Saturday, 11:38 a.m. – Not Your Standard Standard
by Blake Rasmussen
Where to start?
Innistrad Standard is such a complex, evolving, wide-open format that it's difficult to tell where one should start when taking a trip through its myriad decks, archetypes and strategies.
Do we start with the most recent Magic Online daily events, where the tech is constantly getting techier but may not always resemble the paper metagame? Or do we start at the World Championships, the last major event to feature Standard, albeit in a mixed-format tournament structure?
How about we start at the top?
Delver Blade by Charles Gindy
For anyone who hasn't paid Standard much heed since the World Championships, this might not have been the first thing that came to mind when thinking of the top. But there is no denying that Delver of Secrets, Snapcaster Mage and Moorland Haunt have a giant target on them this weekend, as the deck has shown its power in the weeks since Worlds.
Former U.S. National and Pro Tour Champion Charles Gindy brought this monster to the StarCity Games Standard Open last weekend and took home the crown thanks to a motley crew of blue creatures, making it entirely possible the best attacking deck in Standard does so with a bunch of blue 1/1s.
But Gindy's deck is actually part of a family of blue-white creature decks that take advantage of Moorland Haunt, possibly the best creature-generating land since Kjeldoran Outpost. And if you're not old enough to remember Kjeldoran Outpost, just know that it was so dominant Stone Rain was a legitimate piece of metagame tech back then.
UW Humans by John Runyon
John Runyon took second to Gindy playing a substantially different creature set than Gindy, opting for a veritable horde of white humans that could later be fed to Moorland Haunt .
Tempered Steel by Conley Woods
We'd be remiss if we didn't mention the scourge of Worlds. Tempered Steel helped put a whopping four players in the Top 8, including semifinalist Conley Woods who had one of the great runs through the Swiss portion of a tournament ever, including a 6-0 performance with Tempered Steel.
And while it's easy to 1) forget that Tempered Steel even plays Moorland Haunt and 2) forget that Tempered Steel exists, don't be surprised if some players get reminders that this fast, powerful deck not only exists, but is always a threat.
Speaking of Worlds...
Wolf-Run Ramp by Junya Iyanaga
We'd certainly be remiss if we didn't revisit our World Champion. Thankfully, that also provides me a nice segue to talk about another one-time best deck. Since time immemorial (or at least since Magic2011), Primeval Titan plus lands has been one of the premier Standard combos, and Wolf Run Ramp has carried on that tradition.
There are a variety of ways to build the deck – from a nearly mono-green version with Dungrove Elder to a "robots" list that plays more artifacts and top end spells like Myr Battlesphere – but it seems likely that someone will emerge from the field wielding Primeval Titan searching up Kessig Wolf Run .
One archetype that was conspicuously absent from the Worlds Top 8 and which has been struggling to find a foothold since coming out as the deck to beat early in the format is blue-based control strategies. Blue-white, blue-black, Grixis and Esper control have all been trumpeted by some pro or another as the way to solve the format at one point in time. But as the format has continued to evolve, control decks have found it harder and harder to compete with recursive, non-counterable threats like Moorland Haunt and its nearly endless supply of creatures.
Control decks have attempted to adapt to the Moorland Haunt-heavy format in a number of ways. Some players have opted for the hit-yourself-over-the-head obvious Curse of Death's Hold, which practically comes with a Pithing Needle naming Moorland Haunt stapled to it. The problem, of course, comes against much of the rest of the field, where the Curse is mostly dead against control decks and only a moderate speed bump against Titans.
Instead some have adopted less obvious means of fighting hordes of 1/1 flying Spirits, as Michael Braverman did at the SCG Atlanta Standard Open.
Esper Control by Michael Braverman
Pristine Talisman is a particularly innovative solution to the Moorland Haunt problem that has been around in some form or another since around the time of Grand Prix Pittsburgh last fall. Not only can the unoffending New Phyrexia common blank a 1/1 indefinitely, it provides ramp for a deck with access to a number of mana intensive spells – including the ultimate trump against Moorland Haunt decks in Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite.
However, as Delver decks have evolved and adapted equipment like Runechanter's Pike and Sword of War and Peace, small, incremental life-gain has lost the allure it once had when illusion decks tried to ride Phantasmal Bear and Lord of the Unreal to victory. With such a wide-open format, it can also be very difficult for control decks to adopt the correct solutions to the appropriate threats.
A wide-open format also brings with it a ton of cool, powerful things players can do that could break out given the opportunity.
For example, check out this spicy brew from a Magic Online Standard Daily.
Se3n went 4-0 poisoning players out quickly and efficiently. It's not exactly where you want to be if Curse of Death's Hold becomes a thing, but poison is certainly an effective way to fight Pristine Talisman.
Puresteel by SuperDave14
Aaaaand, yup...that's another Moorland Haunt deck. Although it's certainly one where Haunting your opponent to death is more of a secondary plan than other lists. This one, another 4-0 performer from a Magic Online Daily Event, just wants to go nuts with Puresteel Paladin. And now that Sword of War and Peace really is a format trump for all of those white spirits, the deck might actually have a place in the metagame.
We've gotten this far without mentioning Mono Red, which is always, always viable, blue-black poison, green-white aggro or Birthing Pod, to name just a few nonstandard Standard options that have power aplenty if the matchups fall right.
Which one of these decks will rule the roost this weekend? Or will something new emerge from a crowded field before Dark Ascension casts its shadow over the format? Tune in all weekend and find out.
Saturday, 1:22 p.m. – Grinder Winning Deck Lists
by Event Coverage Staff
GP Orlando Grinder
GP Orlando Grinder
GP Orlando Grinder
GP Orlando Grinder
Saturday, 2:35 p.m. – How Do You See Yourself Using Sorin, Lord of Innistrad?
GP Orlando Grinder
by Steve Sadin
When Doug Beyer previewed Sorin, Lord of Innistrad this past Wednesday, discussions about how good the newest Planewalker is immediately dominated my Twitter, and Facebook feeds.
It's pretty clear to anyone that Sorin, Lord of Innistrad is poised to be a force to be reckoned with, but the question remains as to how he can be used most effectively.
In order to learn more about the Planeswalker, I sat down with some of the top pros in attendance and asked them how they see themselves using Sorin.
"There are a lot of things that you can try with Sorin. It obviously has a home in swarm aggro decks, and I think it should be better than Elspeth, Knight-Errant was in control decks since the lifelink should be extremely relevant."
In addition to the traditional applications for Sorin, Ochoa thinks that players will be able to find success with fairly off the wall decks that are built to abuse Sorin's Ultimate ability.
"You can also play Sorin in a combo-ish way with proliferate cards like Contagion Clasp, and Throne of Geth and just try to get to his Ultimate as quickly as possible."
While Ochoa was optimistic about Sorin's many abilities, Mike Jacob seemed was fairly critical of the card.
"Sure Sorin, Lord of Innistrad's Ultimate ability looks awesome – but it will pretty much never happen. I mean, if your opponent has three creatures, why aren't they attacking your Sorin?"
"I also think that the emblem ability is overrated. Sorin would have been a great fit in the Black-White Token deck that featured Tidehollow Sculler, Spectral Processions, and Cloudgoat Rangers– but the overall power level of cards has gone up a lot since the days where Ajani Goldmane was a top card."
While Mike Jacob began our interview with a bit of skepticism about Sorin, he spent some time thinking about the card's many potential implications – he started to warm up to it. And while Mike might not be as excited about the Vampiric Planeswalker as most are – he knows that he's going to be playing with, and against the card a lot over the next couple of years.
"Sorin is definitely a good role player, and if it were available to me I'd definitely be playing it over Batterskull in my 5 Color Control Deck this weekend -- but I'm not convinced that it's going to be amazing. Elspeth, Knight-Errant barely crossed the threshold for being great – and Sorin isn't as good as Elspeth. The fact that Elspeth allowed you to kill other Planeswalkers almost at will (by giving a creature +3/+3 and flying) really put it over the top in Standard."
"People haven't even begun to realize how good Sorin's emblem ability is. The interaction between the lifelink tokens, and the emblem is just so absurd!
"Just like Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas, Sorin is going to spawn a number of new archetypes.Sorin's going to be the best card in a Black-White token deck, and he's going to be really good in aggressive white decks that splash black, and aggressive black decks that splash white."
"I haven't seen most of the set yet, but in the dark I'm going to put Sorin in my Top 5 cards from Dark Ascension."
Will Sorin, Lord of Innistrad become the new Lord of Standard? Or will it simply become one of the better cards in the format?
Only time will tell...
Round 4 Feature Match - Raphael Levy vs. Luis Scott-Vargas
by Blake Rasmussen
It isn't often that we get to start off our feature match coverage with such a heavyweight battle. This early in a Grand Prix, it's rare for two players of the caliber of Raphael Levy and Luis Scott-Vargas to be paired against one another. Yet here we are, with Hall of Famer and Grand Prix Champion Austin just last week Raphael Levy paired against one of the most consistently dangerous players on the tour and a threat to win any tournament in any format Luis Scott-Vargas.
Both players came armed with Moorland Haunts and Seachrome Coasts, but the similarities pretty much ended there. Levy was playing UW Humans with a bevy of white creatures like Champion of the Parish, Doomed Traveler, Geist of Saint Traft and Mirran Crusader while Scott-Vargas was piloting the blue-based Delver deck that tried to ride its early creatures and tempo advantage to a win.
No matter who won the match, the real winner was everyone who got to watch the two legends going playmat-to-playmat this early on.
Scott-Vargas won the roll and opted to play first. He also immediately went to 18 to reveal Levy's hand with Gitaxian Probe, showing off four lands, Geist of Saint Traft , Hero of Bladehold and Honor the Pure. The American then played a Delver of Secrets to complete the first turn full nelson.
Levy, champ that he is, fought back with a Grand Abolisher, only Scott-Vargas was ready with the main phase Vapor Snag. He even left up two mana to represent Mana Leak, all while poking away with an untransformed Delver of Secrets.
Instead of replaying the Grand Arbiter, Levy tried for the Geist of Saint Traft, but was soundly rebuked with the expected Mana Leak. Scott-Vargas even found a second Mana Leak when he finally flipped his Delver the following turn.
Levy still had no board presence and was facing an Insectile Aberration. He did have an active Moorland Haunt, but with only one creature, it couldn't serve as more than a speed bump to the flying blue Wild Nacatl.
The Grand Arbiter Levy tried on his next turn was hit with the known Mana Leak, and Levy followed up with a Doomed Traveler, leaving mana open to use one of his two Moorland Haunts.
But Scott-Vargas was prepared to do some Haunting of his own, casting Midnight Haunting to put two small tokens into play that just happened to bear a striking resemblance to someone...
Hmmm...those look somehow familiar
When Levy attempted to create a token to block one of the little Scott-Vargas tokens, the actual Scott-Vargas had the Vapor Snag, and when Levy tried the same trick again the following turn, Snapcaster Mage flashed the Snag back to force through lethal.
Scott-Vargas 1 Levy 0
On the play this time, Levy's Champion of the Parish offered an early trade with yet another turn one Delver of Secrets, but the American didn't bite.
Instead he used another Gitaxian Probe to reveal Geist of Saint Traft, Oblivion Ring and lands.
Mana Leak answered the Geist, and Scott-Vargas stepped far out ahead again when the Delver became an Insectile Aberration.
"Always have it," Levy said, shaking his head.
Hall of Famer Raphael Levy tries to find a way to ground Luis Scott-Vargas' attacking air force
What he had the next turn was a Ponder favorable enough to nix shuffling, and an Insectile Aberration that was attacking for a lot more than the still 1/1 Champion of the Parish.
That Champion became a little scarier when Mirran Crusader temporarily entered play before Vapor Snag nugged him and Levy's rapidly shrinking life total. Every turn Levy was falling behind but building his mana base.
Another Ponder revealed another keepable three cards for Scott-Vargas, and another Gitaxian Probe showed off Oblivion Ring and the Mirran Crusader, both known, and a potentially dangerous and previously unknown Gideon Jura.
Faced with the possibility of the planeswalker the next turn, the American pro knew he had to pressure the board, and played out a second Delver of Secrets, leaving only one mana open.
He used that mana to Dismember the Champion of the Parish, going to 10 life in the process, but then faced the Gideon Jura, which Levy used to assassinate the already flipped Aberration.
Another Probe revealed only a Leonin Relic-Warder as new information while the newly flipped Aberration took Gideon down to only one loyalty.
One loyalty was plenty king for six the following turn, dropping Scott-Vargas all the way down to four. Suddenly, Scott-Vargas was losing the race. He did, however, still hold a Sword of War and Peace in hand that could reverse the tide if Levy didn't have an answer. He also had a Moorland Haunt that made a single token.
Of course, Levy didn't know about the Sword when he played out his Leonin Relic-Warder for additional pressure. Would that play cost him?
The Sword came down and Scott-Vargas went right for Levy's throat, tapping out and attacking Levy directly, ignoring Gideon Jura for the time being. The Hall of Famer made a token to trade, but the sworded-up Insectile Aberration hit for five, and the War portion of the Sword was redirected to Gideon Jura.
Could Luis Scott-Vargas be poised to make another run to the top of a Grand Prix?
And just like that, Scott-Vargas was back in the driver's seat.
Levy attempted to remove the sword with Oblivion Ring, but when Scott-Vargas brought it back with a ring of his own, he was able to attack for lethal.
Luis Scott-Vargas defeats Raphael Levy 2-0
Saturday 3:22 p.m. - Quick Hits: What Dark Ascnesion card, other than Sorin, are you most excited for?
by Blake Rasmussen
Andrew Harris and Thomas Pannell
Thomas Pannell (left): Strangleroot Geist. I think it's good that it's a creature that's good that's not blue.
Andrew Harris (right): I'm intrigued by Huntmaster of the Fells. I like that it rewards flipping it either way.
I'm realy excited about Faithless Looting.
Pro Tour Hollywood Champion and former U.S. National Champion Charles Gindy
Gravecrawler. It's aggressive, it adds another two-power, one-mana creature to black and it's a good answer to the Delver decks. It can't be Vapor Snagged or Gut Shotted profitably. It's a very powerful card, but not obviously so.
Gather the Townsfolk. I'm really excited to see what they do with Fateful Hour. I'm curious how they're going to function with Phyrexian mana.
I'm excited for two things. The new werewolf mechanic where you get rewarded for flipping it and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. I think that guy's going to have huge applications across a number of formats.
Steve Guillerm and Jason Liu
Steve Guillerm (left): I'm pulling for the Secrets of the Dead. Also Ghoultree.
Jason Liu (right): Increasing Confusion. It just creates a different strategy. I'd like to see Jace, Memory Adept get used.
Hall of Famer and Grand Prix Austin Champion Raphael Levy
Faithless Looting. I think it's way too good in all formats. I think it's way too good in Standard and especially in Legacy.
Round 5 Feature Match - Melissa DeTora vs. Shuuhei Nakamura
by Steve Sadin
When Shuuhei Nakamura, and a number of other top Japanese pros made the trip from Japan to Grand Prix Boston in 2005, they made some serious waves. Before that point, the idea of travelling half way across the world in search of Pro Points seemed preposterous – but when Masashi Oiso won the event (beating fellow intercontinental traveler Masashiko Morita in the Top 8), perceptions changed pretty rapidly.
Shuuhei failed to make day two at that event, but a month later he returned to the US to compete in Grand Prix Seattle and was rewarded with a Top 4 finish.
A young, snazilly dressed Shuuhei Nakamura
Was it actually possible for a player to profitably travel to compete in a Grand Prix 9,000 miles from his or her own home?
Well, Shuuhei is living proof that yes, it is possible... if you're good enough. 7 years after Grand Prix Boston, Shuuhei is still travelling across the globe, hunting down Pro Points at just about every Grand Prix, and making a living as a Professional Magic Player.
When Melissa DeTora left her job near the end of last year, she began a Grand Prix travel schedule that would make anyone (with the possible exceptions of Shuuhei and Martin Juza) tired just thinking about it.
Her world tour proved fruitful, as she was able to secure an invitation for Pro Tour Dark Ascension, and the first Grand Prix Top 8 of her career at Grand Prix Santiago.
Shuuhei opened on Gitaxian Probe, revealing a fairly standard Red-Green Ramp hand consisting of Primeval Titan, Inferno Titan, Galvanic Blast, Sphere of the Suns, and lands. A turn three Grand Architect elicited a surprised look from Melissa, who cast her Sphere of the Suns before passing the turn back to Shuuhei.
While she might have been a bit surprised to see a Grand Architect come out of
Shuuhei's deck -- Melissa DeTora was able to regain her composure pretty quickly.
A second Grand Architect, allowed Shuuhei to deploy a Phyrexian Metamorph (copying Grand Architect), and a Sword of War and Peace .
Green Sun's Zenith fetched Thrun, the Last Troll -- but it could do little to slow down Shuuhei who cast a Delver of Secrets, that he immediately tapped with Grand Architect to equip his Sword of War and Peace to a Grand Architect. Shuuhei attacked with the equipped Grand Architect, then tapped his two remaining Architects to cast a second Sword of War and Peace.
When Shuuhei used a Mana Leak to counter Melissa's last ditch Primeval Titan, she could do nothing but sit and watch as Shuuhei killed her on his next attack.
Shuuhei Nakamura 1 – Melissa DeTora 0
Melissa had to start game two by mulliganing down to a mere four cards. Melissa opened on a Mountain, while Shuuhei's Gitaxian Probe revealed Slagstorm, Primeval Titan, and a Ghost Quarter – allowing Shuuhei to comfortably play around Melissa's board sweeper for the rest of the game.
Shuuhei Nakamura ponders over his options
Shuuhei's Invisible Stalker, was met with a Ratchet Bomb – and his Sword of War and Peace fell to an Ancient Grudge .
At this point, Shuuhei seemed to be out of threats – but with only two lands Melissa was completely unable to take advantage of the situation.
When Melissa ticked her Ratchet Bomb up to two counters, Shuuhei played out a Delver of Secrets, and a Moorland Haunt.
Melissa's draw step again failed to yield her a land, while Shuuhei revealed a Dissipate to flip his Delver into an Insectile Aberration and further demoralize Melissa who now knew that she would need to get through at least one counterspell in order to claw back into the game.
Melissa drew a Forest, and decided that she had no choice but to sacrifice her Ghost Quarter, destroying her own forest to fetch a second Mountain that she used to cast her Slagstorm which Shuuhei (unsurprisingly) countered with Dissipate.
A Phyrexian Metamorph made Shuuhei's clock even faster – and a second Dissipate countering Melissa's second Slagstorm was enough for the Japanese pro to take the match.
Shuuhei Nakamura 2 – Melissa DeTora 0
Round 5 Feature Match - Conley Woods vs. Josh Utter-Leyton
by Blake Rasmussen
It was a Channelfireballapalooza (I'm totally trademarking that) in the Round 6 feature match area. Not only were teammates and Worlds Top 8 competitors Conley Woods and Josh Utter-Leyton paired up, but Luis Scott-Vargas was playing on camera that round immediately behind them.
"Channelfireball, crushing another tournament with three players in the feature match," Woods said, possibly trying to write my headline for me.
"Conley, we're two rounds in," Utter-Leyton reminded his teammate.
The two players and teammates had intimate knowledge of both their opponent's decks and play styles. If you could possible be more familiar with your opponent at Round 6 of a nearly 1,000 person Grand Prix, I'd like to see it.
Woods had steered away from the rest of the Channelfireball crew with a unique take on Jund Ramp – complete with Glissa the Traitor and Ratchet Bomb to punish decks like Delver of Secrets with low curves – and it had served him well so far.
Utter-Leyton, meanwhile, was playing the Tempered Steel deck that had previously served the team even better at Worlds in San Francisco. Both players were undefeated after their byes and a win here would put them just a single match from guaranteeing a Day 2.
Utter-Leyton led with two Signal Pests and an Origin Spellbomb right off the bat, followed by a turn three Tempered Steel
"Ugh. Um, I take 10? Just kidding. I take 6," Wood offered, nothing his teammate's fast start.
Woods wasn't out of it yet though. Despite the blisteringly fast start, a Black Sun's Zenith bought him some valuable time while he built his mana and spun his pen.
Long enough to Acidic Slime the Tempered Steel and reverse the board position almost completely.
Memnite and a Spellbomb token couldn't break through the Acidic Slime, but the Glint Hawk Idol could certainly fly over it. Still, with Woods on 12 life, Utter-Leyton's early advantage appeared to have diminished. He even played draw-go for a turn in order to give him the mana to activate his Gavony Township . Woods cut off future activations with a Ghost Quarter.
Woods continued to ramp and build up a defense with two Solemn Simulacrums while Utter-Leyton did his best to break through.
Dispatch tried to clear out a Solemn, but a Doom Blade on one of the only three artifact creatures made the neo- Swords to Plowshares turn into more of a neo-Twiddle.
Woods then cleared the board the next turn with Black Sun's Zenith, drawing two cards off of his Simulacrums. He even took care of Glint Hawk Idol by trading two Inkmoth Nexus for it on Utter-Leyton's next turn.
Conley Woods could cast anything! Even a boat!
Woods, however, was drawing blanks apparently, because Utter-Leyton was able to play an Origin Spellbomb and Glint Hawk as well as another Township to claw Woods down to three. Another Black Sun's Zenith again wiped the board.
Utter-Leyton kept at it though, using Origin Spellbomb to find another attacker.
That is until Woods drew and played Primeval Titan and followed it up with the fourth Black Sun's Zenith of the game. When the Titan attacked, it took a pump from Kessig Wolf Run and, with it, game one.
Woods 1 – Utter-Leyton 0
On the play again, Utter-Leyton had a second blistering start. Memnite and Glint Hawk came down on turn one followed by Glint Hawk Idol and an Origin Spellbomb. Fortunately for Woods, Tempered Steel, the deck's namesake, was nowhere to be seen.
Meawhile, Woods played Sphere of the Suns.
Ok, that wasn't all he did. He also played Ratchet Bomb which, at zero, could kill at least Memnite and the Spellbomb token.
Oblivion Ring removed Woods' ramp artifact and the bomb did indeed blow up. Utter-Leyton replaced the pressure with a Vault Skirge, not even bothering to play around Black Sun's Zenith.
A Doom Blade killed the Idol, leaving just the Skirge and Glint Hawk in play and Woods at five. A Solemn Simulacrum wouldn't give him any relief from either the Hawk or the Skirge, but it did ramp him to six mana...
...which means nothing if there's nothing to cast with those six mana. After a cheeky attack with a Solemn Simulacrum, Woods scooped to lethal damage.
Woods 1 – Utter-Leyton 1
Woods wasn't pleased with his first hand, a feeling he demonstrated by laying down seven cards consisting of two lands and five ramp spells.
"But you could cast anything!" Utter-Leyton said.
"I could Nicol Bolas you," Woods said while shuffling up and looking for six better cards.
...and not finding them. So he tried five.
"Give me a good hand one time," Woods pleaded with his deck.
"Don't use your one time now. Use your one time against someone you really want to beat."
"I'll probably beat them anyway," he said, confidently for a man on a mull to five.
After keeping his hand, Woods seemed pretty sure it would be a short game, but Utter-Leyton's only play before turn three was a single Vault Skirge. Of course, that meant his turn three play was Tempered Steel. It was also his turn four play.
Josh Utter Leyton. Not show, 7/7 flying lifelink artifact creatures.
Woods, meanwhile, certainly had the mana to do things. He cast three Rampant Growths and a Sphere of the Suns to hit six mana, which netted a Grave Titan.
"Can Grave Titan race a 5/5 lifelink flier? Can you give me a little bit of hope?"
Instead he crushed any possible hope with an Oblivion Ring on the Titan and his third, yes third, Tempered Steel.
Josh Utter-Leyton defeats Conley Woods 2-1
Saturday, 7:03 p.m. - We're Gonna Need a Bigger Suitcase!
by Blake Rasmussen
The new, jam-packed 2012 Grand Prix Schedule can offer both an opportunity and a challenge to players from outside the United States that still want to travel to the bulk of U.S. GPs.
The opportunity is, of course, turning one trip into multiple tournament appearances. A player from say, oh, let's just randomly pick Brazil, might not have been able to justify a trip to the states for just one Grand Prix, but when they can stay state-side and attend upwards of 10 Grands Prix in a span of a few months?
"I wanted to come here for a while," said Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, who just happens to be Brazilian and also just happens to be attending a mind-boggling number of Grands Prix over the next several months. He was at Austin last week and is at Orlando this weekend before he flies out to stay with Luis Scott-Vargas until Pro Tour Honolulu. After that he said he plans to go to Lincoln, Baltimore, Seattle, Indianapolis, Nashville and Mexico City before, finally, after three months, returning home to Brazil a mere three weeks after his classes have already started for school.
The challenge, naturally, is how to pack for three months.
"Because we're going to Hawaii and we're going to Nebraska. How do you pack for that?" Vitor Damo da Rosa asked.
A bevy of international pros have taken the wind-sprint that is the first part of the 2012 Grand Prix schedule and turned it into an extended holiday. Raphael Levy (France), Martin Juza (Czech Republic), Shuhei Nakamura (Japan), Willy Edel (Brazil) and Vitor Damo da Rosa (Brazil) all made the swing from Austin to Orlando without heading home, and some plan on making extended trips before and after Pro Tour Hawaii as well.
Levy has started his trip in impressive fashion. The Hall of Famer won Grand Prix Austin last week and is off to a 5-1 start after six rounds this weekend. After Hawaii, Levy plans to attend the Grands Prix in Lincoln, Madrid and Lille.
"After that will depend on the results of Honolulu," Levy said. "If I have a shot at the player's championship, I may go to more. Also, I want to make platinum."
He also said hitting more 500 Pro Points lifetime, which would put him in first place all-time just ahead of current leader Kai Budde, wasn't driving him since he plans to hit it eventually regardless. He just doesn't want to do it by grinding and hopes to get there through more performances like Austin.
How do you say "Good start to a long trip" in French?
Performance dictating travel was a common theme among the international pros. Edel wants to hit 25 points and would consider attending GP Baltimore or GP Seattle if he's within striking distance. As the owner of his own store, Edel uses the trips to purchase cards for his business as well, giving him a more flexible schedule than most.
Nakamura said he wants to reach 13 more pro points and that after Japan he knows he'll go to GP Kobe, but isn't sure where he'll travel to after that. He said he wants to prioritize limited Grands Prix and that he was also a little jealous he hadn't taken Vitor Damo da Rosa's plan and made a long trip out of it.
Juza, meanwhile, didn't have a specific point total in mind, but wanted to make the new team World Cup, and event he said he was very excited for. He, too, attended Austin and now Orlando – bunking with Ben Stark in the interim – but is flying home for 10 days before spiriting off once again for Hawaii.
"It's because I have a girlfriend," the Czech said, smirking a bit. "If not, I would probably just stay with Ben."
Juza said he'll spend three weeks in Hawaii before going to Lincoln (seriously, how do you pack for Hawaii and Lincoln, Neb., in February in the same suitcase?). From there, he'll play it by ear depending on how he and other players do.
How do you pack for both Hawaii and Lincoln, Nebraska, in the same suitcase?
"I need to make sure I keep the other European players in check," he said. "Get it? Czech?"
And while a travel schedule that can give a girlfriend fits might sound like a challenge to some, to many of the international players here at Grand Prix Orlando, the travel is the very point.
"I think the best part of the game right now is the travel," Edel said. "I've been to 30 countries, 90 percent of which I wouldn't go to without Magic."
Round 7 Feature Match - Match Pat Cox versus Pamela Rosu
by Steve Sadin
Pro Tour Nagoya Top 8 Competitor Pat Cox came within a match of winning Grand Prix Austin last weekend, and he hasn't cooled down since – starting this event with a 6-0 record with a particularly grindy Blue-Black Control deck.
While Pat Cox is a seasoned veteran with years of Pro Tour experience already under his belt -- Pamela Rosu has just began dipping her toes into the tournament Magic scene. She decided to make the trip from the frigid Canadian North with her husband to play some Magic, and visit amusement parks on Sunday. But given that she's already off to a 6-0 start with her White-Blue Humans deck, she and her husband might have to change their Sunday plans a bit as she's likely to be busy playing in Day Two of the Grand Prix!
Pamela Rosu started things off with a Champion of the Parish, threatening an aggressive start – but Pat Cox had a Mana Leak and a couple of Dissipates to deal with Pamela's next three threats.
Pat allowed an Honor of the Pure to resolve, opting to use Forbidden Alchemy to dig for more answers. Black Sun's Zenith took out the 2/2 Champion of the Parish, and when Pamela (who had access to six mana) tried for a Mirran Crusader, Pat decided to Mana Leak it.
Pamela thought for a moment, realizing that Pat was not doubt up to something, before ultimately paying the three mana for Mana Leak. A Karn Liberated took out the Mirran Crusader, but was removed in turn by Pamela's Oblivion Ring.
Fiend Hunter fell to a Liliana of the Veil, but Pamela had a replacement – threatening to take out Pat's pesky Planeswalker.
However, it was not to be as a Liliana activation forced Pamela to discard her last card, before a Tribute to Hunger took out the Fiend Hunter.
At this point, Pamela was out of threats, and Pat began pulling away as a series of Think Twices, and Forbidden Alchemies. Pat's many flashback card drawers allowed him to find answers for every one of Pamela's subsequent creatures, until he was (eventually) able to mill Pamela out with Nephalia Drownyard.
Pat Cox 1 – Pamela Rosu 0
Pamela got things started with an Honor of the Pure, followed by a Mirran Crusader which Pat Cox had no two-mana answer for. Fearing a Hero of Bladehold, Pat decided to take the hit from the Mirran Crusader – falling to 14 in the process.
Lacking a fourth land, Pamela could only cast a Fiend Hunter, which Pat responded to by casting Tribute to Hunger to deal with Pamela's Mirran Crusader.
Pamela drew her fourth land, and cast a Doomed Traveler on her next turn.
Knowing that he wouldn't be able to survive even the meager offense that Pamela was presenting for long, Pat decided that he could no longer play around Hero of Bladehold – opting to cast a Curse of Death's Hold to counteract Pamela's Honor of the Pure.
Pamela did in fact have the feared Hero of Bladehold, and without a Black Sun's Zenith in his next couple of draws Pat quickly succumbed to his opponent's army of creatures.
Pat Cox 1 – Pamela 1
In-between games two and three Pamela asked her husband Dejan how he did this round.
Dejan: "I scooped"
Pamela: "You didn't have to do that!"
Dejan: "I wanted to watch you play – you're the good Magic player in the family."
Pat and Pamela went into game three with 17 minutes left on the clock – a fact that Pat was very aware of, and very concerned about.
Pamela's first two Champion of the Parishes fell to a Virulent Wound, and a Doom Blade, but Pat let her Fiend Hunter resolve so he would have time to start casting Forbidden Alchemies in search of an answer for his opponent's Moorland Haunt.
Geist of Saint Traft got Mana Leaked, and not wanting to further fuel his opponent's Moorland Haunt (and desperately needing to find more Think Twices, and Forbidden Alchemies to dig for answers), Pat milled himself with Nephalia Drownyard.
Black Sun's Zenith for one wiped out a couple of spirit tokens –but Pamela still had a creature in her yard to fuel her Moorland Haunt.
A Virulent Wound took out the spirit token, and Pamela drew into a glut of lands giving Pat the time he needed to find some answers.
Dissipate countered a Grand Abolisher, Ghost Quarter took out the Moorland Haunt. Pamela found a replacement Moorland Haunt, but Pat Cox had a second Ghost Quarter to deal with it.
Angelic Destiny allowed Pamela to knock Pat down to 4, but a Black Sun's Zenith to wipe the board, followed by a Batterskull and a Liliana of the Veil seemed like they would be enough for Pat Cox to take the game – but he would need to do it before time ran out!
An Oblivion Ring, and a Celestial Purge saved Pamela a couple of hits from the Batterskull – and when time was called it got to the point where Pat was only able to attack Pamela down to two life before the end of extra turns.
Pat Cox 1 – Pamela Rosu 1
Round 8 Feature Match - Ben Friedman vs. Patrick Chapin
by Blake Rasmussen
The late rounds of the first day of a Grand Prix can be filled with quite a bit of drama. Players on the bubble trying to grab that last win to make Day 2 often find themselves face to face with pro players trying to do the same thing. And even the players with unblemished records guaranteed to come back the next day were trying to stay in position for a run at the Top 8 tomorrow. Late round Day 1 losses can make it a struggle to keep up on Day 2.
That was the situation that faced Ben Friedman and Patrick Chapin in Round 8. Both players were 7-0 and had already locked up Day 2 invitations but, just as importantly, wanted to head into Day 2 in position to make a run. Going 9-0 or 8-1 would certainly do just that.
Patrick "The Innovator" Chapin is well known, but Ben Friedman might not be as familiar to some observers. That, however, may not last long. The Baltimore native has been a mainstay in the Top 8 of StarCity Games Opens and has the talent to challenge for the Top 8.
Chapin brought an updated version of his Grixis control list from Worlds, sticking with his pet Olivia Voldaren and adding some sideboard spice in Whipflare, which looked fantastic in a world full of tokens and Delver of Secrets.
Friedman, meanwhile, was playing UW Humans, just the sort of deck Chapin's was supposed to prey upon. But the deck's resilience, and Friedman's march to a 7-0 start, could not be ignored.
Friedman played Turn 1 Champion of the Parish, but it was quickly burned away by Devil's Play. A second Champion of the Parish stuck long enough for Friedman to have to protect its throat with a Mana Leak.
Still, it was stuck as a 1/1 for several turns, even after Friedman hit four mana. He showed why he hadn't made an earlier move when he Mana Leaked Olivia Voldaren and followed up with a Hero of Bladehold.
However, to do so he tapped down to one mana, giving Chapin a clear path to resolve Inferno Titan and kill the Champion of the Parish.
You can't tell, but Chapin is probably brewing decks in his head even as he gets off to a 7-0 start
Not one to back down, Friedman fired right back with Honor the Pure and a Fiend Hunter for the Inferno Titan. The attack took Chapin all the way down to five life facing roughly a bajillion power on the table (approximately). Still, if Chapin had any removal, he had a shot at bringing the board back to parity.
Desperate Ravings found him a Snapcaster to flash back Go for the Throat, but an Oblivion Ring removed the potential blocker and allowed Friedman to attack for a quick win.
Friedman 1 – Chapin 0
"Gotta mulligan the bad ones," the chatty Friedman quipped as he mulled to six and played a Doomed Traveler. Would his mulligan leave him just as doomed as his one drop?
(I may have been waiting to make that joke since basically forever, groanworthy though it may be.)
Friedman had a Grand Abolisher and then doubled up everything with second copies of both the Traveler and Abolisher, but Chapin began fighting back with a Ponder into a Pristine Talisman. The real haymaker was Whipflare, a vastly underrated card right now. Chapin finished his turn with Liliana, making both players discard.
Ben Friedman is a bit of a rising star. Could he be coming to a Top 8 near you?
After the spirit tokens took Liliana to two loyalty, a Devil's Play cast and then immediately flashed back teamed up with Liliana to wrath the board (killing Liliana in the process), but Friedman reloaded with a third Abolisher and Mirran Crusader.
A second and later third Talisman let Chapin stem the bleeding, but with no removal in sight for several turns, Friedman just attacked and attacked and attacked until Chapin was dead.
Ben Friedman defeats Patrick Chapin 2-0
Round 9 Feature Match - William Postlethwait vs. Lewis Laskin
by Blake Rasmussen
Round 9, the round that makes or breaks the dreams of many. The round that many a 6-2 player pins their hopes upon. The round that will decide the fates of so many players, all of them trying to grab that final elusive win.
That may be a little over the top, but you get the point. Round 9 is important, yo.
Two of the players battling to get their 7th win and a ticket to Day 2 were Lewis Laskin and William Postlethwait. Laskin has put up a strong of solid finishes at all levels of play, but has yet to really break out. Postlethwait is a long time player and local – he said he lives about 20 minutes from the tournament site – who has finished as high as 12th at Pro Tour Amsterdam and 18th at Pro Tour Paris.
Laskin, like many this weekend, came to battle with Delver of Secrets, Snapcasters and Invisible Stalkers, while Postlethwait was playing a little outside the box with a Puresteel Paladin deck that, thanks to Mortarpod and a full set of Sword of War and Peace, looked like a good metagame call in a room full of Moorland Haunt decks.
Laskin won the die roll and used the initiative to Ponder away the top three cards of his library before Mana Leaking Postlethwait's attempt at Grand Abolisher. That, however, just opened the way for Puresteel Paladin.
However, when Postlethwait tried to play Accorder Sheild, Laskin had two Gutshots to shut down the engine before playing a Geist of Saint Traft to hopefully start attacking. Etched Champion backed by a second Flayer Husk obtained Metalcraft, but Laskin used a Vapor Snag and a Sword of War and Peace to regain the initiative.
The Geist got one attack in before being relegated to sitting there looking pretty next to the Timely Reinforcements that showed up to further clog the ground. To complicate matters even further, Postlethwait cast his own Sword of War and Peace. To say the combat math was complicated was an understatement.
Laskin then suited an Inkmoth Nexus up with Sword of War and Peace and attacked for three poison, adding yet another new dimension to the board state.
When he tried the same trick next turn, Postlethwait had Dispatch, which Laskin was able to Mana Leak. Still, the counter caused Laskin to tap the Inkmoth, preventing an attack that turn.
Postlethwait made an effort to catch up, but with no new way to deal with the Inkmoth and no way to race the Sword's life gain, all it took was four swings for Laskin to take an early lead.
Laskin 1 – Postlethwait 0
On the play, Postlethwait threw his hand back just as quickly as Laskin kept his. The Floridian still got off to a strong start, casting an early Mortarpod – a key card in this matchup – and getting a second use out of it thanks to a Glint Hawk. It was the second Germ that kept a Delver from flipping, even after Laskin had set it up with Ponder.
Snapcaster Mage on Ponder gave Laskin more gas, but Sword of War and Peace from Postlethwait threatened to make all of those cards in hand deadly. Fully aware of this, Laskin removed Sword with an Oblivion Ring only to see a second one the next turn.
Still, don't forget that first Sword under the Oblivion Ring. It may matter (that's called foreshadowing).
When the Glint Hawk attacked the next turn, Sword in hand, er, beak, er, whatever, Laskin had to Vapor Snag it to stay in the race.
And race he did with an Invisible Stalker. Another Germ Token killed Snapcaster Mage, but the Stalker poked its invisible head in there unrelentingly, albeit without any equipment. Poke, poke, poke.
But when the Hawk picked up the Sword again next turn, Laskin had to take the hit while making a Spirit from Moorland Haunt.
Another Snapcaster led to another Vapor Snag on the Hawk, but that only kept it from picking up the Sword temporarily. Postlethwait simply recast the Hawk, which once again picked up the Sword. Postlethwait didn't have many creatures, but the now 4/4 Hawk could hold off Laskin's team indefinitely...
...or at least until it was killed by Dismember. Laskin even regained the life, though not the tokens, with Timely Reinforcements. He then attacked Postlethwait to 9.
The next turn, with Laskin empty handed and out of Vapor Snags, Postlethwait was able to connect with the Sword on a Mortar Pod Token before throwing the Germ at a Soldier and replaying the Pod with another Glint Hawk.
Ponder from Laskin didn't find anything interesting in the first three cards, but did draw Laskin a Snapcaster to get a second use out of the one-mana cantrip.
"I guess I have to find a Divine Offering?" Laskin thought out loud before attacking with Snapcaster Mage and the Invisible Stalker. He didn't find a Divine Offering(which may or may not have been in his deck), but he did find a Geist of Saint Traft.
An attack with the Hawk holding a Sword put Postlethwait up to 14 (and Laskin to 5), but he was facing down an awful lot of damage with a Geist, two Snapcasters, a Soldier Token and an Invisible Stalker. It wasn't lethal through the germs that could still block, but it was close.
Laskin, however, had drawn yet another Snapcaster Mage, allowing him to target Vapor Snag. He declined to cast it pre-combat, but used it to bounce the Glint Hawk once his attack left Postlethwait facing lethal the following turn.
But it never got that far. Revoke Existence freed the first Sword of War and Peace from Oblivion Ring, giving Postlethwait metalcraft and allowing him to attach a second Sword to his lone remaining Germ token. The Dispatch in his hand cleared out Laskin's only non-white blocker and, after combat damage resolved, left Laskin at 1 life.
Exactly what the Mortarpod can deal.
Postlethwait 1 – Laskin 0
"That's not nearly good enough," Laskin said, breathing in deeply while looking at five lands, Mental Misstep and Sword of War and Peace.
"My hand was like Sword and six lands with Delver and Mana Leak on top," Laskin said, clearly unwilling to let his opponent know he had Mental Misstep in his deck.
His six cards were much better, but he was still slow to commit anything to the board.
Posltethwait had no such qualms, playing Flayer Husk into Grand Abolisher into Mortar Pod and a second Husk.
"It's like that, huh?" Laskin said, managing only a Sword of War and Peace with no creatures to wield it. He was falling behind.
Yes, it's like that for William Postlethwait
A Ponder gave him pause and left Laskin none too pleased.
"This is looking really bad," he said, staring at his hand and Pondered cards, willing them to be something else.
Forced to act on his turn thanks to Grand Abolisher, Laskin main phased a Snapcaster, fully expecting it to die to a Mortarpod token. Postlethwait just replaced the token with a Flayer Husk and did some equipping.
A Geist of Saint Traft looked threatening, especially if it could pick up a sword. But Postlethwait stayed aggressive, making a germ big with two Flayer Husks and then casting a Glint Hawk to find another use out of Mortar Pod.
Laskin, however, was able to connect the next turn with a Sworded Geist of Saint Traft, keeping his life at 5 after Postlethwait's next attack.
Desperate for an answer, Laskin went gingerly for the top of his deck. A Ponder caused him to, well, Ponder his options, many of which were shot down by the multiple Mortarpods and the Grand Abolisher.
"I can't imagine a scenario in which I win this game," he said before using Snap/Vapor Snag to force Postlethwait to sacrifice a Germ token. "Might as well try it."
It wasn't enough and Posltethwait had lethal on the next attack.
William Postlethwait defeats Lewis Laskin 2-1 and advances to Day 2
Sunday, 9:56 p.m. - The Rise of Florida Magic
by Blake Rasmussen
The Rise of Florida Magic
by Steve Sadin
Over the past few years, the Floridian Pro Magic scene has flourished. And while this might have seemed like an overnight transformation to players who have only begun following Pro Magic recently, the rise of Florida Magic has actually been years in the making.
During the early 2000's, Antonino de Rosa was Florida's resident Pro Magic player. In 2001, Antonino picked up his first Grand Prix Top 8 in Atlanta , and didn't look back – even making trips to Grand Prix tournaments half way across the globe in order to lock up oh-so-valuable Pro Points.
Antonino playing in his first Grand Prix Top 8
The next Florida Magic player to gain international notice, was a (then very young) Charles Gindy. After making the finals of the Team Limited Grand Prix Pittsburgh with a makeshift squad in 2003. Gindy went on to do himself one better in 2004, a year that would turn out to be a huge turning point for the Florida pro community.
In 2004 Charles Gindy, led his fellow Floridian teammates Bill Stead, and Chris Fennell past a star-studded team of Jon Finkel, Brian Kibler, and Eric Froehlich in the Semifinals, before taking down Osyp Lebedowicz, Patrick Sullivan, and Adam Horvath in the Finals of Grand Prix DC.
Gindy, Fennell, and Stead proved that Florida was big enough for more than one Pro Magic player
Bill Stead followed up his team's win in DC with a second place finish at US Nationals just a couple of months later where he was joined in the Top 8 by fellow Florida native William Postlethwait.
A young Ben Stark's career really took off in 2004, as he earned back to back Top 8s at Pro Tour San Diego and Pro Tour Kobe, all the while dominating the North American Grand Prix Circuit. If you asked anybody in the Pro Community to name 5 players who they didn't want to play against in 2004 -- and they didn't have Ben's name on their list, they simply didn't know what they were talking about.
But despite making Pro Magic look easy, Ben Stark decided to step away from the game at the end of 2004.
In 2005, William Postlethwaitposted his first Grand Prix Top 8, while Alex Lieberman also came into his own, winning Grand Prix Minneapolis and finishing in the money at virtually every event he played in.
In 2006, Antonino finally broke through and earned his first Pro Tour Top 8 at Pro Tour Prague -- but after that, Florida Magic took somewhat of a step back, as Antonino, Lieberman, and Postlethwait all went into retirement over the course of the following couple of years.
In 2008, Charles Gindy became the first Pro Tour Champion from Florida, taking the crown in Hollywood, and then went on to win US Nationals a year later.
Gindy took a dive after the Finals
A week after Gindy won US Nationals, Ben Stark, who had been quietly playing in tournaments for the better part of a year, officially marked his return to Professional Magic – with a second place finish at Grand Prix Boston.
Florida Magic was a bit quiet during most of 2010 – but Ben Stark showed that he still meant business with a Top 8 finish at Grand Prix Toronto near the end of the Season.
This all set the stage for 2011 – when the Florida Pro Magic community truly came into its own.
Pro Tour Paris was an absolutely dominant weekend for Florida Magic Players as Ben Stark won the Pro Tour with Caw-Blade (which would go on to become one of the most dominant Standard decks of all time), and David Sharfman won the Grand Prix that was being held in the same hall.
Seven years after his first Pro Tour Top 8, Ben Stark became a Pro Tour Champion.
And just a few months later David Sharfman hoisted the trophy in Nagoya, besting a talented Top 8 that also featured the extremely consistent Pat Cox.
Sharfman made it two in a row for Florida to start 2011
With an active group of seasoned veterans, including Ben Stark, Pat Cox (who made the finals of Grand Prix Austin just last weekend), Charles Gindy, Orrin Beasley, a resurgent William Postlethwait, and a crop of talented younger players – the future certainly seems bright for Florida Magic.