibler 1, Ben Stark 1
For the final game of the match, Brian Kibler again started off very aggressively. He opened on Flayer Husk followed by Perilous Myr, and finally cast Ichor Wellspring to keep his hand filled up. His opponent, meanwhile, had only an Origin Spellbomb, missing his fourth land drop.
Looking to take advantage of a mana stumble for the second time in the match, Brian cast Skinwing and continued pressing his red zone lead. His opponent's stumble didn't last long, however, and Ben soon had both a fourth land and a Ghalma's Warden. A Galvanic Blast from Brian, backed by the power of metalcraft, was enough to take out the 2/4, however, and Kibler was able to continue bashing in.
On 13 life Ben cast Loxodon Partisan to help stabilize. The beefy creature forced Brian's ground team to stay home, but his Skinwing continued attacking unhindered in the air. A Gnathosaur for the Hall of Famer further dampened Ben's spirits as his odds of survival in the match seemed increasingly grim. Still, a sliver of hope appeared for him in the form of his own Skinwing, which he cast.
No sooner had he found a flyer, however, than Ben's opponent found a second: Serum Raker hit for Brian and he continued pressuring Stark's life total with unblockable creatures. A Mortarpod for Stark allowed him to turn mana and two token creatures into a dead Raker, but he had to discard Bladed Sentinel while his opponent was able to discard an extra land.
Brian surveyed the battlefield and decided to go for it. He sacrificed his Perilous Myr to give his Gnathosaur trample, taking out his opponent's Skinwing in the process. That would allow him to attack for a significant portion of his opponent's life, but was not quite lethal. It didn't matter, however, as Ben knew he was drawing dead and conceded.
"You know it's bad when your only hope is to rely on Brian missing something," Ben opined, reaching for the match slip.
Brian Kibler 2, Ben Stark 1
Photo Essay - Tournament Hall Tour
by Bill Stark
Couldn't make it to Denver for a beautiful weekend of Magic playing with the world's best? Then enjoy this visual walk through the various sites from around the tournament hall!
One of two Brazilian Pro Tour Champions, Carlos Romao was the first South American player to ever win a Pro Tour. He took down the World Championships in 2002. Interested in reading more? You can! Check out the coverage archives here: http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=sideboard/events/worlds02
Fresh off his latest Pro Tour Top 8 just one weekend ago at Magic
Weekend Paris, Pat Chapin is here competing in Denver this weekend. In addition, he's also busy promoting his book "Next Level Magic
" by signing copies and chatting with players about all facets of the game throughout the weekend. Being able to engage with the world's greatest players is just one of many attractions for Grand Prix participants, even if you're not playing in the event itself.
Looking to watch live video coverage of the Grand Prix as it happens? Join Rashad Miller's motley crew of compatriots as they bring you round-by-round coverage alongside the official coverage team. (That's Rashad on the left, by the way.)
Two of the most prolific travelers on the Pro Tour circuit, Shuhei Nakamura (left) and Yuuya Watanabe have enjoyed the benefits from competing in nearly every professional event in the world. It was through their willingness to grind out Grand Prixs around the globe that they each managed to win the Pro Tour Player of the Year title. The two went back-to-back with Shuhei winning in 2008 and Yuuya winning in 2009.
Didn't do so well in the main event at the Grand Prix? The fine judging staff of the Public Events area is happy to offer you more Magic
to play! This weekend in Denver there is a Draft Challenge, a Pro Tour Qualifier, a StarCityGames Invitational Qualifier, round-the-clock drafts, Commander events, and more.
A group of ringers practicing with their Sealed Pools while waiting for their bye rounds to wind down. If you look closely you'll see former U.S. National team member Anthony Eason, East Coast standout Christian Calcano, and Pro Tour Amsterdam Top 8er Tom Ma.
StarCityGames is the host of the 2011 Grand Prix Denver, and here a host of players show their support in StarCity garb. You might recognize Gavin Verhey (seated) and Todd Anderson (far right, standing) as columnists from that very site!
pro player and columnist David Ochoa takes a moment out of his busy competitive day to get some cards signed by artist Douglas Schuler. Amongst the bright lights of the Top 8 stage, it's easy to forget the professional Magic
players are fans of the game at heart. They like to take advantage of the niceties offered by the Grand Prix circuit by chatting with artists, getting cards signed, and more.
Speaking of artists, here's Steve Argyle showing off some of his favorite art. He's signing and drawing for players all weekend long at the Grand Prix. Interested in seeing some more of his art? Check out the Magic cards he's drawn.
Some of the biggest names in the game pause to mug for the camera. On the left is Colorado player Conley Woods, who hopes to become the first Colorado player to win a Grand Prix at home. To his right is Ben Stark, no relation to this author, who is just a few days removed from becoming the world's newest Pro Tour champion in Paris. Next to him? The world's newest Player of the Year, Brad Nelson. Brad took down the playoff against Guillaume Matignon at Paris, the first time such a playoff has ever been needed in Magic
Head judging and scorekeeping the largest Grand Prix ever held in Denver are, from left to right, Nick Fang (Level 3, Phyrexian scorekeeper), Jeff Morrow (Level 4, head judge of the Phyrexians), Chris Richter (Level 3, head judge of the Mirrans), and Steven Zwanger (Level 3, Mirran scorekeeper).
Saturday, 7:30 p.m. – Quick hits
by Bill Stark
What Card Do You Most Want in Your Sealed?
Brad Nelson: Massacre Wurm
. Well, no…it's hard to be black. Probably…Sunblast Angel
? No, I don't want to be white either. Ummm…okay, Massacre Wurm
with my fingers crossed that I don't have too much infect.
Sam Black: Fangren Marauder
. I don't want to be greedy; it's a common!
Eric Froehlich: Massacre Wurm
. It's unreal.
Brian Kibler: Black Sun's Zenith
? Well, probably Massacre Wurm
. It's difficult to win if it's on the other side of the table.
Cedric Phillips: Myr Battlesphere
. It's playable in every deck. Seven mana is the top of the curve though; don't go to eight!
Patrick Chapin: Hoard-Smelter Dragon
. No, Massacre Wurm
! There's a lot of insane rares. Massacre Wurm
is good even if they have removal, and most removal doesn't kill it because it has 5 toughness and is a non-artifact. [Editor's note: prior to publication, Pat came back and informed us after talking with Luis Scott-Vargas that he actually would prefer to change his answer back to Hoard-Smelter Dragon
Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa: Massacre Wurm
I think. It's a colored big guy and can win games no other card can.
Deck Tech – Sealed Deckbuilding with Ben Stark
by Nate Price
Sealed Deck building is one of the more deceptively difficult things to do in Magic. Luckily for us, Grand Prix give us plenty of opportunities to learn from the best players in the world! Here in Denver, I was fortunate enough to sit down across the table from the newest member of the Pro Tour Winners Club—Ben Stark. Ben made an amazing run to the top of the field at Magic Weekend Paris this last week on the strength of is 9-0 performance in Standard. Admitting that he had a little less experience than he would like in this Scars of Mirrodin Block Sealed Deck format, he took his seat across from me to walk me through his building process.
"The first thing I always do is sort through and look for my bombs and removal. I used to sort through and remove all of the unplayable cards, but there aren't anywhere near as many strictly unplayable cards as there used to be, so it's a waste to filter out two or three cards per color."
As he told me this, he filtered through his deck, pulling cards up to the front. Revoke Existence, Burn the Impure, Myr Battlesphere, Spine of Ish Sah, Mortarpod, Dispense Justice, Barrage Ogre, and Kuldotha Flamefiend all ended up in their own special pile. They were the cards he knew he was going to play.
"There are a bunch of other cards I'd consider playing, but these are the only ones I know I'm going to have to work into my deck. I don't really have a lot of removal, so I have to play all of these. This Battlesphere is nice, though. It should trump just about any other bomb people might have."
After sorting these cards out in front of him by cost, and separating the spells from the creatures, he looked to the rest of his cardpool.
"Normally it's not that great to have a shallow pool for a color, but having this few blue cards is actually pretty nice, because I can completely eliminate them. I've only got six. Black is where I ended up getting most of my cards, and there are some pretty decent ones in there, but there isn't really anything that really makes me want to play the color. Except Phyrexian Crusader. He's really good. But the rest of the color is just mediocre. I've got the right number of cards to build an infect deck, but I just don't have the support."
He made a point of pushing the black cards away from the area in which he was working. As he mentioned the lack of support for his infect cards, he snatched up his green cards, starting to lay the infect ones off to the side.
"Some of these cards are really good. Double Tyrranax is good, Blightwidow, Fangren Marauder… Fat creatures are almost like bombs. They're really hard to kill and can often just outmuscle opponent's creatures. I'd really like to be playing all of these guys…but it's going to be hard. I've only got one mana Myr, so the dinosaurs strategy is going to be tough to pull off. That and I don't really have anything to do with these red and green cards in the early turn. No early removal. That's the ideal situation: lots of cheap removal for the early turns and fat for the late game. All I've got here is the fat."
With the RG option effectively discarded, Stark packed up the green cards and pushed them to the side. In their place, he took some of the other white cards in his pool and added them to the mix. Cards like Leonin Relic-Warder, Leonin Skyhunter, Master's Call, and Myrsmith gave him more options for the early game, something he noted he needed with the other build.
"Hmm…this looks more like a deck than the other build. The cards aren't as powerful as the other ones, but there are more ways for me to interact over the early turns of the game. The big downside, though, is my mana. I've got the Relic-Warder and the Skyhunter pushing me heavily into white, but the good red cards, the ones I can't cut, are all double red. I guess it's a good thing that I don't really need them early in the game. This Barrage Ogre never has to come down on turn five, and you usually want the Kuldotha Flamefiend to be the last card you play. I should be alright."
With all of the cards in place, he does one last check through his cards looking for synergies and whether or not he's most effectively using his cards. He finds something he's not too pleased with and makes an adjustment.
"I'm not really sure how I feel about this Flayer Husk. I never really had a chance to play with it much in Paris, so I don't really know about it. I'm not metalcraft, so the fact that it's a one-drop artifact doesn't really mean anything, and my creatures are all pretty well sized, so giving something +1/+1 doesn't really appeal to me all that much. Plus, without the green, I'm a little light on fat. I guess I'll add this Razorfield Rhino. I also don't know about this Kuldotha Ringleader. I can definitely see being behind and the must attack becoming a big drawback…I guess it fills the same slot as one of these Loxodon Partisans."
His final check complete, Stark went about sleeving and registering his deck. He was less than pleased with his open, but admitted that things could easily be worse.
"I don't really feel completely comfortable with either of these two options. My deck is light on removal and I've really only got the one bomb. Both have mana issues. I'll probably lose a game or two when I don't draw a second Mountain. I'll probably be switching back and forth between this and the green build as I need to all day. This deck is good enough to win, but it definitely isn't idea. At least I've got the Spine and the Battlesphere to trump some of the other bombs I'll face."
Grand Prix-Denver 2011 Sealed Deck
Feature Match: Round 8 – Patrick Chapin vs. Paul Cheon
by Nate Price
Talk about a heavyweight bout. Patrick Chapin, fresh off his Pro Tour Paris Top 8, has managed to put together an undefeated record to start off the first seven rounds of this Grand Prix. To say that he's been running and playing well recently is a bit of an understatement. His opponent, Paul Cheon, has taken a bit of time away from the game for work, but that hasn't stopped him from coming into this round undefeated as well. It's not like he doesn't have skill. Cheon has got quite a few wins an Top 8s over his career, ranging from Grand Prix all the way up to being US National Champion and the World Team Champion.
Round 8 featured a couple of heavy hitters.
Chapin won the die roll and, as many players do in this format, chose to go first. He used an early Horizon Spellbomb to fetch out a Forest, giving him access to three colors of mana. He used his third land to play a Phyrexian Rager. Cheon made his first drop on the next turn, his fourth, but his Bladed Sentinel was put down by a Grasp of Darkness. A Plague Myr joined Chapin's team after that, and he attacked Cheon for two.
Cheon rebuild, making a Golem Artisan, who was sure to make Chapin's ability to attack a nightmare. Things got a little easier when he played a Strata Scythe on his turn, choosing a Plains from his deck to combat Cheon's WR deck. He tapped his Plague Myr to get the mana needed to equip the Scythe to his Rager and attacked Cheon for six more.
Now requiring some thought, Cheon paused before tapping out to add a Leonin Skyhunter and a Spin Engine to his side. Chapin attacked Cheon down to six life with his Rager before removing the Golem Artisan with a Spread the Sickness. Now Cheon was in trouble. All he could do was play a Kemba, Kha Regent and pass the turn with his creatures back to block. Chapin put an Arrest on the Regent before sending his Rager in. Cheon chump blocked with his Spin Engine, leaving him with only a Skyhunter for defense. A Clone Shell hid a card underneath it, and Chapin passed the turn.
Cheon looks a bit…contagious.
Cheon found a bit of help in the form of a Contagion Engine, killing Chapin's Plague Myr and putting his Clone Shell in the danger zone. Undeterred, Chapin sent his two creatures in. When Cheon blocked the Clone Shell to kill it, Chapin revealed the Pierce Strider it was hiding. Chapin dropped to three with no blockers in play after combat and conceded.
Patrick Chapin 1 – Paul Cheon 0
For the second game, Cheon made Chapin go first. This time around, things were reversed. Cheon had a faster draw, getting an Iron Myr down on turn two. Meanwhile Chapin made a Leaden Myr on turn three.
"Had it," he joked, prompting a chuckle from Cheon.
Chapin's Kuldotha Forgemaster really wants to make something of himself.
With his new mana, Cheon made a Skinwing, which owned the skies for the moment. On his turn, Chapin used his extra mana to make a Kuldotha Forgemaster. The following turn made a Melira's Keepers for Cheon and a Clone Shell for Chapin. When Cheon made a Darksteel Axe, gave it to his Skinwing, and attacked, Chapin made a bold move. He sacrificed his three artifact creatures, revealing a mere Forest from his Clone shell, to fetch out a Thopter Assembly to block. After combat, Cheon had a Revoke Existence to remove the Thopter from the game. Chapin had effectively Wrathed himself for two of Cheon's cards. Despite this, Cheon wasn't too far ahead. A Blightwidow from Chapin wasn't too impressive compared to the Melira's Keepers Cheon had. A Spread the Sickness took care of that, though, and suddenly Chapin had the lead. Cheon had an Arrest to stop the Blightwidow, allowing his Axe-wielding Myr to attack Chapin for three.
Chapin drew his card and tapped all of his mana.
"Genesis Wave for five," he declared. He sighed a little as he put a Slice in Twain and a Morbid Plunder into his graveyard. He did manage to find another Forest, and Arrest, and a Molder Beast to put into play. The Arrest made its way onto Cheon's only creature, giving the Molder Beast the run of the table. Unfortunately, that was Chapin's last card, and Cheon still held two. He drew his card and dropped a couple of mana Myr and a Perilous Myr onto the table. Combined with the plethora of equipment Cheon had, any one of those could finish Chapin off. The Perilous Myr traded with the Molder Beast on Chapin's attack, leaving just the two mana Myr in play. Cheon drew his card, tossed all of his toys on one of his Myr and attacked. When Chapin failed to draw something of consequence, he conceded to go to game three.
Patrick Chapin 1 – Paul Cheon 1
Cheon got a fast start again in the final game, with his Iron Myr leading into a Kemba, Kha Regent. Seeing the equipment Cheon's deck had to serve up, Chapin simply got rid of the Regent with Go for the Throat. Cheon kept up the pressure, adding a Sylvok Replica and a Skinwing to his team. Chapin, sitting on one Forest, simply made a Viridian Emissary. The Skinwing sent to work, hitting Chapin for two. Chapin gave Cheon an appetizing target for his replica with a Strata Scythe on Forests. Rather than kill it immediately, Cheon waited to make Chapin spend mana.
Just as in the last game, Cheon made a Melira's Keepers, which Chapin immediately Spread the Sicknessed. Cheon just added more to his team, this time a Kemba's Skyguard, giving him a three turn clock in the skies. Chapin needed his Blightwidow fast. He managed to stem the bleeding a touch with a second Spread the Sickness to kill the Skyguard, but the Skinwing still dropped him to eight.
Chapin bit the bullet and played his Thopter Assembly. Predictably, Cheon removed it with the Sylvok Replica, but not before giving it a thorough read. His Skinwing dropped Chapin to six. At this point, Chapin was not in a position where even the mere size of a scythe-wielding creature would matter. Cheon just had too many blockers. He opted to use a Phyrexian Rager to dig a little deeper. He found himself a Morbid Plunder, returning his Thopter Assembly to his hand.
Dropping to three after Cheon's attack, the Assembly may have been too late. Fortunately, his deck gave him yet one more barrier for Cheon to get through: his Blightwidow. Unfortunately, Cheon's deck still held removal, and an Arrest allowed Cheon to push through to drop Chapin to one. A Burn the Impure on the Blightwidow finished things off in spectacular style, as Cheon's removal-heavy deck put all the pressure it needed on Chapin.
Patrick Chapin 1 – Paul Cheon 2
Saturday, 9:30 p.m. – It's Been a Magical Year
by Nate Price
This past year in Magic has been one of the most incredible years the game has seen. There have been explosions on all fronts, from competitive play to casual support, from flavor to things to savor. Whatever your poison, Magic has been infectiously fun to be a part of over the past year.
For the competitive player, you've got the explosion of competitive tournaments, including the StarCityGames.com Open Series. For the fans of drama and spectacle, you were probably floored by the simply breathtaking tension that oozed from the Player of the year tie. Are you a fan of the flavor and story behind Magic? How about a return to two of the most popular planes in Magic's storied history? In addition to that, you could involve yourself in the conflict, just Choose Your Side and fight for the future of Mirrodin! If you're a casual player, you probably cackled with sardonic glee as you schemed against those who would oppose you as the Archenemy. This has been a year of firsts, and as players and fans, we've reaped the rewards.
Just a few short months into 2011, and things are already shaping up to be better than even the last amazing year. We resolved the Player of the Year tie in epic fashion, pitting Guillaume Matignon and Brad Nelson head-to-head in a multiformat match for the title at Magic Weekend Paris last week. Also at that event, we witnessed Paul Rietzl's incredible run in the Grand Prix and Pro Tour simultaneously! He was a mere match win shy of potentially playing in the Top 8 of both tournaments! And it would be impossible to discount the impressive performance Ben Stark gave on the weekend, going undefeated in the Standard portion of the event on the way to his first Pro Tour title. Magic Weekend Paris was the actual definition of epic.
StarCityGames.com owner Pete Hoefling has worked hard to help Magic have one of the best years ever.
The best part: there's still so much more to come! For fans of Elder Dragon Highlander, Wizards has announced a bit of love in the form of upcoming multiplayer product release. For quite some time, many of the folks at the Wizards office have become enamored with the player-created format. Magic: The Gathering Commander adds a collection of cards to the format that are specifically designed for it, including many new wedge-based generals, as well as cards like Death by Dragons which will have homes in multiplayer decks of any format. For fans of the storyline of Magic, the war between Phyrexia and the Mirrans remains unresolved. In fact, Wizards has even acknowledging how tense this combat is by revealing that the next set could have one of two names based on the outcome of the war. Personally, I can't wait to see who wins (I hope it's the Mirrans!).
For those competitive players out there, the second half of the current season of StarCityGames.com's Open Series has been announced. The Open Series has seen an explosion of popularity due to the high level of competitive play it boasts, the great prize support, and the point system it uses to qualify players for an invitation only event at the end of the year. Many players have been using them as a testing ground for themselves, running through the stiff competition to prepare themselves for the Pro Tour.
StarCityGames are also the organizers for this Grand Prix Denver. They've put on a great show here, providing tons of things to do for players in the Grand Prix, as well as those who were less fortunate. There is an artist area featuring some of the biggest names at the bottoms of cards, including one of the founding fathers of Magic illustration: Douglas Shuler.
Hi. I painted Serra Angel. You're welcome.
They've got a bunch of side events, including two Draft Challenges, for anyone who wants to show they can draft, even if they missed out on Day two of the GP.
Remember guys, it's Mirrodin Besieged first...
Pro Tour Paris Top 8 player Patrick Chapin is even taking time out of his busy schedule this weekend to sign copies of his book, "Next Level Magic," a compendium of lessons and theories intended to improve a player's game.
Take your game to the Next Level!
If events for the rest of the year are as packed with fun as these, this is going to be a great year indeed.
Feature Match: Round 9 – Martin Juza vs. Michael Simon
by Bill Stark
With only one round left to play on Day 1, Czech super traveler and constant Player of the Year contender Martin Juza found himself on the verge of exiting the day undefeated. Standing in his way? Michael Simon of Omaha, Nebraska. The Midwesterner was hoping it would be he who was undefeated. "All without byes!" He pointed out as they shuffled.
"I'm 10-0 on games," Juza replied, matching accomplishment with accomplishment.
A Gust-Skimmer from Martin's deck was felled quickly by a Mortarpod Germ from his opponent. Michael's opening of Forests and Inkmoth Nexus hinted that he might be on the poison/infect plan, but rather than be aggressive he cast a Wall of Tanglecord and was content to sit back and play defense. Juza was fine with that plan, casting a Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas and using it to search the top five cards of his library for an artifact. The powerful planeswalker meant Mike's plan of hanging back was no good; he needed to pressure the planeswalker and fast!
Blightwidow was Simon's attempt to apply the beatdown, but a Perilous Myr for defense across the battlefield meant his opponent got to continue using Tezzeret to dig up robotic goodness. With his second activation Juza found a Razorfield Rhino and had enough mana to cast it with the help of Palladium Myr. The 6/6 died to a Sylvok Replica, but Michael still had to deal with the Tezzeret.
...not a solution to Tezzeret
"That guy," Michael said, indicating he was referring to his Blightwidow, "is not good against planeswalkers."
Skinrender for Martin allowed him to further lock up the Blightwidow's relevance and he began attacking with Palladium and Perilous Myr. Yet another activation of his Tezzeret found him a second bomb: Myr Battlesphere. Hilariously that was the same combo from his Standard deck he had used one weekend prior at Pro Tour Paris!
Poor Michael Simon's deck tried to keep up with a Quilled Slagwurm, but he just couldn't overcome the card advantage generated by Tezzeret and soon found himself packing it up for the second game.
Martin Juza 1, Michael Simon 0
"Your deck is really good," Michael Simon informed his opponent as they shuffled for the second game. Martin was not the type of player who wouldn't be aware of that fact, but he had to take a mulligan to start the second game. Could Michael get his opponent to mulligan into oblivion and give himself a shot?
Content on six cards Juza kicked the game off with a Copper Myr on his second turn. His opponent, who had opened on Flayer Husk, also had a two-mana accelerant: Sphere of the Suns. Heavy Arbalest was next for Martin, who was holding Soliton in his hand for the two-card combo, but a Viridian Corrupter from Simon took the heavy artillery piece out before he could use it. He still cast his Soliton but his deck's powerful draw from the first game was nowhere to be seen in the second.
Pressing on, Michael Simon cast a Golem Artisan to add to his battlefield advantage. He couldn't get through, however, as his opponent cluttered the ground with defensive cards like Wall of Tanglecord, casting Plague Myr for good measure. A Mortarpod for Mike meant he could blow up either of his opponent's Myr, but he continued not being able to get in with his Artisan. That gave his opponent the time to draw Skinrender and use it to turn the Artisan into a 1/1 creature, saved solely for the fact that it had been equipped with Flayer Husk.
Quilled Slagwurm for Simon gave him a possible trump, but his opponent drew a Contagion Clasp to help tame the wild beast. He still took 7 from the creature when it made its first attack, but his life total was high and he knew that the longer the game lasted, the more likely the chance that he would draw some of his bombs. An Acid-Web Spider allowed him to blow up his opponent's Flayer Husk, and then traded in a combo block to finish the Slagwurm off.
The game settled into a stalemate, Michael drawing blanks and unable to attack while his opponent drew creatures that were less than exciting. Blightwidow followed by Palladium Myr meant Martin Juza had firm control of the defense; all he needed was his Tezzeret or Battlesphere for some offense. A Myr Propagator for Simon meant he could potentially cause problems for his opponent, particularly when combined with his Mortarpod. That was enough for Martin, who decided to begin attacking.
He sent his Blightwidow to the red zone and had it chumped. Simon fired back by casting a Wall of Tanglecord while Martin came up with a Tangle Hulk. The Myr Propagator began propagating and the stalemate was starting to get a bit frenzied. A Bonehoard for Juza revealed a third bomb in his deck, and Michael put himself up to four total Myr Propagators on the battlefield.
The Propagator began getting out of control. Martin was able to force a chump block each turn with his Bonehoard, but his opponent's army soon reached nine copies of the card. Meanwhile the Czech pro found himself going through a bit of a mana glut, desperately seeking Myr Battlesphere or Tezzeret and not finding them turn after turn. Inkmoth Nexus for Mike began attacking in the air, sneaking in infect points whenever he had the spare mana from Propagating. Eventually the creature-land was felled by a Virulent Wound.
Looking to continue down the poison path, Michael cast Volition Reins to steal his opponent's Contagion Clasp. With the board utterly cluttered by Propagators and his mana glut continuing, Juza opted to concede in the hopes of having enough time to finish a third game.
Martin Juza 1, Michael Simon 1
The players kicked the final game of the match off at a furious pace. Michael tried to beat down early with Inkmoth Nexus, but had his land killed by Virulent Wound. Both players cast Blightwidow, and a Tangle Hulk from Martin was immediately killed by Sylvok Replica from Simon while Juza was tapped out and couldn't regenerate.
Vedalken Anatomist gave Martin a solid threat and he used it to begin tapping down his opponent's Palladium Myr. Clearly the pro wanted to simply draw a seventh source of mana; he was stuck on six while holding Myr Battlesphere in his hand. When he missed for a third turn in a row, he attempted a Tangle Angler. It was a smart play as his opponent used a counterspell to stop the 1/5, meaning the coast was likely clear for Juza to resolve his Battlesphere when he finally found his seventh land.
A Mortarpod from Michael was killed by Viridian Corrupter from his opponent. Martin finally drew his seventh mana, but slowrolled his Battlesphere. He cast Soliton first, getting it blown up by his opponent's own copy of Viridian Corrupter. When he attempted Heavy Arbalest, Simon countered with Fuel for the Cause. Juza's play looked genius; he had managed to dodge three removal spells for his Battlesphere!
In the meanwhile, his Corrupter was doing the beatdown job just fine, getting Mike up to five poison with some help from the Virulent Wound that had killed Inkmoth Nexus. Mike tried to stabilize with Wall of Tanglecord and Myr Propagator, and when Martin tried to kill the Wall with Spread the Sickness Simon used his last card in hand, Stoic Rebuttal, to counter.
Finally the coast was clear: Juza pulled the trigger on his Myr Battlesphere. He had patiently outlasted five different removal spells for the bomb, but his opponent masterfully drew a sixth off the top of his deck: Sylvok Replica.
It didn't matter much, however, as Martin was able to use his Vedalken Anatomist to run rampant on his opponent's creatures. His team of Myr, Viridian Corrupter, and soon a Fangren Marauder began applying heavy pressure to Simon's life total. In the background head judge Jeff Morrow called time in the round; could Martin get through enough to win in time?
He could! On the second of extra turns Martin attacked Michael to put him to exactly nine poison, then used Contagion Clasp to proliferate for exactly lethal.
Martin Juza 2, Michael Simon 1