Sunday, 10:40 a.m – Drafting with Joel Larsson
by Tim Willoughby
Joel Larsson of Sweden had a successful Saturday. His sealed deck was a difficult build, which ultimately took him down the path of Gruul splashing a few black cards. In spite of this slightly awkward guild affiliation (we'll have to wait for Gatecrash before we get an actual Gruul cards), Larsson was able to eke out the wins he needed to make it to draft day.
Sitting down at a pod where the other most noteworthy name was Lukas Jaklovsky, Larsson sat down with an open mind as to where he wanted his draft to go. He opened his pack and saw a few reasonable options, including a Thoughtflare, some solid black cards and a Common Bond. The bond was the only clear Selesnya card in the pack, and wanting to send a fairly strong signal, he took it – hopefully marking his territory. The second pack was far more exciting than the first, in spite of there not being a rare. Annihilating Fire, Skymark Roc and Stab Wound are all premium cards in Return to Ravnica draft. While Stab Wound was a card Larsson later acknowledged to be a great splash in a Selesnya deck, the Swede took the very powerful Skymark Roc, wary of going into black having just passed some. A third pick Call of the Conclave solidified his plan to be in Selesnya, Larsson's pick for his favourite guild.
At pick seven of pack one came an interesting decision – Trostani's Judgment or Centaur's Herald? Both are great in the populate deck in quite different ways. It is really important to be able to get your first token on the board to be able to start using the keyword, but equally there can be a number of roadblocks to the Selesnya strategy, and having removal and tricks to battle through bigger creatures or bombs is very important. After a little thought, Larsson went with the Trostani's Judgment, presumably hoping that he'd be able to pick up token generators later.
The second pack started well for Larsson with a premium token maker in Slime Molding. The format is defined by 3/3 creatures, and being able to make tokens that could be much larger than that would be important in allowing his populate plan to come to fruition. He got a Centaur's Herald third pick, and seemed in a nice spot. However, things started to look a little strange shortly thereafter. The quality green/white cards that Larsson had been hoping for did not seem so abundant. Thinking back to his Skymark Roc, Larsson found himself taking Isperia's Skywatch fifth, shaking his head at a dearth of Selesnya cards to choose from. Given how little Selesnya Larsson had passed in pack one (that Herald notwithstanding), it seemed likely that Stephen Murray to Larsson's left had opened a powerful Selesnya rare of some sort.
Pack three saw another difficult choice for Larsson, and one which would once and for all see him show his plan. Cyclonic Rift was the rare in his pack, one that can break stalls like few others, and a powerhouse that his deck would find difficult to beat. However, this was another card in his splash colour, and there was another great on colour option in Selesnya Charm. Later, Larsson would cite the flexibility and power of Selesnya Charm as his reason for picking it. Quite simply, he knew that the charm would always be good in his deck, with the trample it imparts being particularly important in helping him put away games.
Pack three was much more straightforward for Larsson than the second had been, with a fifth pick Slime Molding and a seventh pick Wayfaring Temple suggesting that he was in a good position for Selesnya. At eighth pick, Larsson made a selection that in retrospect he felt he might regret. With the option of Centaur Healer or Rootborn Defences, he picked the lifegain creature. While the healer is consistently decent, making more 3/3 creatures is not necessarily a tough task for the populate deck, while with two copies of Slime Molding, Rootborn Defences is a fine trick that can function as both a defensive and offensive spell, saving creatures and populating more massive Ooze tokens onto the battlefield.
It was a rocky path in the second pack, but Larsson came out of the draft fairly happy with where his deck had ended up. He quickly won his first round, setting the scene for a match against Jukas Jaklovsky in round 11.
Sunday, 11:40 a.m – Look at My Deck!
by Tobi Henke
Walking around during deck construction with a camera is quite the event. Players simply love to show off their Limited decks, especially after a draft, whether at small tournaments or in day two of a Grand Prix. Here are some of the more interesting snapshots.
Exhibit A: The good Rakdos deck featuring triple Auger Spree
Want removal? We got removal!
Looking for tokens? 1/1 flying, 2/2 vigilance, couple of 3/3s, or even 8/8? How many?
And there's more than one way to get an 8/8 token ...
Boros? Real honest-to-goodness Boros? Someone couldn't wait for Gatecrash ...
Round 10 Feature Match – Elias Watsfeldt (Azorius) vs. Antti Malin (Selesnya)
by Tobi Henke
In this all-Scandinavian feature match, the old guard met the new. Antti Malin has been at the very top of this game, with a World Championship title in 2008, but it's been awfully quiet around him in more recent years. 19-year-old Elias Watsfeldt, on the other hand, has only just begun his pro career with one Grand Prix Top 8 last year and one more this year.
Watsfeldt played first, yet Malin had the first play, starting on two Centaur's Heralds. Watsfeldt cast Vassal Soul on turn three, and while that drew first blood, Malin made his first token. Watsfeldt stopped the 3/3 with Hussar Patrol, but lost the Patrol to Common Bond. Facing a 5/5 Centaur token, Watsfeldt decided to grow a fatty of his own, putting Knightly Valor on Vassal Soul. Malin went to 14 and on the backswing Watsfeldt went to 15.
Next turn, Malin had Selesnya Keyrune, and he exchanged his remaining Centaur's Herald for another token at end of Watsfeldt's turn, but not before Watsfeldt had cast Isperia's Skywatch, giving him a total of 7 power worth of fliers. Azorius Arrester for Malin and Inaction Injunction for Watsfeldt slowed things down for a while with yet more detention, but Watsfeldt's fliers made steady headway in the damage race.
At one point, Watsfeldt blocked Malin's 3/3 Centaur with his 4/4 vigilant Vassal Soul. Malin had Giant Growth, Watsfeldt however had Dramatic Rescue. "That's nasty," Malin complained. Watsfeldt just smiled. And he had all the reason. Malin's freshly summoned Towering Indrik was soon forced to chump, and shortly after game one was in the books.
Elias Watsfeldt 1-0 Antti Malin
Brushstrider, Centaur Healer, Fencing Ace, Azorius Arrester, and Security Blockade for Malin and Doorkeeper, Armory Guard, and Seller of Songbirds for Watsfeldt all entered the battlefield and basically just lay there, lazily doing nothing much at all.
No meaningful attacks had happened so far, but now Watsfeldt's Skymark Roc called Malin to action. He summoned Azorius Justiciar, detained Armory Guard and Skymark Roc, then attacked with everything. He lost his Brushstrider and Fencing Ace, whereas Watsfeldt only lost Seller of Songbirds along with its token and didn't even take a lot of damage—2 to be precise. Apparently Malin's attack had simply been a last-ditch effort (possibly bluffing some combat trick) in a matchup that was clearly not in his favor.
Watsfeldt regrouped with another Seller of Songbirds and Lyev Skyknight while Malin's deck, adding insult to injury, offered up a few too many lands. Once again, the fliers finished the job.
"Yeah, I think my deck is pretty well set-up to beat yours," Watsfeldt commented the anticlimax. Malin could only agree: "That's the one deck I didn't want to face. This matchup's terrible."
Elias Watsfeldt 2-0 Antti Malin
Round 11 Feature Match – Michael Milis vs. Matteo Versari
by Tim Willoughby
Toward the end of day one of Grand Prix Lisbon, Rich Hagon came up to me and said. "You know that Michael Milis... he's very good." The Belgian player is a member of staff in Outpost in Belgium, and this is not his first rodeo. He made top eight of GP Milan in 2011, and is consistently someone to watch on the Grand Prix circuit.
His opponent for round 11 would be the only other undefeated player left in the room; Matteo Versari. He'd won Grand Prix Malmo, where the format was Avacyn Restored limited, and was showing that limited formats ingeneral are something of a speciality, with another great performance thus far.
While Versari was on the play, and had the first threat of the game in Drudge Beetle, it was Milis who got the first damage of the match, with Rakdos Shred-Freak. Versari soon got that life back, and a little more thanks to Centaur Healer from his Selesnya deck. A Guttersnipe from Milis was soon followed by a Viashino Racketeer and a Slitherhead – enough to fill up the Rakdos side of the board quite neatly. Those small creatures didn't look so impressive against Versari's line up though, withf first a Wayfaring Temple, and then a Deadbridge Goliath entering the fray.
Wayfaring Temple traded with Rakdos Shred-Freak and Viashino Racketeer; Milis very much on the defensive. He played a fresh Shred-Freak and a Gore-House Chainwalker (not unleashed) to give him a ready supply of blockers. Those blockers would be needed each and every turn, as even when Milis had Annihilating Fire plus a block to try to off Deadbridge Goliath, Versari had the necessary pump spells.
Milis soon found himself out of blockers, and not long later out of life. Matteo Versari wins game one.
Matteo Versari 1 – 0 Michael Milis
The second game seemed a little more in Milis' favour, with Viashino Racketeer and Guttersnipe showing up, while Versari was on a slightly slower start, with just Centaur's Herald for and a Drudge Beetle (that traded with Rakdos Shred-Freak) in the early turns.
Versari played that Wayfaring Temple again, hoping to be able to populate his centaur tokens. Milis had the Annihilating Fire for the centaur, but there was a Giant Growth to keep it around, potentially spelling trouble for Milis.
The unstoppable Matteo Versari
Knightly Valor on the centaur token meant that life looked a little harder for Milis, and when a mid-combat Druid's Deliverance allowed a populate from Versari, he was able to punish Milis blocks in decisive fashion, with his Wayfaring Temple suddenly being big enough to kill off a Frostburn weird without reprisal.
Milis had two copies of Guttersnipe, and an Augur Spree to kill off a Centaur token, but even with two Guttersnipe triggers, he was not able to race, and soon scooped up his cards. Matteo Versari would be the last undefeated player here at Grand Prix Lisbon.
Matteo Versari wins 2-0, advancing to 11-0!
Sunday, 2:55 p.m – Drafting Azorius with Elias Watsfeldt
by Tim Willoughby
With three more rounds to go before the Top 8, Elias Watsfeldt was sitting comfortably at the first draft table with a score of 11-1, well on his way to what could be the third Grand Prix Top 8 of his career. He got this far with the help of tempo-oriented Azorius decks, both in Sealed and in the first draft, and now it was time to continue that pattern.
He opened Corpsejack Menace, Phantom General, Azorius Arrester, Gatecreeper Vine, Izzet Guildgate, and Rogue's Passage, and indeed went for the Passage, setting his sights on a strong aggressive deck rather than hedging his bets. He followed it up with Giant Growth over Ogre Jailbreaker, Golgari Longlegs, Voidwielder, and Dramatic Rescue all of which he considered. Clearly Watsfeldt wasn't determined to draft Azorius no matter what, but a third-pick Sphinx of the Chimes did bring him into blue. Concordia Pegasus out of a weak booster was next, a small start into white. First, though, more blue was coming: Frostburn Weird, Syncopate, and a second Frostburn Weird.
The rest of pack one gave him Azorius Guildgate, Azorius Arrester, Judge's Familiar, an eleventh-pick Runewing, and Downsize, solidifying Azorius.
The booster he opened didn't have a strong Azorius presence however, and he was forced to choose between Azorius Keyrune, Trostani's Judgment, Armory Guard, and Runewing. Not the ideal first pick, but Runewing it was. Next, Azorius Arrester had no real competition, but pick three appeared to be a very close call again. Time was almost up and Watsfeldt was still going back and forth between Supreme Verdict and Knightly Valor. The enchantment might better fit his deck, while the rare is arguably more powerful. In the end he chose Supreme Verdict.
Pick four was Tower Drake over Azorius Guildgate, then came Hussar Patrol over Keening Apparition. Skyline Predator was sixth, Armory Guard over Seller of Songbirds was seventh, and then Azorius mostly dried up. Watsfeldt did get a Swift Justice and another Armory Guard, but he also hate-picked stuff like Gore-House Chainwalker and a Golgari Guildgate.
Perseverance paid off in pack three though, with a first-pick Righteous Authority, which more than made up for the lost Knightly Valor as well. Next was Azorius Guildgate, and then Watsfeldt did get one copy of Knightly Valor after all. Things were definitely looking up with a procession of Azorius Arrester, Voidwielder, Tower Drake, Paralyzing Grasp, Stealer of Secrets, and ninth-pick Skyline Predator.
When there were only four cards left in the booster, Watsfeldt even got to choose between Hussar Patrol, Dispel, and the Runewing which he took. What's more, even his second to last pick, an Ethereal Armor, still was a potential maindeck inclusion (although it didn't make the final cut).
Overall, the draft had gone extremely well for Watsfeldt. With more than enough playables, lots of fliers, a solid curve, a few tricks, and potential bombs in Supreme Verdict, Sphinx of the Chimes, and Righteous Authority his deck looked more than capable of getting him to the Top 8.
So ... Azorius all the way?
Sunday, 4:15 p.m – Golgari Drafting with Martin Jůza
by Tim Willoughby
It all started with a fairly simple statement from Martin Jůza.
"I think that Grisly Salvage is among the top five commons in Return to Ravnica."
Jůza had just gone 3-0 in the first draft pod with a Golgari deck, and had seen similar success in other recent GPs with the same sort of strategy. Frequently it works out that Golgari decks are collections of good creatures, and the Salvage allows the caster, at instant speed, to fix their mana or draw into another threat without issue. That is can do so while also stocking the graveyard with scavenge creatures is just a fantastic bonus.
Golgari is not a deck that I am so familiar with drafting compared to various others in the format, so it's safe to say that at this point I was on the hook. With another draft to watch before the top eight, I elected to grab a seat by alongside for a ride-along in Golgaridraft.
Jůza's first pick of the draft was never going to be a Golgari card. He had the option of Hellhole Flailer or New Prahv Guildmage. After a bit of thought Jůza went with the Rakdos uncommon. As he saw the second pack, Jůza was already shaking his head. Looking around the table, his read was that it would be more likely for someone to already be in Rakdos than Azorius, attracted by something like an Augur Spree. To stay the course, Jůza took a Traitorous Instinct, but as he passed the pack he started shaking his head. He should have taken Rakdos Guildgate, as he knew he'd need one at some point, and it left him more options. A Rakdos Ragemutt was not an exciting third pick, but this is a creature that might slot into a Golgari deck too...
Pick four, there it was though, Dreg Mangler! Now the plan was on. Jůza was keen to point out after the draft that lifelink is a very important part of the mixture for Golgari. A Ragemutt that could get bigger is a lot better than a regular Ragemutt, and Golgari has plenty of scavenge options to do just that. The latter parts of the first pack did a good job of helping this switch into Golgari from Rakdos, with the likes of Zanikev Locust 8th, Golgari Guildgate 11th and a Sewer Shambler as a 12th pick.
Pack two saw a first pick Trestle Troll from Jůza, who was hoping to have a clean run at Golgari having jumped in on it in pack one without much in the way of passes. The Troll shores up some of Golgari's weakness against fliers, though Jůza would likely hope to see a Towering Indrik or Aerial Predation somewhere in the draft to help with this too.
A Daggerdrome Imp added to Jůza's lifelink package, and Stonefare Crocodile gave him three "build your own Baneslayer" options. Jůza's deck was light on removal, but he was quick to point out that if you had a deck with three Baneslayer Angel and no removal, it would be a good deck. With the right lifelink creatures in Golgari, you can pretend to be just that deck. An Assassin's Strike sixth pick in pack two meant that Jůza would not be wholly without removal, though there was certainly not much creature control coming his way. A seventh pick Grisly Salvage was Jůza's fastest pick of the whole draft – and the only copy the Czech pro would see.
Pack three started with Korozda Guildmage, always a welcome addition, and took an interesting turn on pick four, as Grove of the Guardian came along. Jůza had Axebane Guardian, along with a number of Gatecreeper Vines to help fix his mana, so it seemed a reasonable second splash. A Selesnya Guildgate came before the end to mean that Jůza's mana would be excellent. Dreg Mangler #2 was a seventh pick, and solidified Jůza's view that Golgari might well be underdrafted – he'd drafted it in Philadelphia, and again in both drafts in Lisbon.
All told, Jůza was fairly happy with his deck. "I've certainly 3-0'd with worse" he smiled as he shuffled it up. The first round of the draft he won with it, meaning that he was still on track for a top eight spot. After winning in Bochum, Jůza is rounding out his year in impressive fashion. Here's hoping that you can get the same results with your Golgari drafts.
Round 13 Feature Match – David Calas vs. Stanislav Cifka
by Tim Willoughby
At Pro Tour Return to Ravnica, Stanislav Cifka did not lose a single one of his draft matches, choosing an aggressive path and piloting it to victory at each turn. That weekend, he became the most recent member of an elite group – those who have won a Pro Tour. Here in Lisbon, Cifka came into his second draft of the day already having picked up one loss, but still in a position where he could get to a strong finish, thanks to his performance on Saturday with sealed deck.
Cifka's opponent for the round was David Calas, who was able to get ahead of Cifka's Golgari plan as the champion found himself stuck on lands. A curve of Goblin Electromancer, Lobber Crew, Soulsworn Spirit and Hypersonic Dragon from Calas was met with just two copies of Forest and a single Swamp from Cifka, who briskly shuffled up his cards for a second game.
Shuffling and sideboarding took longer than the first game did in total. The main reason for this was that Cifka had quite a deal of shuffling to do. His seven card hand went back, and shortly thereafter, the six card hand was also deemed a mulligan. It was not until a four card hand that Cifka found something he could keep; a one land hand with a Codex Shredder for the first turn. There was no second land though, and Calas had copies of Gore-House Chainwaker on turns two and three, followed by Goblin Electromancer.
Cifka eventually drew a second land, but it was a Golgari Guildgate, meaning that there would be no plays on that turn having to wait yet another turn for his first creature of the match in Lotleth Troll. The Troll was detained by Soulsworn Spirit, and subsequent attacks from Calas dropped Cifka to just three life.
The irony of the situation Cifka found himself in is that the Pro Tour Return to Ravnica champion had shown his draft strategy to prioritise two cost creatures heavily, in order to aid in aggressive starts. They hadn't shown up for him here though, and with just one more set of attacks from Calas, Stanislav Cifka found himself unceremoniously relegated to 10-3 on the weekend, now out of contention for a top eight berth.
David Calas wins 2-0!
Round 14 Feature Match – Daniele Canavesi (Rakdos) vs. Augustin Martin Espada (Selesnya)
by Tobi Henke
With a score of 11-2, the 2003 Italian National Champion Daniele Canavesi was still well in contention for the third Grand Prix Top 8 of his career, but in his way stood Spaniard Augustin Martin Espada, same score, same intention to win.
The action started on turn three, with Sewer Shambler for Canavesi, Axebane Guardian for Espada. Sewer Shambler went for an attack but was blocked, and then Canavesi binned both creatures with Slum Reaper.
Espada replaced his with Phantom General. Canavesi had an unleashed Splatter Thug as follow-up, yet Espada attacked, then passed without play. Splatter Thug and Slum Reaper returned the favor, but the Reaper died to Savage Surge untapping and boosting Phantom General.
Espada had Fencing Ace, then Keening Apparition, while Canavesi summoned Lobber Crew and Dead Reveler to his aid. Nothing much was moving on this battlefield, until Espada cast Angel of Serenity and took out all of Canavesi's creatures.
Rakdos doesn't have a lot of cards that can deal with Angel of Serenity, but Canavesi's Assassin's Strike certainly qualified. He took a couple of hits until he had replayed all of his creatures, but Espada couldn't really capitalize on any of that as he was drawing more and more land. Canavesi stabilized with Dead Reveler, Splatter Thug, and Lobber Crew, with the latter pinging away at Espada's life total. In doing so it was soon joined by Rakdos Ragemutt which picked up two +1/+1 counters. The 5/5 died in combat one turn later, but took most of Espada's team with it. After that, the rest of Canavesi's creatures finished the job easily.
Daniele Canavesi 1-0 Augustin Martin Espada
Espada began with Centaur Healer and Seller of Songbirds, Canavesi had Lobber Crew and an unleashed Dead Reveler. Espada attacked with all of his creatures and cast Common Bond when Lobber Crew blocked his 3/3.
Now facing a 4/4 Centaur Healer, a Seller of Songbirds as well as a 2/2 Bird token, Canavesi was far, far behind, and that didn't exactly change when Trostani's Judgment turned the ratio of creatures on both sides of the battlefield even more lopsided. Espada evened the score.
Daniele Canavesi 1-1 Augustin Martin Espada
The deciding game started much faster than the first two. By turn three, Gore-House Chainwalker had already traded with Keening Apparition and both players were on to their second drop, Grim Roustabout (unleashed) for Canavesi, Seller of Songbirds (plus token) for Espada. Canavesi went on offense and followed it up with Lobber Crew, while Espada pumped his token via Phantom General.
Augustin Martin Espada
Stuck on four lands, Golgari Longlegs, Spawn of Rix Maadi, Tenement Crasher and Explosive Impact were all stranded in Canavesi's hand and he could only sit and watch while Espada started his beatdown. When the fifth land finally did come along, Golgari Longlegs immediately fell victim to Trostani's Judgment, netting Espada another Bird token in the process.
Canavesi finally stopped Espada's ground creatures with the help of Spawn of Rix Maadi, but the Birds, both 3/3 now thanks to Phantom General and a timely Common Bond, ended the game before Explosive Impact could, well, make an impact.
Daniele Canavesi 1-2 Augustin Martin Espada