Saturday, 12:02 p.m. – Dealers Tell the Tale
by Marc Calderaro
The first couple rounds of the first Standard Grand Prix of the new season are underway. And, fittingly, it's also the first Standard Grand Prix with Avacyn Restored. Unlike many tournaments, we really only have the faintest inkling of what the meta-game will look like. Most of Pros are still bleary-eyed from Barcelona, and it's unlikely they've really had time to dive into the 300+ new cards. And since the set is yet to go live on Magic Online, there's been little development on that end as well. The only decklists we have, are from the Star City Games event in Madison last week, and many of the top decks just jammed a couple Zealous Conscripts and Pillars of Flame into existing archetypes. (Though that is reductive, as there were certainly good innovations, especially the 15th place deck sporting Hound of Griselbrand, Lightning Mauler, and the underused Pyreheart Wolf, overall, that was the theme of the top decks.) Where's Griselbrand? Where's Entreat the Angels? What about Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded?
Standard is a wide-open dance right now. Will people lay back and retreat to their Delver decks, leaning up against the wall? Will they look to port Halleluiah from block, their date to the junior prom? Will Frites go over the edge with the addition of a Draw-Seven Lord of the Pit (I, personally would never want to dance with someone with hands like those)? Or will there be a new bell of the ball, a new kid that someone has yet to court?
At times like these, I feel like it's the dealers who have some of the best insight. What sells well before the tournament begins is a good indicator of what decks people will be playing, and what sideboard cards sell show what players think everyone else is buying. I took a walk down dealer alley and saw what was there, and more importantly, what wasn't.
The big, surprise-to-no-one story is Bonfire of the Damned. Everyone everywhere can't seem to keep them in stock, and as was the case with Top Deck Hobbies, even as a walked up to the table, the dealer looked at my shirt and just said, "Bonfire of the Damned. That's it." Bonfire has received hype from everywhere and fits well into any deck that's already playing red – Wolf Run Ramp, for example, would certainly like a board-sweeper/kill-spell/mana-sink. And there are a few decklists here that are playing red solely for the big, bad Earthquake (though they are bringing along Pillar of Flame for the ride now that they're playing a couple Mountains).
After the red miracle, things get a little more speculative. Though many dealers explicitly said they weren't selling these cards, about five dealers kept talking about Entreat the Angels, Terminus and Tamiyo, the Moon Sage. They talked about how there must be a port of Miracles going down. But none of these dealers could explain why, if that were the case, why Temporal Mastery wasn't selling. Entreat the Angels, like Bonfire, is a great windmill slam that can play attack and defense, but Terminus is a bit more specialized. It is noteworthy that Terminus is selling well and Day of Judgment is not. As Nihil Spellbomb and Grafdigger's Cage are also moving, along with tons of Wolfir Avengers, it seems that putting creatures on the bottom of the library is worth the additional two mana.
Wolfir Avenger is not the only Wolfir exchanging hands either. The breakout Block success Wolfir Silverheart is also heading into peoples' lists. Some of the top-finishing decks from Star City Madison were RG Aggro decks sporting multiple copies of these new wolves. Believe or not, most decks playing green like twelve power for five mana.
The sideboard cards that are selling well include Nihil Spellbomb, Whipflare and Act of Aggression. My favorite card that popped up from multiple vendors was Divine Deflection. Both Strike Zone and Troll and Toad mentioned that the White instant was moving like hotcakes, and they both seemed kind of excited about it. I can go ahead and agree that I am excited about that as well. Surprises like those are wonderful and dramatic. I remember in the days of Ghost Dad, Shining Shoal blowing people out of nowhere. Perhaps Divine Deflection can fill a similar role, or even become more important in the format.
Some more little tidbits: Powernine.com mentioned how Sorin, Lord of Innistrad was selling more than they had expected, while Cool Stuff, Inc. said they couldn't sell enough Vampire tokens to accompany his lordship. Only Blackbelt Bazaar mentioned anything about the Vexing Devil, and even they seemed kind of iffy about it. And my favorite tiddy-bitty: Strike Zone has sold twelve copies of Fettergeist. For what purpose? It remains a mystery.
The standard format is yet to break out on its own. I'm excited to watch that that breaking take place this weekend. Expect to see the usual suspects – Delver (UW, UWb, UR?), RG Aggro, Wolf Run Ramp, Birthing Pod, RW Humans – with some powerful twists, but also look to see just what a Tamiyo or a Griselbrand can do to make fringe decks better or to even invent new decks on their own. And what about Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded? He certainly made a lot of noise upon release, but he was virtually absent in Barcelona last weekend, and the dealers were silent about the two-drop Planeswalker. Does he power a good-enough deck?
This show is just getting started, and we'll bring you every little bit that develops as it comes in.
Saturday, 2:21 p.m. – The 3-Bye Metagame
by Josh Bennett
Correctly anticipating the decks you're likely to face is one of the keys to victory in any tournament, but when your tournament has over a thousand players in it the only thing you can expect is the unexpected. One of the often-overlooked benefits of three byes is that the more random decks will have fallen by the wayside, and you can expect to face a clearer metagame. Here's what the players with that luxury chose for this weekend.
Delver Decks - 22
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Flipping into Insectile Aberration while revealing Mana Leak may be the most demoralizing opening in recent memory. Thanks to its efficent creatures, a little disruption goes a long way, often resulting in quick wins.
Sixteen of those are straight blue-white Delver, some with Runechanters Pike and Invisible Stalker, others going spirit-heavy with Drogskol Captain. Five players chose to tax their manabase that little bit more for the power of Lingering Souls, and one player threw conventional wisdom in the bin and is playing straight blue-red Delver.
Ramp Decks - 17
Titans are powerful. Everyone knows that. Even better, the advantage they give outstrips a single removal spell. These decks harness the power of Rampant Growth, Sphere of the Suns and Solemn Simulacrum to bring that domination out early.
Nine of these are your stock red-green Titan lists, but the remainder take things in more interesting directions. Four players are choosing to pair green with white for fast Elesh Norns and Entreat the Angels. Two split the difference and keep a touch of red, and then there are the two oddballs. One is Green-Red-Blue, powering out Consecrated Spinx alongside other titans. The other is none other than Conley Woods, revisiting the black-green strategy that got him the gold at Grand Prix Orlando.
Red-Green Aggro - 16
Increasing in popularity after Mason Lange's win at the Star City Games Open in Madison, this deck hits hard and fast with Elves and Sword of War and Peace. Early threats are backed by Hellrider and Huntmaster of the Fells. Wolfir Avenger is the big player from Avacyn Restored. Zealous Conscripts out of the sideboard is going to lead to more than a few blowouts.
Esper Control - 14
These decks aren't a homogenous group, but all harness the power of mass removal, planeswalkers, Lingering Souls and Elesh Norn. There is significantly less reliance on countermagic, possibly due to the presence of Cavern of Souls in the format, so the decks play more like Solar Flare of old. Tamiyo, the Moon Sage is getting a lot of play here, as is the Stonehorn Dignitary / Venser the Sojourner "lock".
Birthing Pod Decks - 11
Most of these are the popular Naya Pod decks that have scaled back to just two Birthing Pods to support their value-generating creatures. Two trade the white for some blue, and two more are Zombie Pod decks, somewhat reminiscent of Michael Jacob's deck that featured Skirsdag High Priest, though neither are playing that card today.
Zombies - 4
Versions of the shambling undead menace, split evenly between black-blue (for Diregraf Captain) and black-red (for Falkenrath Noble).
Mono-Greed Aggro - 3
A green-based brew by Team Panik that uses Abundant Growth to cast some of the most powerful cards from every color, including Geist of Saint Traft, Huntmaster of the Fells and Lingering Souls.
Red-White Humans - 3
Just like it says on the tin - efficient beaters and burn.
Tezzeret - 2
Blue-black decks centered on everyone's favourite evil artificer.
Frites - 2
The french Reanimation deck, Faithless Looting, Unburial Rites and fatties. Maybe we'll see a Griselbrand this weekend?
UWR Control - 2
Surprisingly, not playing a full complement of Desperate Ravings.
Grixis Control - 2
Trading Wraths and Sun Titans for Black Sun's Zenith and Grave Titans.
GW Humans 2
They turn sideways, often with counters from Gavony Township.
UW Miracles 2
A standard port of Alex Hayne's Pro Tour winning block deck.
Defiance Poison 2
Wild Defiance makes your Blighted Agents lethal in a hurry.
The Rest - 8
Some oddballs here: Blue-White Flicker, Black-White tokens (a la Craig Wescoe), Bant Miracles, Heartless Summoning, Blue-White Control, Mono-White Humans, Mono-Blue Grand Architect and Boros.
Round 3 Feature Match - Peter Kong (UW Humans) vs. Thomas Maggio (RUG Pod)
by Marc Calderaro
It's likely that not all of you are familiar with the name Thomas Maggio. However, a good bit more of you will know Maggio's nom de guerre, Tuffy. A veteran of the game for twelve years, the Iowan grinder is a prolific streamer, and one of the recognizable names in the emerging field of Magic streaming. He stream features lots of giveaways as well as MODO fun, including a custom playmat of a Black Cat fighting a Sanctuary Cat which he's playing on today.
Peter Kong is a local Minneapolis player from Vadnais Heights. Playing since Homelands, though usually more casually, he couldn't resist a Grand Prix this close to his stomping grounds, and his Humans deck helped him rise to a quick 2-0. But can he take down Tuffy? Man, I love that name. I really need a friend named Tuffy who would solve all my problems. This is not to imply that Maggio does that for his friends, but I mean, with a name like "Tuffy" aren't you obligated? Either that or to be the enforcer for all my deeds which need enforcing.
After Peter Kong went twice to mulligan town, Tuffy Maggio started off the party with a Bird of Paradise to which Kong responded with a Champion of the Parish, cast off a Cavern of Souls (naming Humans, doy).
Maggio's deck next fed him a turn-three Huntmaster of the Fells. Kong had nothing for a follow-up and shook his head as Maggio flipped his friend into a Ravager of the Fells, taking down the Champion in the process. Kong went quickly to 12, then proceeded to shake his head further into his draw step.
Long-time player Thomas "Tuffy" Maggio takes an early early lead in this match.
Maggio continued his assault, casting an Avacyn Restored gem, Deadeye Navigator. The navigator's newfound best buddy, Ravager of the Fells went crashing back into the red-zone, and Kong had to admit that his five-card starting hand was not going to get there against this seven-card onslaught. Game one was over relatively quickly.
Thomas Maggio 1 – 0 Peter Kong
The two shuffled silently. "Hopefully, I'll give you more of a game this time," Kong laughed.
After mulliganing once, Tuffy kept a suspect one-lander, but he had a Birds of Paradise and a Phantasmal Image to help out. Luckily for him, Kong's second-turn Thalia, Guardian of Thraben did basically nothing against his mostly creature deck. However Kong was still on the offense.
Kong took Tuffy down to 13 after casting a Mirran Crusader (making his Champion of the Parish 3/3) before giving the turn back. To counter, Tuffy had drawn well enough for his underwhelming opening seven, with a second Birds then a land. He cast an on-time Dungeon Geists, taking out the Crusader. Kong simply laughed it off when he used Fiend Hunter to take out the flying blocker and beat for six more.
Maggio defended valiantly. A Phantasmal Image copied the Fiend Hunter, which then took it out, which returned the Dungeon Geists, which re-tapped the Crusader. Did you follow that? But Kong's Champion of the Parish was still a 4/4, then bigger thanks to Honor of the Pure, and Maggio sunk lower and lower. But this beater could be stopped with a big green monster. If only there was one laying around...
Peter Kong ties up the match.
Oh hey, Vorapede. That was just such a monster Maggio needed and Kong, after adding a second Crusader to the board, had to pass without attacking. But the hopelessness showed on Maggio's face. And that's one of the problems with playing online – your poker face can be a bit lackluster. Maggio looked despondently at his hand, and drew his card for the turn.
Kong continued to smash his humans all up in Maggio's business. Borderland Ranger and Vorapede teamed up to take down the 7/7 Champion of the Parish, and the Dungeon Geists jumped in front of the Mirran Crusader (unlocking the other one). Thought it was good block step, Maggio saw the writing on the wall. He drew his card for the turn, looked at the 3/3 double-strikers coming his way, and scooped his cards up for game three.
Thomas Maggio 1 – 1 Peter Kong
This game seemed to be an honest one, as finally no one mulliganed. Tuffy's first-turn Llanowar Elves enabled a turn-two Birthing Pod. He then fed a Daybreak Ranger into the infernal machine and grabbed a Huntmaster of the Fells. (Aside: It's important to note here that Tuffy used handmade Pro Player tokens of himself as his Wolf token. It looked really cool.)
The soon to be Legendary Cat Playmat and tokens of himself.
Though Kong started slower this game, with a Doomed Traveler into Thalia, his Fiend Hunter messed up everything the Birthing Pod was working toward. At least, for the moment. The same Phantasmal Image from last game came down, copying the Fiend Hunter, and getting Tuffy back his main attacking force.
"It's not looking to good for me," Kong said as he smirked. I didn't exactly know how he could be smirking as Maggio's mana Elf was transforming into another Image, this time copying the Huntmaster, and upping his opponents' Wolf count to three. "Yeah, this is gonna be rough." Kong could only muster a couple more Doomed Travelers to buy some time.
The next turn was another blur thanks to Birthing Pod. Maggio podded a Zealous Conscripts to take an untapped land, then used it to help cast Deceiver Exarch, which untapped the Pod, podding the Conscripts into a Consecrated Sphinx. "Oh, that's good," Kong said. "Well, let's hope this is my Day of Judgment," he said as he drew for his turn. It wasn't.
Then, after casting a Geist of Saint Traft, the dreaded word came out of Kong's mouth: "Pass". I looked again at the very large creature disparity between the two combatants. Kong was right; this was going to be rough. The unhindered Pod kept working its magic and turned the all-but-useless Exarch into a quite useful third Huntmaster. And thanks to the whole "not-casting-a-spell" part of Birthing Pod, the Red-Green creatures flipped as well the following turn. Kong drew, looked at his dwindling board, and said that dreaded word again.
This time, it was for good. As Tuffy swung for well more than Kong's current life total, Kong smiled and extended his hand.
Thomas Maggio 2 – 1 Peter Kong
After the game, Kong told Maggio is was nice to meet him and asked him where to find his stream. Maggio just took his homemade Pro Player card, flipped it over revealing it to be a business card, and handed it to Kong.
"Can you give a shout-out to my stream viewers?" Maggio asked me. This man's going places, folks. For now, he's going to 3-0.
Round 4 Feature Match - Matthias Hunt vs. Brian Kibler
by Josh Bennett
"Have you played your deck before? Because I haven't." - Brian Kibler
"Nope. We're models of preparation." - Matthias Hunt
There's no rest for the wicked, nor for serious Magic pros. Both Matthias Hunt and Brian Kibler barely had time to shake off the Barcelona jet lag from Pro Tour Avacyn Restored before it was back on the circuit this weekend.
Matthias Hunt vs. Brian Kibler
Today Kibler was battling with an updated version of his Naya Pod deck, now with even fewer Pods! Hunt and the others in Team Panik had pinned their hopes on "Mono-Greed Aggro" a strange base-green beatdown deck that grabs powerful cards from all the colors.
Hunt had to mulligan away two landless hands before staying on five. Kibler led with Copperline Gorge and Avacyn's Pilgrim. Hunt matched with forest and a Pilgrim of his own. Kibler had nothing better to do on three mana, so he hit for one and passed. Hunt played Woodland Cemetery and Strangleroot Geist, dropping Kibler to seventeen. Blade Splicer showed up a turn late for Kibler and the Pilgrim got in for one more damage.
Hunt played Abundant Growth on his forest, earning a raised eyebrow from Kibler. With no third land he was forced to cast Green Sun's Zenith for a Birds of Paradise. He held back. Kibler swung in with all his creatures. Strangleroot Geist ate Avacyn's Pilgrim and came back as a 3/2. Kibler passed the turn with four mana open. Hunt started to think out loud.
"What do you have? Bonfire? Restoration Angel? Restoration Angel would be terrifyingly bad. What do I do if you have Restoration Angel?"
"Probably lose," said Kibler.
Hunt played it safe, casting Huntmaster of the Fells and passing. Kibler flashed in Restoration Angel at end of turn, getting an extra Golem out of Blade Splicer and giving Hunt a very small moral victory. Kibler untapped and smashed in with his Golems and Angel. Hunt fell to nine. Kibler added a Huntmaster of his own and passed.
Hunt drew and passed back, getting the chance to flip his Huntmaster first. Faced with the first-striking golems, however, he chose to kill the Blade Splicer rather than Kibler's Huntmaster. That gave Kibler a Ravager of the Fells of his own. Worse yet, he played Gavony Township. That convinced Hunt to pack up his cards.
Kibler 1 - Hunt 0
Hunt was happy to stay on seven for the second game. He led with Gorge and Birds of Paradise. Kibler played a Birds of his own off Razorverge Thicket. Hunt dropped Seachrome Coast and Lingering Souls.
"Interesting," said Kibler, then he laughed, "Off a Seachrome Coast!"
He had no fourth land, but three mana was enough for Bonfire of the Damned to clear Hunt's board. Hunt played Abundant Growth and flashed back his Lingering Souls. Kibler cast Strangleroot Geist and hit for two, then played a land and Avacyn's Pilgrim.
Hunt hit for two in the air and played a very scary Sword of Feast and Famine. Unfortunately for him, Kibler was holding Phyrexian Metamorph. He copied the Sword, suited up his Geist and knocked Hunt to 13 and just two cards in hand. Kibler cast a Bird and passed with one card in hand. Hunt played a land and Birds of Paradise before equipping a spirit with his Sword and swinging with both. Kibler turned over the last card in his hand, an Incinerate, and Hunt slumped slightly.
"Yep. That attack was very greedy."
With only a green blocker back, Hunt was unable to protect his last card, a Gideon Jura. Kibler passed it back, and all Hunt could manage was hitting for two with his Birds and suiting up his spirit to block. Gavony Township from Kibler made his position seem insurmountable. His all-out attack had Hunt's back against the wall.
Hunt manages to pull a miracle when he really needed it.
But then, a miracle. Specifically Bonfire of the Damned off the top for five, the Gavony Township counter preventing the Strangleroot Geist from coming back. The damage from it put Kibler to 8, and Hunt's attack left him at five. Kibler looked to the top of his deck for help, but only lands awaited him.
Kibler 1 - Hunt 1
For the decisive game Hunt gambled on a sketchy opener rather than risk mulligans. While Kibler opened with Thicket and Pilgrim, Hunt could only play a tapped Hinterland Harbor. Kibler played land and Borderland Ranger, fetching a mountain. Hunt played a Birds of Paradise, but had failed to draw a second land.
Kibler wins the third game quickly.
Kibler put the boot down firmly with Birthing Pod, converting his Ranger into a Huntmaster of the Fells. Hunt drew a forest, but it looked far too late. He cast Abundant Growth and Green Sun's Zenith for a second Birds. Meanwhile Kibler played Gavony Township and boosted his team, knocking Hunt to twelve. Then Huntmaster flipped and killed Hunt's Birds, leaving him at ten. Hunt tried to hide behind Lingering Souls, but Kibler had Zealous Conscripts for a hasty victory.
Brian Kibler defeats Matthias Hunt 2-1
Round 5 Feature Match - Conley Woods (BWG Control) vs. William Cruse (BR Zombies)
by Marc Calderaro
Cruse cast the first stone with a Gravecrawler. Not scared by a mere 2/1, Woods cast a Sphere of the Suns, and took two damage. Then, off three Woodland Cemetery and a Gavony Township, Woods cast a Sorin, Lord of Innistrad. A card that, though powerful, had not exactly lived up to its expectations since Dark Ascension's release. Cruse thought a bit before laying his fourth land and dropping a Falkenrath Aristocrat. It took down Sorin in short order and Woods was left with a lonely token for his efforts.
A Solemn Simulacrum and a second Sphere of the Suns followed for Woods as he developed his mana more and more. The mana would have to convert into something substantive soon, as he sunk to 13 on Cruse's next attack step. His 2/2 Jens-Thoren robot traded with the Gravecrawler in the process. Cruse added a Highborn Ghoul and recast the 'crawler after combat.
These zombies didn't scare Woods in the slightest (Woods clearly doesn't scare easily). He was sitting on two Day of Judgments that could make short work of them. It was the four cards in the hand that were the issue, and also the Indestructible Aristocrat. Woods cast another Sorin and gave his vampires a counter with Gavony Township.
But again, it was those four cards that would be the problem. With just a few black mana and two cards, both Vampire tokens persevering Woods's life total went away, and Cruse made way for his myriad zombies. They charged into the red zone right at the Grand Prix Orlando Champion.
Woods could only stare at the sorcery-speed removal in his hand as he got hit for lethal damage.
William Cruse 1 – 0 Conley Woods
"I wish I had any idea of what the hell you are trying to do." Cruse was echoing a sentiment just about everyone who's faced Conley Woods has thought at one time or another. Though Cruse saw a planeswalker and some ramp, that was hardly enough to make a declarative statement about what the deck was doing, let alone enough to sideboard against it.
Though both players had to mulligan, Woods had to go down to five. And even then, he simply said, "All right, we're going to need a miracle here." He had a one-land hand, and that land was colorless. However, like a true man, he immediately top-decked the second land right on time to allow a Sphere of the Suns. That went into a turn-three Rampant Growth, which then made a turn-four Solemn Simulacrum. Remember, this was a five-card hand.
"Well, I guess you didn't need that big of a miracle," Cruse opined. He dropped his fourth land into his empty board and said, "I'll cast a spell now." Falkenrath Aristocrat brought Woods to 16, then a second the next turn brought him to 8. Though the start was a bit slow, it was powerful.
Woods used a Batterskull, a card that was popping up more and more this tournament, which got a "People play that?" out of Cruse. He followed, "How many cards in hand?"
"Three?! Didn't you mulligan this game?"
"Twice, in fact." The ChannelFireball doctor followed with a Tragic Slip to take out one of the 4/1 flyers. Woods had quickly evened the life totals at 12-12 – Batterskull is still really good, kids – and now Cruse, who had had a commanding lead and lethal damage on the board, went into the tank. He was sitting on a Zealous Conscripts and the mana to cast it. The card was a game-winner for sure, but Cruse had to figure out how to do it.
Cruse apologized multiple times for how long he was taking before finally casting the Conscripts and taking the Solemn Simulacrum. Cruse sacrificed it to his Aristocrat then used the Morbid trigger to let Tragic Slip take out the Batterskull-equipped Germ. On the attack step, Woods' board was emptied and he sunk to 9. Woods simply used a Go for the Throat and Celestial Purge to take out the two remaining creatures. The board was empty and the totals were 9-12.
It looked like Woods might be out of, well, the woods, as he flashed back a Lingering Souls and cast a Solemn Simulacrum. Woods was again sandbagging two Day of Judgments, waiting for the right time. Cruse made a Diregraf Ghoul (with a re-cast Gravecrawler along in tow) and a Brimstone Volley on the Simulacrum when it tried to pick up the Batterskull. Conley responded by casting Sorin, Lord of Innistrad to keep his life total out of the zero range, then used his next two turns to wipe away a random zombie and the Gravecrawler that hitched a ride with it back onto the battlefield, thanks to the Day of Judgments.
Though Woods was out of white sweepers, he still had a Massacre Wurm in his hand, which was functionally even better. He didn't even need it. Cruse's draw steps were unhelpful and so a returned and re-cast Batterskull was enough to get Woods a game point.
William Cruse 1 – 1 Conley Woods
"I'll try really hard to play something before turn four this game." Cruse had higher hopes for his hand in this last game. They chatted for a bit about he previous game, and Woods mentioned, "I have to be wary of Brimstone Volley; that's a scary card" showing respect for the very-capable BR Zombies deck. "I'll think I'm fine, then I remember that card and look at my life total and think 'Oh, that's not good'."
Cruse lived up to his promise this game and cast a Diregraf Ghoul, then a Geralf's Messenger. But that opening wasn't fast enough to sneak past Woods's defense of Sphere of the Suns and Lingering Souls. Not wanting to give up his Messenger just yet on two Spirit tokens, Cruse just attacked with the Ghoul and took out one-quarter of the Souls. A post-combat Sword of Feast and Famine made Woods pause during his next turn. He was sitting on a Curse of Death's Hold, Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite and a Grave Titan. He decided to just flash back the Lingering Souls and pass the turn to his opponent.
Cruse played a land and used Sever the Bloodline to wipe away the other three-quarters of the Lingering Souls. Cruse sunk Woods to 9. Though things were looking grim at the moment for Woods, this was his turn to hit six mana. With that mana came the Grave Titan. However, the color of the Titan and the Zombies it produced meant that when the Messenger picked up the Sword got protection from black, and got through to take Woods to 4.
After untapping his land with the Sword trigger, Cruse moved the equipment to the Diregraf Ghoul, perhaps knowing that something like Elesh Norn was coming. But since a post-combat Manic Vandal took out Woods's sixth mana, it was unlikely he would get to seven this turn. The Elesh Norn could have given Woods a strong board-swing but it would have to wait until later.
Woods cast then re-cast Lingering Souls #2 while saying, "I really hope the last card in your hand isn't what I think it is. And no slow-rolls!" As Cruse sat and looked at the board on his turn, Woods starting naming different cards that could kill him – Zealous Conscripts was one, but a simply land was another. Cruse had six mana and was unable to yet flashback the Sever the Bloodline sitting in his graveyard. Cruse swung with the Diregraf Ghoul, then cast another Geralf's Messenger, getting Woods to 2. It was 2-18, and Cruse had two Geralf's Messengers on the board. Now the Elesh Norn would be straight suicide. That was a problem.
Woods attacked with the Grave Titan and a bunch of tokens, then after a Messenger was assigned a blocker, Woods cast Go for the Throat on his own Titan to prevent the undying trigger. It became 2-12. Woods had five Zombie tokens and three Spirit tokens.
"Am I dead?" Woods inquired. Land seven meant that Cruse took out all the zombies with the Sever the Bloodline, and his attack step wiped the rest of the Spirits with the blocking step. However, Conley calmly cast Lingering Souls #3 – about five audience members audibly gasped. This defense system enabled Conley to drop a Batterskull following turn.
But the dream finally ended. Though Woods magically sat at two life for so long, seemingly impenetrable, Cruse drew a Falkenrath Aristocrat, one of the many cards that would allow a Messenger to bin then return. With that, Cruse was able to skip the red zone that had been constantly cluttered with Spirit tokens, and just drain the final points from Woods directly.
William Cruse 2 – 1 Conley Woods
Cruse advances to 5-0, while Woods drops to 4-1.
Saturday, 6:08 pm.m - Quick Questions: What card from Avacyn Restored isn't getting enough respect in Standard?
by Marc Calderaro
Brian Kibler: "Borderland Ranger. People don’t understand the importance of that effect for some reason. Someone openly mocked it in my deck."
Conley Woods: "Blood Artist. I mean I did play it at the PT, but I think it has the potential to be really good."
Sam Black: "Can I say ‘Every single card’? Not one card that is being played is as respected as it will be in the upcoming format."
Round 6 Feature Match: Mary Jacobson vs. Shahar Shenhar
by Josh Bennett
Mary Jacobson is a fixture of the Grand Prix circuit who recently came into the public eye with her Top 8 at GP Lincoln. Now she's devoting more of her time to Magic, and has even started streaming her Magic Online play on TwitchTV.
Shahar Shenhar plays vs. Mary Jacobson
Shahar Shenhar's star has continued to rise since his victory at Grand Prix San Diego in 2011. He claimed another title at Grand Prix Salt Lake City earlier this year, and locked up Platinum status with a 23rd place finish at Pro Tour Avacyn Restored. This weekend he's playing blue-white Delver. Jacobson is playing Red-Green Ramp.
Jacobson had to mulligan away her first two hands and kept an unexciting five. She led with forest, Kessig Wolf Run and Rampant Growth for mountain. Shenhar played a pair of islands and allowed a Sphere of the Suns into play. On her next turn Jacobson went for Primeval Titan and that merited the Mana Leak.
Shenhar was content to play the waiting game. He played Moorland Haunt and passed with six cards in hand. Jacobson animated Inkmoth Nexus and attacked, spending the rest of her mana to pump it with Wolf Run, but Shenhar was ready with Gut Shot. Shenhar finally found a white source, a Seachrome Coast, but it came into play tapped. Jacobson went for another Primeval Titan, but Shenhar had Snapcaster Mage to get an encore out of Mana Leak. Shenhar played his first threat of the game, a Geist of Saint Traft.
Jacobson had no play. She took eight from Shenhars attackers, then untapped and tried a third Titan. This one stuck. She got a pair of Glimmerposts to go with the one she had in play and was at seventeen life. Shenhar did a couple quick counts and decided to play a second Snapcaster Mage, flashing back Gut Shot. He crashed in, and after the Titan devoured the Geist Jacobson stood at just eight life. Shenhar replaced his Geist of Saint Traft and passed.
Mary Jacobson is doing her best to hold on against Shenhar's assault.
Jacobson frowned at her options and worked out some numbers. Eventually she chose to attack with her Titan, getting the fourth Glimmerpost and going to twelve. She tapped all her mana to activate Kessig Wolf Run. Shenhar was down to just five life. His creatures attacked back for eleven, and he turned over Gut Shot in hand for the last point of damage.
Shenhar 1 - Jacobson
As they shuffled up for game two, Jacobson lamented a mistake in the first game. After the match she would reveal that she had Pillar of Flame in hand, and could have killed a Snapcaster Mage instead of using her red mana to activate Wolf Run.
Jacobson kicked off the second game with Copperline Gorge. A Gitaxian Probe from Shenhar revealed her hand of Rampant Growth, double Slagstorm, Inkmoth Nexus, forest and Primeval Titan. He played Seachrome Coast and passed. Jacobson played Rampant Growth for a mountain. Shenhar played a second Coast, and then Mana Leaked Jacobson's attempt at a Solemn Simulacrum.
Shahar Shenhar gets his board set up for the quick win.
Shenhar tapped out to get Sword of Feast and Famine into play, and Jacobson took the opportunity to resolve a second Simulacrum, getting a mountain. She passed with five land in play. Shenhar still had no fourth land and dropped Geist of Saint Traft. Jacobson untapped, hit for two, then dropped Slagstorm. Shenhar paid two life and played the dagger - Mutagenic Growth.
The Geist picked up the Sword and smashed in for eight. Jacobson played a Wurmcoil Engine off Cavern of Souls, but again Shenhar had everything he needed. An end-of-turn Restoration Angel gave him eleven power worth of attackers, and Vapor Snag was the nail in the coffin.
Shahar Shenhar defeats Mary Jacobson 2-0
Round 7 Feature Match: Gerry Thompson vs. Caleb Durward
by Marc Calderaro
Perennial Magic personality Gerry Thompson (26 points last year) has been a little silent on top finishes recently, but that hasn't taken him out of the spotlight. He's been a writing phenom, as well as making headway in the emerging field of video Magic articles over at Star City Games.
Sitting at 5-1, Thompson's up against three-time Grand-Prix Top 8 player Caleb Durward. A very nice guy to talk with, Durward has been silently wracking up some good finishes in various national Magic events.
Thompson led with a Ponder, and Durward wasted no time with a Stromkirk Noble. However, Thompson wasted no time getting rid of it with a Gut Shot. Additionally, his turn-two Delver of Secrets flipped on turn three and attacked in to make the totals 18-17 in Thompson's favor. Quite quickly setting the pace for the game.
Lightning Mauler was all alone for Durward, and though a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben came down to provide a buddy, Thompson's Snapcaster Mage just made another copy of Gut Shot, and the Legendary white creature died before it had ever really lived.
Durward tried to keep some semblance of board presence with a Hellrider alongside the still un-paired Mauler, and brought Thompson to 14. But even that was short-lived. GerryT had cast a Geist of Saint Traft that very quickly promised to take the game out of Durward's hands. Guess what? It did. A turn later, Durward went to 1, and then he was dead.
Gerry Thompson 1 – 0 Caleb Durward
Durward started his opening seven off with a turn-two Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. Again, Thompson cast a Gut Shot on it – though this time it cost two life and a mana. I think that's still a cost-efficient trade. Durward followed up with a Stromkirk Noble and a Lightning Mauler, but Thompson would have none of that Mauler and made it catch a Vapor Snag.
Timely Reinforcements out of Thompson's board gave him some life and some tokens for a low, low cost. Durward tried to combat it by having a pretty large next turn. He cast a Champion of the Parish then the Lightning Mauler to pair with it. He also followed with, "I feel awful doing this," and cast a Pillar of Flame on one of the Timely Reinforcements tokens. Though it was a productive turn, after Thompson's next turn, Durward would feel even worse.
Thompson laid a Ratchet Bomb (with both Durward's remaining creatures having one-mana casting costs) and a second Timely Reinforcements to go up to 21 again. After all the dust settled and another Stromkirk Noble took a shot to the gut, Durward was left with no board against five tokens and a fresh Geist of Saint Traft.
Just like last game, the Legendary ghost threatened to, then did, take over the game.
Gerry Thompson 2 – 0 Caleb Durward
Durward shuffled out his sideboard and said, "I should've put another Bonfire of the Damned in the board, for when people bring in Timely Reinforcements; it's pretty necessary." Durward sounded a little down.
Thompson tried to raise his spirits, but he was the straight-forward sort of guy. "Caleb, I can only beat you when you play block decks."
Durward shrugged and said, "It did well against Delver in testing."
GerryT advances to 6-1, Caleb Durward drops to 5-2.
Saturday, 8:39 p.m. - Quick Questions - Who will win the Player's Championship?
by Josh Bennett
David Sharfman: Any one of the ChannelFireball company.
Conley Woods: Someone from ChannelFireball. We have 8 people in it!
Luis Scott-Vargas: Reid Duke.
Sam Black: Finkel, I guess.
Gaudenis Vidigiris: If Finkel constructs the Cube and plays with it; definitely Finkel.
Brian Kibler: All I’m saying is that I’ve never lost to Jon Finkel.
Round 8 Feature Match - Christian Calcano vs. Sean Weihe
by Josh Bennett
The 2011-2012 season was not kind to Christian Calcano. Despite Day 2'ing seven of nine GPs, he finished out of the money in all of them. Hopefully that trend ends this weekend, as he's started out 7-0 playing a different take on Delver of Secrets, one that forgoes white in favor of red. Looking to hand him his first defeat is Minnesota PTQer Sean Weihe, playing a very popular deck this weekend, red-green aggro.
Cursed by the call to the feature match table, Calcano quickly mulliganed to five. Weihe stuck with his opening seven. He led with Copperline Gorge and Llanowar Elf. Calcano drew and pursed his lips, thinking before putting down island and Delver of Secrets. Weihe wasted no time dropping a second land and Sword of War and Peace.
Christian Calcano vs. Sean Weihe
Delver flipped thanks to a Gitaxian Probe on top, and Calcano paid two life to expose Weihe's secrets. Weihe turned over a hand of Huntmaster of the Fells, Zealous Conscripts, Green Sun's Zenith and Kessig Wolf Run. Calcano Pondered, keeping the cards on top, and then played Sulfur Falls and Pillar of Flame on the all-important Elf. Weihe plucked Birds of Paradise off the top and played it along with his Wolf Run.
Calcano hit for three and cast Snapcaster Mage, replaying his Ponder. The Birds swung back with Sword, dealing five and gaining four for Weihe. Next came Huntmaster of the Fells. Calcano swung in with his creatures, trading Snapcaster for the wolf token. Devil's Play took care of the Huntmaster and he played a Delver.
Weihe dropped him to ten, and then tapped five for Green Sun's Zenith for a second Huntmaster. Despite all Calcano's aggression, he was at 22. Calcano revealed Thought Scour to flip his second Insectile Aberration, then passed the turn. With the werewolf trigger on the stack, he played Thought Scour, hoping for a miracle Bonfire of the Damned. He missed. Weihe killed one of the Aberrations, then showed him how it was done, revealing his next card as a Bonfire.
Weihe 1 - Calcano 0
Now it was Weihe's turn to mulligan. He stayed on six and they were off. Calcano led with island and tapped it for Gitaxian Probe, revealing Weihe's hand of Copperline Gorge, Birds of Paradise, Pillar of Flame, Strangleroot Geist, Sword of War and Peace, and Wolfir Avenger. Unsurprisingly, Weihe led out with Gorge and Birds. Calcano Pondered and kept them, then played Sulfur Falls and Galvanic Blast. Weihe drew and passed right back.
So now all Calcano had to do was win before Weihe drew out of his predicament. He played Desolate Lighthouse and mainphased a Snapcaster Mage on Ponder. Weihe drew Rootbound Crag and played it. Calcano hit for two and passed. Weihe pulled up a Copperline Gorge and passed. Calcano looted away Grim Lavamancer, untapped and passed.
Weihe flashed in Wolfir Avenger, then untapped and played Strangleroot Geist before swinging in. Calcano looted, then sent the Avenger back with Vapor Snag. On his turn he looted, Pondered and dispatched the Geist with Pillar of Flame. Weihe replayed his Avenger during his mainphase, taking advantage of Calcano's tapped mana. Calcano had yet another Ponder and a Devil's Play to get rid of the Avenger.
Weihe tried Huntmaster of the Fells, but that just earned him a Bonfire of the Damned for 2. He had Pillar of Flame for the Snapcaster Mage, but his Strangleroot Geist met Dungeon Geists. Finally he found a fifth land for Green Sun's Zenith on Huntmaster of the Fells. Calcano decided it was worth freeing the Strangleroot Geist to Snapcaster a Bonfire for two, and he hit in the air for three, leaving Weihe at eight.
Weihe tapped five and gave his Geist a Sword of War and Peace. Calcano's Snapcaster dove in the way, then he untapped and dropped Inferno Titan. The Vapor Snag in his hand made it academic.
Weihe 1 - Calcano 1
Both players stayed on seven for the deciding game. Weihe again had the Gorge, Birds opening. Calcano Pondered and kept his cards. Green Sun's Zenith got Weihe a Strangleroot Geist and he hit for two. On upkeep, Calcano Thought Scoured away the Delver and Galvanic Blast he didn't want, played a second island and passed. Weihe hit for two more, then added forest and Llanowar Elf. Calcano was apparently without red mana. He played Desolate Lighthouse and Snapcaster Mage on Ponder, keeping the cards.
Despite having five mana, Weihe continued to play small ball. He cast a second Strangleroot Geist, then a Pillar of Flame on Snapcaster Mage. Another Ponder from Calcano, and then a Bonfire of the Damned for one. Weihe hit for six, leaving Calcano at five, then played out Llanowar Elves and Birds of Paradise.
Calcano untapped, then tapped five for a Bonfire for two, leaving Weihe with just three land in play. Weihe drew and passed, and Calcano tightened the screws with Frost Titan, locking down Copperline Gorge, Weihe's only red mana. Weihe stared at the useless Act of Aggression in his hand, then drew and passed. Calcano hit and added Grim Lavamancer and Delver of Secrets to his board. Soon Weihe was scooping up his cards, while his friends came by to lament the fact that it wasn't an Inferno Titan that Calcano had cast.
Christian Calcano defeats Sean Weihe 2-1
Round 9 Feature Match -David Sharfman vs. Sam Black
by Marc Calderaro
Though both of these players have locked up Day 2 births going into this last round, they are each players who've been fiercely ripping into people all day, and have yet to get some coverage. Both these decks are well-suited for an epic match-up – Sam Black's 5c Control, though a little rough around the edges (he built it this morning), is built to be able to beat anything, but it needed to make every move perfectly to come out on top. David Sharfman's Wolf Run Ramp deck has been a consistent deck for a long time, and has only gotten better since things like Huntmaster of the Fells and Bonfire of the Damned came into town.
"So as far as I know, you're unbeatable?" Black commented on how Sharfman was 8-0-1, so far.
"Yes. As far as you know." Sharfman smiled and the two settled in for what would surely be a rather long match-up.
Sharfman started with a classic turn-two Wolf Run Rampant Growth.
"Hm. You're one of those people who plays with nice lands," Black said to Sharfman as he was shuffling his opponent's deck, admiring the Beta Mountain and Forest Sharfman had on his side of the board.
"Yeah. They're more important than the rest of the deck."
Black cast Ponder then followed up with a Lingering Souls, the classic initial defense for a control deck in this format. As Sharfman cast two Solemn Simulacrums in two successive turns, Black remarked, "Woah. That's a bit of overkill for just two flyers, I think." This only got more humorous after Sharfman cast robot #3.
The game progressed like this as these big mana decks are wont to do. Spirits and Robots attacked back and forth, passing each other in the red zone. Sharfman was up 16-14 when he cast his first real business spell in Primeval Titan. He grabbed a Kessig Wolf Run and an Inkmoth Nexus – the combination that made the deck such a threat for so long. But within the next turn, those cards were staring down ten (TEN) Lingering Souls-produced Spirits. The Solemn and the Titan bravely attacked into the Spirit army, and Black immediately threw six 1/1s in front of the Titan. Sharfman stared at his twelve untapped lands, and pumped Titan for three, taking Black to 9 (17-9), before casting Titan #2.
The next turn Sharfman made the same attack, this time with eighteen land in play. After Black announced there were no blockers, Sharfman pumped for just enough damage, saving some amount of land for a potential post-combat play. I say "potential" because we'd never get to see what it was. Black verified the size of the Titan, cast a Think Twice, didn't find Terminus, and packed up for the second game.
David Sharfman 1 – 0 Sam Black
Ancient Grudge, Negate, and Oblivion Ring were a good-enough keep for Black. He knew that going first, he'd be able to counter the second-turn Rampant Growth. And Black did just that.
This lack of acceleration stunted Sharfman's offense, making him cast Solemn Simulacrum naturally on turn four, and by the time he'd cast a second one the following turn, Tamiyo, the Moon Sage had already come down and used an ability. And with a Phantasmal Image impersonating Jens Thoren as a blocker, Black was stable by the time his opponent untapped with Titan-amounts of land.
Sharfman activated both his Inkmoth Nexus lands and swung in. The Simulacra traded and an Ancient Grudge took out one of the lands. Tamiyo sunk to three counters. A Huntmaster of the Fells followed up, but it didn't take long for Black to sweep them all away with a Day of Judgment. When he passed the turn back to Sharfman, Black still had the original Oblivion Ring in his hand, and alongside it was a finisher in the form of Consecrated Sphinx.
It looked like everything was coming up roses for Black. Sharfman's Wurmcoil Engine would simply be tapped down repeatedly, and the Sphinx would draw more extra cards than the Midwesterner could cast. That would have been lovely, of course, if Sharfman didn't kill the Sphinx with a Beast Within and use Green Sun's Zenith to find a Primeval Titan dragging a Kessig Wolf Run and Inkmoth Nexus closely behind it.
Tamiyo ticked up stalling the Titan, and the Oblivion Ring was finally used to take out the 6/6 Wurm. The next turn Sharfman and Black repeatedly counted up mana, and Sharfman eventually settled on a Karn Liberated to remove Tamiyo. The life totals were still yet to change substantively. It looked like that wasn't going to change anytime soon as Black turned all his creatures sideways. He pointed to the Spirits and said, "Karn." He then pointed to the beast and said, "Also Karn."
After taking out the planeswalker, Black said, "Thanks Lingering Souls, that's all I needed you for." He then cast a Terminus, bottoming everything, and followed with another planeswalker: Jace, Memory Adept. And with two Terminus left in Black's hand, it seemed like this blue planeswalker would be the killing blow. And if not, certainly the second Tamiyo behind it would be.
And if not, the Blue Sun's Zenith for eight billion would certainly do it. All three of those cards, in concert, did it.
David Sharfman 1 – 1 Sam Black
There was six minutes left in the round and both players would have to hurry if they didn't want a tie. This would be David Sharfman's second tie of the day, but at least he could still claim to be undefeated.
Sharfman went Sphere of the Suns and Birds of Paradise into a Green Sun's Zenith fetching a Huntmaster of the Fells on turn three. He followed that with a Primeval Titan the next turn, after Sharfman attacked the life totals to 23-16 in his favor. It was the most aggressive start he'd mustered in the match, and this was certainly the game to do it.
Black had the Terminus in his hand, but he had to get to the mana. Phantasmal Image copying the Titan helped. Black started the turn with three land, and ended it with six. Sharfman used a Kessig Wolf Run to target the Image and kill it, but the damage had been done; Sharfman just didn't know it yet. However, the Ravager of the Fells was heavily coming down and Black was at 4 life when he cast Terminus and time was called in the round. Sharfman would have three more turns to kill Black. He gave him two poison counters, cast another Primeval Titan and passed the turn (25-4 [2 poison]).
Black drew for the turn, drew nothing relevant, thought he was done and extended the hand. But right after Sharfman had shook it, Black recanted. "I'm sorry for the bad manners, but I just realized I can potentially miracle out of this." Black pointed to his Desolate Lighthouse and just enough mana to activate it and bin everything with a Terminus. Black waited until the last attack step to activate his Desolate Lighthouse and looked for the one-cost super wrath that could earn him a draw in the match, but it wasn't there. And for the second time in this match Black extended his hand.
David Sharfman 2 – 1 Sam Black
So for all Sam Black knows, David Sharfman is still unbeatable.