Saturday, 8:53 p.m. - Grinding Through RtR Sealed
by Blake Rasmussen
Grinders—the single-elimination pre-tournament tournaments that can earn a player three byes for the main event—are full of reams of data on the format, often giving us an insight into the what's good in the format long before the Grand Prix even begins.
And, of course, there are deck lists, but we'll get to those.
There were a whopping 17 grinders held Friday in advance of Grand Prix Philadelphia—with winners that include such stalwarts as Josh Ravitz, Chris "Meddling Mage" Pikula, and Grand Prix Boston runner-up Robert Victory, ensuring many puns to come. That means we have 17 decks to sift through, giving us a wealth of info to work with.
Let's start with what is probably the first question on your mind: Which guild performed the best?
Ignoring splashes, the guild breakdown was as follows for the 17 winners
- Rakdos 5
- Selesnya 4
- Izzet/Rakdos 3
- Golgari/Rakdos 2
- Four or five color 2
- Azorius 1
Rakdos was the clear winner, not only dominating with the streamlined two-color version, but pairing with both Izzet and Golgari to find itself in more than half of the winning decks. Carnival Hellsteed, Auger Spree, and a plethora of unleash creatures made the deck scarily consistent across the winners. Grinder No. 2 was won by Chris Pelletier with this Rakdos build:
Philadelphia Grand Prix - Limited
Clean, elegant and brutally efficient, it's no wonder Pelletier ran through the grinder on the way to earning three byes.
Obviously, Rakdos success meant Black and Red were by far the most popular colors. Individual colors (ignoring small 1-2 card splashes) broke down as such:
- Black 13
- Red 12
- Green 8
- White 6
- Blue 4
And while most of the winning decks opted for consistency in their mana bases, there were a few small splashes in the two color lists, with Blue and Black being the most popular splashes.
At the other end of the spectrum, two players opted for power over consistency, cobbling together mana bases only a mother could love. One of those was none other than Josh Ravitz, who won his grinder with this beauty. Note the Axebane Guardians that make it all possible.
Philadelphia Grand Prix - Limited
Axebane Guardian decks are pretty much my favorite thing in this format, so I love seeing that decks like this are both possible and can succeed. Of course, Ravitz is a master, so approaching sealed this way isn't necessarily for the faint of heart.
Let's try something a little more tried and true, courtesy of Robert Victory's um... what's the word... win? No, that's not it. Triumph? Closer. Oh well, Robert Victory tasted the sweet smell of something in Grinder 11 with his Selesnya splash Blue deck.
Philadelphia Grand Prix - Limited
A couple things to note about Victory's achievement . He played 18 lands, including Grove of the Guardian and two Azorius Guildgates. His Blue splashes were for VERY powerful cards, as Cyclonic Rift and Archon of the Triumvirate can both win games other cards cant.
Note that, despite splashing Blue, he still didn't play otherwise strong, splashable cards like Voidwielder, Inspiration or any of the other single-blue spells he could have cast. His deck was just as streamlined as the Rakdos decks, but the available mana fixing and the overall power of his two splashes made the decision an easy one, letting Robert conquer the Grinder.
So, lessons learned, class?
- Rakdos (the guild, but I suppose also the card) is a force to be reckoned with.
- No, seriously, Rakdos is really good.
- Consistency and strong mana bases tended to beat out bad mana bases and innumerable colors...
- ...unless you're Josh Ravitz and have three Axebane Guardians.
Stay tuned all weekend as we see if Rakdos continues its winning ways or if one of the other four guilds can break through at Grand Prix Philadelphia.
Saturday, 9:19 a.m. - Multi-Color Madness: Sealed Deck Exercise (Part 1)
by Blake Rasmussen
Return to Ravnica, like many multi-color blocks, presents something of a unique sealed deckbuilding challenge (anyone remember Shadowmoor/Eventide? If not, check out Frank Lepore's retrospective on multi-color sets over the years).
So, to give you some insight into how some of the best players handle the challenge of potentially complex mana bases and overlapping options, we're posting a sealed deck pool here and will come back later with a Pro's take on the deck and the process.
You coverage junkie veterans will know how this works, but for everyone else: post how you would build it in the forums, argue, debate, disagree, acquiesce, and discuss how you would build your 40 card sealed deck, and then later on, compare to what the pros do. We'll pay special attention to how they handle all of the colors and fixing available to them.
Besides, if you're not here, I'm sure you wish you were. Here's a little taste of what the nearly 2,000 players at Grand Prix Philadelphia are working with this weekend.
Saturday, 9:44 a.m. - A Limited History of Multicolored Blocks
by Frank Lepore
Return to Ravnica is the next in a long line of multicolored sets to grace the game of Magic, with each one presenting new options for players and requiring new approaches to deckbuilding. Let's take a look at some of the other popular multicolor sets that preceded Return to Ravnica!
Invasion Block heralded the experience of building limited decks with multicolored cards in mind. It included multiple facets of multicolored mechanics, including creatures with enemy colored abilities, cards with kicker costs in other colors, common and uncommon lands that could produce multiple colors, and the introduction of "domain," which rewarded players who managed to acquire the different basic lands types in play. Invasion block was a fan favorite and one of the most popular draft sets of all time; you can bet that the intricate multicolored strategies played no small part in that.
Ah, Ravnica. Ravnica was arguably one of the most popular sets in Magic's history, and today's record breaking numbers at Grand Prix Philadelphia indicate that the fire for the plane of Ravnica is still alive. Ravnica first introduced things like hybrid mana and the illustrious "shock lands" that have been played in nearly every format where they've been legal. Ravnica rewarded skilled limited players for picking a guild in each set that would then be complimented in each of the following sets. For example players might choose the Dimir guild (blue/black) in pack one (Ravnica), so that they have access to Orzhov (white/black) in pack two (Guildpact), and finally Azorius (white/blue) in pack three (Dissension). This allowed players to find the best cards in their specific three colors in each pack with very little falling outside of their range. The mana fixing in Ravnica was also superb in the form of "karoos" – lands that required you to return a land to your hand when they came into play, but in return, provided you with two colors of mana – and Signets, which were two mana artifacts that provided you with two different colors of mana.
Shadowmoor and Eventide were the second half of the Lorwyn Block. While Lorwyn and Morningtide were the first half and contained very few multicolored cards, when we reached Shadowmoor and Eventide we found a set that was comprised almost entirely out of hybrid cards. The sets were unique, however, in that there were zero traditional gold cards in them. The set has such hits as the "filter lands" – lands that you could activate with a specific two colors, only to produce any combination of two man in those colors – along with the ability to build almost completely monocolored decks due to the fact that a red/black hybrid card could be played exclusively with black mana!
Shards of Alara/Conflux/Alara Reborn
Shards of Alara was the latest multicolored block leading up to the headlining Return to Ravnica. The block was groundbreaking for several reasons, not the least of which was the fact that the third set, Alara Reborn, contained exclusively gold cards. That's correct: every single card in the set was gold. Shards of Alara also defined a lot of the terms we use today to name three color decks by their "shards." For example white/blue/green has been dubbed "Bant," and blue/black/red is often known as "Grixis" during deck construction. As you might be able to ascertain by the fact that the sets were separated into five shards, this set heavily rewarded players who were able to focus their draft and sealed decks into a particular shard. Mana fixing, which is always vital for multicolored sets, included such hits as the tri-lands (Savage Lands, Seaside Citadel, etc.) and artifact mana in the form of obelisks (Obelisk of Grixis, etc.) and borderposts (Firewild Borderpost, etc.).
Round 3 Feature Match - Cedric Phillips vs. Winston Dong
by Blake Rasmussen
"The dog's name is Rufus," said Cedric Phillips as he shuffled up battle in Round 3 against Winston Dong.
Of course it is.
The dog, in this case, was the ostentatious hat Phillips—who is known for his highly interactive Magic Online streams and outsized personality—was sporting for the day. Just... well... just look at it.
Rufus prepares to battle during round 3. Also pictured, Cedric Phillips.
Phillips has been doing his streaming (and hat wearing) from Seattle for the about the last two and a half years, which also happens to be the same city where Dong recently relocated to (that's called a transition boys and girls). Dong was 2-0, but had done so without any byes, which often signals a powerful pool. Every Grand Prix, it seems, some players make a strong run at Day 2 with no byes thanks to some pretty powerful pools. With cards like Sphinx of the Chimes and Sphinx's Revelation lurking in his 40 cards, Dong looked like he could fit that mold this weekend.
On the play, Dong fanned a multicolored hand with a Transguild Promenade on the play.
"Let's play Magic," Phillips said to kick things off.
And kick things off he did. He curved a Daggerdome Imp into Dread Reveler, but was temporarily stymied by a Sunspire Griffin to rule the air and a Selesnya Keyrune to start ramping his mana. He had a number of X spells in hand, including the Slime Molding for 4 he followed up with, and the extra mana would get him going quickly.
Phillips, meanwhile, continued to curve out with a Korozda Monitor and a Launch Party, sacrificing the ineffective Imp to kill the 4/4 token.
Dong kept his cavalcade of X spells coming with a Street Spasm to remove the Dread Reveler and followed up with another Selesnya Keyrune to keep ramping.
Phillips tried to keep the pressure up with a Towering Indrik and Golgari Longlegs, but Syncopate countered the 5/4 and kept Dong afloat at just three life.
And when Coursers' Accord—also known as Broodmate Centaur—landed for Dong, it looked like he might have staved off Phillips beats for long enough to get some of the powerful cards in his hand online.
That left Phillips with some things to consider, pausing before playing a Deathrite Shaman that could end things in just two turns if left alone.
But Dong wasn't about to leave it alone. He exiled the powerful 1/2 with Trostani's Judgment and populated another 3/3, further gumming up the ground.
Winston Dong's deck was packed with powerful spells. But would he be able to cast them in time?
Not that it mattered. Explosive Impact off the top, miracle style, ended the game before Dong could mount his comeback.
Unknown to Phillips at the time, Dong was a single Blue mana away from breaking the game wide open with a large Sphinx's Revelation. That would have put him well out of range. With only a Transguild Promenade making something other than Green and White mana, Dong was simply unable to capitalize on the powerful mythic rare.
Between games the players chatted about living in Seattle and, of course, where they play.
"Where do you play at?" Dong asked, expecting to hear a card store in return.
"I play online on my computer in my room," retorted the avid Magic online streamer.
Phillips 1 – Dong 0
"Good?" Phillips asked, eyebrows raised under Rufus. "Let's play."
And play they did, especially Phillips, who started on Deathrite Shaman while Dong started beating down with a Fencing Ace and followed up with two Hussar Patrolls.
Phillips then played an Axebane Guardian and followed up with...
"Look out ladies! It's... Catacomb Slug!"
This says it all.
Even the 2/6 didn't stand in the way of the Fencing Ace, as Phillips was wary of a trick on the doubestriker.
But when Dong crashed in the next turn, Phillips was ready.
"That's enough of that," he said, responding to Dong's Common Bond with Ultimate Price on the doublestriker.
Phillips was down on life—19-12—but was starting to take control of the board. And with Deathrite Shaman, he could gain life or shoot Dong at will. The 1/2 was doing quite a bit of work.
Continuing to slowly tick down Dong's life total while padding his own, Phillips cast and started attacking with Daggerdrome Imp as both players joked about the quality of creatures on the board.
Phillips, however, played and resolved Underworld Connections, which, despite Dong's Keening Apparition, stayed in play.
Slime Molding produced a 7/7 for Dong, but Phillips was quick to Launch (Party) his Daggerdrone Imp at the Ooze token. If Dong was going to let Underworld Connections stick around, Phillips certainly had some cards to throw away.
But Dong knew he couldn't sit back. Attacking with his Hussar Patrol, Keening Apparition and Selesnya Keyrune while Phillips was tapped low, he snuck in five damage and took care of the Underworld Connections when the Keening Apparition was blocked. Phillips fell to 11 but Deathrite Shaman had plenty of food to keep his life total heading the right direction.
Phillips reloaded his board the next turn with a Sewer Shambler and Korozda Monitor, while Dong could only manage a Runewing in response. But with a plethora of mana at his disposal, Sphinx's Revelation could break the game back in his favor.
But he would need to draw it quickly. Arrest shut down the Hussar Patrol, leaving Dong with just Runewing and Selsenya Keyrune for potential blockers and opening Dong up to an attack.
Now with a strong board advantage, Phillips swung in with four creatures—including Catacomb Slug, Rakdos Keyrune, Korozda Monitor and Sewer Shambler—with a "Here we go!" shout.
When the dust, and a Giant Growth settled, Phillips lost his Keyrune and the Sewer Shambler while Dong lost just his Runewing and five life. He pumped his board up again with Coursers' Accord, but now down to six life, Deathrite Shaman represented a scary clock with plenty to fuel it.
Phillips was perfectly happy to clock Dong with Deathrite Shaman, especially in the face of another Coursers' Accord, and simply played a Stonefare Crocodile and passed back. Now down to four life, it seemed little short of Sphinx's Revelation could save Dong now.
With one drawstep left, Dong drew and... found Sphinx's Revelation!
But the story doesn't have the happy ending Dong probably saw when he ripped the instant speed Stream of Braingeyser. He caught himself overthinking and, timing the spell poorly, choose to cast it in Phillips upkeep rather than on his own turn or in response to Deathrite Shaman.
And though Dong immediately realized his mistake, Phillips simply had to activate his Shaman in response to end the game right then and there.
"I was going to wait for it," Dong said, shaking his head. "But then I thought you might have a burn spells, and I just... messed up."
Phillips, ever the good sport, flipped up cards to see how the game would have changed if Dong had played correctly. When a slew of powerful spells showed up, Phillips said it would have been a totally different game.
"Good luck buddy, don't let it bother you. We've got many more rounds to play," Phillips said, wishing Dong good luck.
Phillips 2 – Dong 0
Round 4 Feature Match - David Sharfman vs. AJ Sacher
by Frank Lepore
David Sharfman is one of the hottest up and comers around. He's recently won both Grand Prix Paris and Pro Tour Nagoya, along with clenching another Top 8 appearance at Grand Prix Costa Rica. Today he's looking for another trophy to add to his mantle. AJ Sacher is a well-known columnist and grinder that managed a Top 8 berth at GP Costa Rica along with Sharfman. Both players joked back and forth about their decks while rolling some dice to see who played first... or second, as the case were.
Sharfman won the roll and chose to draw. AJ quickly went to Paris - a 13 hour flight from Philly - and went to six cards. Sharfman was satisfied with his new hand and they were off. AJ led the charge - the very defensive charge - with a Gatecreeper Vine.
"Oh! Boros Control!" AJ quipped at Sharfman's only cards on the board: a Mountain and a Plains.
A Swamp came down for Sharfman and he played two creatures in the form of a single Seller of Songbirds. No damage would get through, however, as despite suffering from a Stab Wound, AJ's Towering Indrik was a fine blocker.
At the end of Sharfman's turn Sacher summoned some Eyes in the Sky and two birds would join the fray.
"Can we get some more birds?" Sharfman inquired to the table beside him. Both players laughed as Sharfman replenished the much needed 1/1 tokens.
It was all for naught however. The birds weren't long for this world, as Sharfman's own Eyes in the Sky blocked Sacher's and made it a very empty sky indeed. The two competitors played draw-go for a bit before Sharfman dropped an Archon of the Triumvirate onto the board.
"Is that good?" AJ asked. Sacher shifted the cards in his hand back and forth a bit before taking another two from Sharfman's Stab Wound. He drew his card for the turn, and seeing nothing beneficial, he scooped them up and it was on to game 2.
David Sharfman 1, AJ Sacher 0
Sacher chose to draw, the popular choice in several sealed formats, and both players went back and forth, dropping their lands. Sacher presented the first threat in the form of a Keening Apparition, followed by a Seller of Song Birds. The Apparition was but a ghost, however, as an Annihilating Fire consumed it.
Turn five met Sacher with Sharfman's opposing Golgari Longlegs. Sacher responded with an Eyes in the Sky on Sharfman's end step and swung in with his three birds, dropping Sharfman to 13 life. Sacher then followed it up with a Sunspire Griffin and a Concordia Pegasus before passing back.
Sharfman added a Rix Maadi Guildmage to the board - a gentleman that was sure to make combat difficult for Sacher. He attacked with his Longlegs before dropping a Stab Wound onto Sacher's Sunspire Griffin and passing the turn.
Sacher made a Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage and a Fencing Ace after attacking Sharfman back for another three. An Assassin's Strike from Sharfman made short work of Sacher's Guildmage, but his life was dropping quickly to Sacher's Air Force.
Four more in the air threatened to drop Sharfman to a mere one life and Sharfman decided to use an Explosive Impact on Sacher's 1/3 Pegasus: a move of desperation.
"Really dead," Sacher joked about his fallen flying friend.
With the Pegasus out of the way, Sharfman dropped to two life instead, and without a saving grace in sight, it was on to game three.
"Someone left their deckbox on the floor," Sharfman joked as he picked up a plastic Ziploc bag that was used to pass out the Return to Ravnica sealed packs in.
Sharfman chose to draw yet again, but it was his turn to drop down to six cards.
Sacher started off with a Fencing Ace while Sharfman met the two drop with a Thrill Kill Assassin. The two creatures traded in combat before Sacher dropped a Vassal Soul for Sharfman to deal with. Deal with it he did as Sharfman was quick to deliver the creature a lethal Stab Wound.
A Centaur's Herald from Sacher meant that he would produce a 3/3 for Sharfman to deal with before dropping a Towering Indrik. No play from Sharfman left him falling to 12 life before Sacher laid a Rogue's Passage, ensuring that the 3/3 would go unimpeded in the future.
A second Stab Wound from Sharfman on Sacher's Indrik mean that a little of the pressure had been removed, but Sacher still had a potentially unblockable 3/3. At the end of his own turn, Sacher chose to deal pass Trostani's Judgment on the Indrik, preventing any future damage from the Stab Wound and netting him a second Centaur via populating.
Sharfman was able to deal with one Centaur via an Assassin's Strike, but the other 3/3 would soon prove to Sharfman that he was no longer in the game. Sharfman scooped up his cards and Sacher would emerge victorious.
AJ Sacher defeats David Sharfman 2-1.
Round 5 Feature Match - Thomas Holzinger vs. Luis Scott-Vargas
by Blake Rasmussen
The quality of the feature matches we're getting in the early rounds of Grand Prix Philadelphia is staggering. Every round it seems like at least two pairings of pros are available for us to pit against one another in the feature match area.
I mean, it's just round five in a nearly 2,000 man grand prix, and we're already treated to all-world ace Luis-Scott Vargas versus Pro Tour Avacyn Restored Top 8er Thomas Holzinger? Can you really ask for much more?
To make it even more interesting, their decks were pretty stark contrasts in style. Holzinger had a midrange, somewhat controlling Green, White, Black deck that could Populate or Scavange its way to victory, while Scott-Vargas was working a streamlined and aggressive Rakdos beatdown deck. In fact, the contrast was so strong their decisions diverged from the very first pre-game play of the match.
Winning the die roll, Holzinger chose to be on the draw. Did he know something about this format, or did he know something about Scott-Vargas' well-documented predilection for slower, more controlling decks full of Axebane Stags?
Whatever his reason, being on the draw helped when he was forced to mulligan to six cards.
Despite playing second, Holzinger was first on the board with a Drudge Beetle, while Scott-Vargas countered with a Viashino Racketeer, discarding a swamp. Holzinger followed up with a Seller of Songbirds as the two smaller creatures traded.
But Scott-Vargas showed he was most assuredly not durdling when he unleashed a turn four Bloodfray Giant, which stood much larger than Holzinger's Selesnya Sentry, especially after he missed a land drop.
Scott-Vargas continued laying down Rakdos monsters with a Rakdos Ragemut, but lost the Giant to an Ultimate Price. Scott-Vargas replaced it with Golgari Longlegs, but passed without attacking.
Holzinger continued to develop his board with a Keening Apparition—finally hitting a fourth land as well—but lost nearly his entire board when Scott-Vargas cast Street Spasm overloaded for two. Even Holzinger's follow-up Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage looked like it might not be enough.
Scott-Vargas attacked in the following turn, losing his Ragemutt to Savage Surge but continuing to pressure Holzinger's ever-decreasing life total. He followed up with a very fragile Cobblebrute.
Eyes in the Skies gave Holzinger some blockers. He used one Bird token to blank Golgari Longlegs for a turn while Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage threw itself in front of a rampaging Cobblebrute. Both players reloaded again on their respective turns. Another beater for Scott-Vargas, another blocker for Holzinger.
Thomas Holzinger was quickly run over on his way to a Game 1 loss.
But when Holzinger went to double-block on the next attack, Scott-Vargas showed him the lethal Explosive Impact.
Scott-Vargas 1 – Holzinger 0
Despite getting run over in the first game, Holzinger chose to draw again in the second game.
Scott-Vargas didn't exactly make him pay for it, managing just a Daggerdrome Imp in his first four turns while Holzinger got hasty with a Dreg Mangler on turn three, followed up by a Corpsejack Menace on turn four.
Who's the beatdown now?
Scott-Vargas fought back with a Street Spasm to kill the Menace, but Holzinger's Golgari Longlegs kept the pressure on.
Scott-Vargas matched with his own Golgari Longlegs, and the two 5/4s promptly traded the next turn while Holzinger played a Centaur's Herald.
Meanwhile, Scott-Vargas, the aggressor in Game one, continued to simply attack with Daggerdrome Imp.
On Holzinger's next attack, Scott-Vargas tried to slow him down with an Explosive Impact on the Centaur Token, but was blown out by Rootborn Defenses. When Holzinger froze both of Scott-Vargas' creatures with an Azorius Arrester, the American fell to just two life, a precursor to picking up his cards after the Rootborn Defenses massacre.
Scott-Vargas 1 – Holzinger 1
"I'm going to play first," Scott-Vargas said, laughing. "One of us is right, one of us is wrong. We both have different information. We both know what's in our decks."
What was in Scott-Vargas' deck was a Gore-House Chainwalker that he cast on turn two, though it quickly paid the Ultimate Price.
Splatter Thug kept up Scott-Vargas' aggressive draw, but Holzinger fought back again with Dreg Mangler to jump ahead in the race.
Scott-Vargas, missing on his fourth land, just cast Sewer Shambler, only to follow it up with an unleashed Bloodfray Giant on his next turn.
That gave Holzinger pause. He had just cast a Sunspire Griffin, but it could only really block Sewer Shambler profitably, and even then only if he didn't play any Swamps (he had a Golgari Guildgate in play at this point). Missing his 5th land, Holzinger stopped on his turn to contemplate his options.
Eventually, he attacked with just his Dreg Mangler before playing a Centaur's Herald and passing with three mana open.
Luis Scott-Vargas' Game 1 win was explosive, but he was defenseless in Game 2. Fortunately for him, he was able to launch his way through Holzinger's forces in Game 3.
Scott-Vargas attacked the next turn with Splatter Thug and Bloodfray Giant, while Holzinger predictably used his Centaur's Herald to block and make a Centaur. The token immediately died to Scott-Vargas' Street Spasm.
Holzinger attacked Scott-Vargas to six the following turn with both Griffin and Dreg Mangler, but sat at just 9 life himself. His Keening Apparition would provide some defense, but he needed another trick up his sleeve if he was going to win.
And it was a trick he did have. Savage Surge threatened to untap his Dreg Mangler, but a timely Launch Party took it out and, coupled with the attack, sent the Austrian to just two life.
Holzinger drew his card, saw no help, and conceded.
Afterwards they talked about their choices to play and draw, and Scott-Vargas revealed a few of his aggressive cards that, he said, cemented his choice that his deck should be playing first. Other decks, he said, would choose otherwise.
Scott-Vargas 2 – Holzinger 1
Saturday, 2:16 a.m. - Multi-Color Madness: Sealed Deck Exercise (Part 2)
by Blake Rasmussen
When I sat down with Czech stars republic stars Martin Juza and Stanislov Cifka—fresh off Cifka's Pro Tour Return to Ravnica victory, nonetheless—I fully expected Cifka's increasingly legendary limited proclivities to lead to situations like this:
Martin Juza and Stanislav Cifka have slightly different evaluations of certain Return to Ravnica limited cards.
But when the pair started by pulling out all of the unplayables—Step 1—they quickly realized that, despite the presence of one of Cifka's top 5 cards in the set (Gore-House Chainwalker, not a typo), Red wasn't deep enough to play.
From there they pretty quickly dismissed Black as anything more than a splash color, despite the presence of Grave Betrayal, a card I probably overrate as much as Cifka overrates Gore-House Chainwalker.
Instead—Step 2—they identified some of the strongest cards available to them, focusing on a quartet of gold cards that quickly jumped to the top of their plans.
"This has to be Green-White," Juza said, spreading out Vitu Ghazi Guildmage, Call of the Conclave and two Coursers' Accords. When he pushed Arrest, Deadbridge Goliath, Centaur's Herald, Archon of the Triumvirate and a pair of Sunspire Griffin, they pretty quickly established the power of a Selesnya-splash-Blue build.
At that point, they established that their core deck would be Selesnya—Step 3—and started looking at filling out the list to 23 playables.
There was some pause, however, when they spotted a Golgari Guildgate to go with their Gatecreeper Vine. It make splashing Black a bit easier than splashing Blue, and while the Black cards were not quite as powerful as the blue ones, the fixing was better.
Not that much better, though. While Abrupt Decay and Rites of Reaping were encouraging, they couldn't dominate the game the way Archon of the Triumvirate could. At the end of the day, they were "just" removal spells.
Once that was settled, Juza and Cifka realized they were just at 22 cards, with a whole host of cards they could consider for the 23rd slot. A number of options were suggested by both players—Druid's Deliverance, Drudge Beetle, Swift Justice and Concordia Pegasus among them—but there was no clear conclusion, and Juza said it probably came down to player preference.
"Shuuhei [Nakamura] would probably play Swift Justice, because he plays more aggressively and reads people better, so he often uses pump spells before I would," Juza said. "So Shuuhei would probably play the pumps spell, but I would probably just play another creature."
Eventually, they settled on Drudge Beetle as the "safe," generic choice for number 23, finalizing their main deck—Step 4.
Step 5 is often the tricky part, figuring out the mana base. But Cifka and Juza demonstrated the strength of sticking as close to a guild as possible by quickly agreeing on the mana base. They knew they wanted at least 10 sources of white mana for Sunspire Griffin and that they wanted the mana split pretty evenly. They also knew that with three Blue cards they wanted at least four Blue sources, but could count Gatecreeper Vine and Transguild Promenade because they didn't need the mana early. So in the end they settled on six each of Plains and Forests, 3 Islands, a Selesnya Guildgate and a Transguild Promenade.
"As much as I the Promenade," Juza said, "I think it's going to make it."
I asked the pair if they decided on the mana base so quickly—and it was virtually instantaneous—through calculations or through experience. They said it was a little of both, coupled with a bit of intuition.
"It's split pretty evenly," Juza said and Cifka piped in that you really wanted to cast the Sunspire Griffins on turn three, meaning the slight lean to White was correct.
Here was the list they finished with.
Round 6 Feature Match - Stanislav Cifka vs. Dylan Klett
by Frank Lepore
If you've been keeping up with the Magic world recently, than Stanislav Cifka is a name that needs no introduction. He recently had an astonishing 15-1 record during the swiss rounds of Pro Tour Return to Ravnica, only to then proceed to clench the title. Dylan Klett is a relative unknown, but his impressive 5-0 record has managed to pit him against the latest Pro Tour Champion.
As the players shuffled up, surrounding spectators all congratulated Cifka on his victory while Klett looked unshaken.
Both players kept their hands and Cifka won the die roll. He chose to go, leading off with a 2/2 Grim Roustabout. Klett followed with a Korozda Guildmage providing both players with Grizzly Bears. Cifka hen added a Rakdos Shred-Freak to the board and hit Klett for four.
Cifka played a Deviant Glee on his Roustabout and swung for six this time, dropping Klett to a lowly ten life by the third turn. Cifka finished his turn by summoning a Lobber Crew which threatened to get damage in by circumventing the red zone.
Klett stared at his hand for a moment and contemplated his options before dropping a leashed Thrill Kill Assassin onto the board. Lobber crew dealt a damage, Cifka played a second Shred-Freak, untapped his lobber crew, and sent in the team. Klett threw both his creatures under the bus, sending both Shred-Freaks to the bin, but he had the Giant Growth to save his Guildmage.
Cifka added an Izzet Keyrune to the board and passed the turn. Klett had no action and regretfully passed back, but not before dropping to six life from the "Lobster" Crew's ability. Cifka activated his Keyrune then turned his team sideways, presenting Klett with a 2/1 and a 4/3. Every life point was an asset here, and Klett was running low. He blocked the Keyrune with his Guildmage before playing a Sundering Growth on the Deviant Glee. Klett would still drop to four, leaving him with three more turns before the Lobber Crew finished the job. A Rakdos Cackler from Cifka allowed the Lobber Crew to deal two more points to Klett, but a Centaur Healer from Klett helped save the day.
Klett was once again at four life, but could he take back this game? Cifka played a Stab Wound on Klett's Towering Indrik that could spell doom.
"Do I have a chance to respond before it triggers?" Klett asked.
Alas, he did not, bringing him to a mere one life after a Lobber Activation. With the writing on the wall, it was on to game two!
Cifka 1, Klett 0
While Klett spent most of his time shuffling, Cifka meticulously sideboarded against Klett. It would appear that in order to win a Pro Tour you have be very deliberate in your decisions. Klett presented his Yoda sleeved deck to Cifka and the competitors shuffled up.
Klett chose to play first, but while he was going back for a new six card hand... then a five card hand... Cifka kept and would essentially start with an eighth card. It wasn't looking great for Klett, but he he had to make do with the cards he was dealt.
Cifka once again started with the pressure of a Rakdos Shred-Freak, dropping Klett to 16 life in quick fashion. A 3/3 Splatter Thug followed and Klett, missing a land drop, was not looking good. He dropped to 11 life before Cifka played a Keyrune, followed by a 2/2 Grim Roustabout. Another pass from Klett, and that was unfortunately all she wrote. Klett went to a mere four life from Cifka's aggressive army before extending his hand
Stanislav Cifka defeats Dylan Klett, 2-0
Quick Hits - What is the most underrated card in Return to Ravnica Sealed?
by Frank Lepore
Luis Scott-Vargas: "Mind Rot is pretty good..."
Round 7 Feature Match - Tom Martell vs. David Ochoa
by Blake Rasmussen
"Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy. But here's my number. So call me maybe?"
That was the sound that greeted me as I sat down to attempt to document the pairing between teammates Tom Martell and David Ochoa while fellow Channelfireballer Josh Utter-Leyton was sitting next to them in the feature match area. The ditty had become something of an unofficial anthem of the squad, and the team had been running that song into the ground the last few weeks. If that was even possible.
Right. Magic. Ochoa won the die roll. Chose to play. Mulled to 6. Etc., etc.
Ochoa kicked things off with a Frost burn Weird, which Martel matched with a Keening Apparition and a Sunspire Griffin.
Ochoa started missing land drops as the Sunspire Griffin got in while Martell made a Stealer of Secrets to, in all likelihood, stare at the Frostburn Weird and do nothing.
Ochoa played a fourth land, but had no play on his turn. "Had it."
"I do not believe you," Martell said, before having his Street SpasmCanceled.
He was able to get in the next turn anyway thanks to Azorius Arrester, netting a card and an Armory Guard.
Is David Ochoa winning? Is he losing? You'll never be able to tell just from looking at him.
Ochoa, meanwhile, just passed the turn again.
The Frostburn Weird killed the Stealer of Secrets on Martell's next all-out attack, but Ochoa fell to two life anyway. When Martell moved to attack the next turn, Ochoa simply scooped up his cards.
"I misbuilt my deck my deck so badly it's not even funny," Ochoa said as he swapped in a bunch of cards for the second game, having played precisely two spells all game.
It was, as they say, crazy.
Martell 1 – Ochoa 0
Ochoa was first on the board again this time, but was quickly outclassed as his Vassal Soul faced down Martel's Sunspire Griffin.
The Griffin took a turn off thanks to Inaction Injunction, but Martell followed up with Skymark Roc that could immediately flip the game around.
"That is a nice one," Ochoa said.
"It is a nice one. One of my better ones," Martell agreed.
One of Ochoa's better ones—Detention Sphere—took it out for the time being.
Martell, though, didn't miss a beat, casting both Azorius Arrester and Stealer of Secrets to keep the tempo in his favor...
...until, that is, Ochoa slammed the breaks on anything ground-related with Azorius Elocutors. Sunspire Griffin would be able to keep the filibuster counters in check, but it seemed the ground might be clogged...
...until, that is, Martell played Volatile Rig. "That is interesting," Ochoa said, contemplating how to handle the awfully, well, volatile rig (well done, flavor team). He reinforced his side with an Izzet Keyrune and a Stealer of Secrets, ready to weather the pretty furious storm Martell's team promised.
Hey, I just cast you, and this is crazy, but here's my number, so this flip maybe?
And bring it they did. Martell attacked with his entire team—Stealer of Secrets, Azorius Arrester, Sunspire Griffin and Volatile Rig—with a simple "All. You may block."
After blocks were declared, Dramatic Rescue on the Elocutors kept the Rig from exploding, and a series of trades left Ochoa with an empty board and Martel with Sunspire Griffin, Armory Guard and the still quite Volatile Rig.
Somehow, though, Ochoa wasn't out of it.
He started by replaying the Elocutors, opting to use the 3/5 to block the Volatile Rig on Martel's next attack. After Ochoa fell to six life, the Volatile Rig lived through its coin flip, and Martell passed back with no further play.
Ochoa, though, wasn't done. He played a Tenement Crasher and attacked with it and his Izzet Keyrune to drop Martell to 13 life, leaving back just his Elocutors for defense. With no tricks, Martell couldn't kill him, but any removal spell would be lethal.
Twenty-five percent to win on Volatile Rig flips? No problem for Tom Martell.
Instead Martell attacked in with two creatures, triggering his Volatile Rig. With nothing in his hand, he actually needed to win the flips to win the match now that he faced a lethal swing back from Ochoa's board.
First flip... death trigger. Volatile Rig goes to the graveyard. Halfway there.
Step one. If Martell "wins" this flip to deal four damage, he wins the match.
Second flip... four damage!
Now that was crazy.
Martell 2 – Ochoa 0
Return to Ravnica Sealed Round-Table with Martell, Ochoa, and Kibler
by Blake Rasmussen
With a Return to Ravnica sealed season coming up for all of you aspiring PTQ players out there, we have a treat for you. After Round 7 we sat down with three of the game's best—Tom Martell, David Ochoa and Brian Kibler—to find out what makes the format tick and how players should be attacking one of the most diverse and popular sealed formats to date.
Q: First off, what advice would you give to an aspiring PTQ player about Return to Ravnica sealed generally? What makes the format tick? What's the first thing you look for in a sealed pool?
Martell: Open Pack Rat.
Kibler: The first thing I look for is my rares, but it's important to note that it's very easy to go three or more colors in this format (Ochoa and Martell both say they agree). But not too aggressively. You don't want to stretch your mana base for no reason. The best four or five color decks aim for the long game and win with Archon [of the Triumvirate], Mercurial Chemister, or Pack Rat.
Martell: I don't even think Archon is that good. Of the maybe seven times I've had it in play, I've never once attacked with it.
Ochoa: It would be better if it had six toughness.
Martell: If it were a 3/6, it'd be insane.
Q: Why six toughness?
Kibler: Explosive Impact
Ochoa (getting us back on track): I look at my rares first, then my curve, and figure out if my colors work out... You can't play all six drops.
Kibler: It's very important to have a plan. Like, what do you do against Rakdos' fast draws?
Q: Since you brought it up, what do you think are the best guilds?
Kibler: I think Rakdos is overrated. Selesny is the best in sealed (Ochoa and Martell agree), and Azorius can be strong. Izzet is the worst, and I'm playing Izzet.
Martell: Azorius splash Red can be good, and Izzet splash Azorius can be fine.
Kibler: For good Izzet, you really need Frostburn Weird and Lobber Crew to keep you alive... you don't want to be trading your six-drop removal for their two and three drops.
Martell: I look for bombs, removal, and mana fixing. You have to know what your constraints are. And if you're five color, you have to be playing high impact cards. I played against one five color who had really good mana, but it was casting Paralyzing Grasp. I like Broodmate Rhino [Horncaller's Chant] in those decks.
(Ochoa pulls out his Horncaller's Chants for the picture below)
Kibler: You have to be able to deal with the three pillars of the format. You have to figure out how you're going to beat Rakdos Aggro, Selesnya, and Fliers.
Q: So how do you do that?
Martell: If you're getting shut down by [Concordia Pegasus], you're not doing it right.
Kibler: Cancel and Backlash are also much better in sealed than they are in draft (Ochoa concurs). I don't like them in draft, but they can be quite good in sealed.
Q: How fast is the format compared to other recent sealed formats?
Kibler: Middle. It's slower than Zendikar but faster than Rise of the Eldrazi.
Ochoa: How fast would you say it is compared to M12? The Bloodthirst one.
Kibler: I think it's about the same. In both sets, creatures are better than removal.
Martell: This format can be fast, especially if you have an aggressive deck with Splatter Thug and Dead Reveler. You have to have defensive creatures.
Ochoa: Like Frostburn Weird.
Q: What's the best common in the format?
Kibler: Stab Wound. I think everyone would agree on that.
Martell: I like Annihilating Fire, but that's just a color preference.
Kibler: Isn't Frostburn Weird just better?
Martell: Maybe Frostburn Weird.
Ochoa: Stab Wound.
Kibler: You can actually kill people with it. The other day online I played it on my opponent's unleashed Splatter Thug and he just couldn't do anything. I dealt like 16 damage with it.
Martell: You have to have a plan against Stab Wound. That's why something like Faerie Imposter is so good.
Kibler: Gobbling Ooze is a little underrated, because it can eat creatures with Stab Wound on it.
Q: So what's the best non-Pack Rat card overall?
Martell: We were having this discussion earlier, and we said the top 3 were like Angel of Serenity, Mizzium Mortars, and Collective Blessing. Cyclonic Rift is really good, maybe top 10. Maybe in sealed it's even top 5.
Q: Any last advice?
Kibler: These kind of cards are really good (holds up Blustersquall). You need ways to break through stalemates, especially against Selesnya. So Blustersquall and Teleportal are really good.
Martell: Also, Rogue's Passage. That card is really underrated.
Ochoa: Rogue's Passage is so good because any deck can play it.
Thanks to Brian Kibler, Tom Martell and David Ochoa for their insight into the format. Looking for a PTQ near you? Click here to find ones coming to a town near you.
Round 8 Feature Match - Jon Finkel vs. Cedric Phillips
by Frank Lepore
Cedric Phillips, well known streamer, sat down with his trademark dog hat, Rufus, in front of Hall of Famer Jon Finkel. Both players showed immense respect for one another despite their completely difference approaches to the game. Both players were sitting at comfortable 7-0 records and had commanded such respect today. Unfortunately, only one of these larger-than-life personalities would walk away with an untarnished record.
Finkel wins the die roll and decides to keep before leading off with a mountain. Phillips has a turn one play in the form of a Deathrite Shaman - a card that has been whispered about all day in regards to its ability to win games.
Unfortunately Finkel misses his third land drop while Phillips plays a Rakdos Keyrune. He finally hits three lands and plays a Splatter Thug, but Phillips is ready for it with the underrated Catacomb Slug. Finkel thinks for a minute before asking Phillips how many cards he has.
"Four," Phillips says, before Finkel plays a Lobber Crew and passes.
Despite having some fairly defensive creatures, it appears that Phillips is on the offensive this game. Phillips dropped John to 16 life before playing yet another Slug; the five mana creature made it virtually impossible for Finkel to get his men through.
Finkel found a way to get some damage in, however: a Stab Wound on one of Phillips' Slugs was just the salt Finkel needed. However Phillips had a Stab Wound of his own and promptly applied it to Finkel's nearly useless Splatter Thug. The life totals were changing, but for the most part, the red zone had remained clear.
Finkel carefully lined up the cards in his hand, one on top of the other, as he surveyed his options. "Attack," Finkel announced, as he put the 1/1 Splatter Thug into the red zone. Phillips simply blocked with his own 0/4 Slug before Finkel played a second Splatter Thug, this time opting not to unleash it. The life totals were now 15 to 13 in Phillips' favor. Phillips drew his card and played a 3/4 Dead Reveler before passing the turn. While Phillips was ahead in life, Finkel was dealing him three a turn, whereas Phillips was only able to deal two.
As life totals dwindled on both sides, each player added more creatures to the stalemate. Phillips finally decided it was time to swing. He tapped his Dead Reveler and his Slug, which prompted Finkel to activate his Rakdos Keyrune. Finkel studied the board like a general surveying a battlefield before deciding his blocks. He put his 2/2 Splatter Thug and his 3/1 Keyrune on the Dead Reveler, hoping the first strike would let Dead Revelers lie, but Phillips had the Explosive Impact prompting the two-for-one and reactivating Phillips' Deathrite Shaman!
Finkel wasn't out of the game yet. He slammed down a Deviant Glee onto his Daggerdrome Imp, giving him something of a mini Baneslayer Angel. The life totals were now seven to 12 in Finkel's favor, but Deathrite Shaman was working hard. This game seemed certain to be decided by Stab Wounds.
Phillips decided it was once again time to swing with the team. Finkel took three damage and dropped to seven, while Phillips sat at six. It was hard to believe the ground was as clogged as it was by the life total changes that were taking place each turn. Alas, Finkel had the Tenement Crasher to go along with his Imp and Phillips's defenses had been all but exhausted.
Jon Finkel 1, Cedric Phillips 0
"I just can't beat you," Phillips lamented to Finkel while the two players shuffled up.
Phillips took the play this game and both players wished one another good luck. Once again Phillips led off with a Deathrite Shaman, a card that proved crucial last game despite not locking up the victory. Both players enhanced their manabases with Guildgates and Transguild Promenades before Finkel finally found a 3/3 Splatter Thug. Phillips had the answer, however, in a 4/4 Ogre Gatecrasher.
"Cards in hand?" Finkel asked once more. "Four," Phillips again replied.
Finkel was hoping the coast was clear as he slammed two copies of Pursuit of Flight onto his Splatter Thug and attacked Phillips for seven!
"Everybody in," Phillips declared, which prompted an instantaneous "no blocks" from Finkel; he was fearless at this point and all-in on the Splatter Thug. Another seven from Jon was eaten by a Towering Indrik from Phillips but the Splatter Thug was out for blood. Finkel Added a Batterhorn to the board but it quickly met its end to an Auger Spree. Phillips had no choice but to race and brought Finkel down to seven. He was in the lead, but for how long?
Finkel tapped out and played a Tenement Crasher hoping it would once again win him the game. Along with the Splatter Thug this was enough to drop Phillips to one life, however one life is all you need when you're able to drop a Collective Blessing and swing back for eleven!
Jon Finkel 1, Cedric Phillips 1
Both players went back to their sideboards and Phillips was visibly pleased with the tight game he had just played. Finkel had once again decided to play first, and while he was happy with his opener, Phillips decided he could do better.
"Alright, let's try again..." Phillips mused.
The first play of the game lay with Finkel as he dropped a Lobber Crew, followed by a Rakdos Keyrune. Phillips was stuck on two lands though and forced to discard. Finkel played an unleashed Spawn of Rix Maadi.
"I don't think we're gonna get to play this this game," Phillips lamented as he discarded a Collective Blessing to another missed land drop.
Finkel Attacked Phillips down to eight life before committing a Splatter Thug to the board. Phillips looked frustrated, and realizing his days were numbered, extended the hand.
Barnyard Battle - Prescott's Playmat
by Frank Lepore
Most Grand Prix are prone to having an artist or two present for the players' benefit. They perform such services are selling prints, doing sketches, and signing cards, among other things. A lot of major magic events also provide some sweet swag to competitors such as pins, playmats, promotions cards, and more. Grand Prix Philadelphia was such an event and provided each player with the following amazing playmat that tournament organizer Mike Guptil commissioned from Steve Prescott...
One thing that is less common, however, is having the very artist who designed your amazing playmat in attendance to sign them for the players! Or sketch on them! Whatever!
Well such is the case here at Grand Prix Philadelphia, where Steve Prescott is available for just such requests! In addition to the Barnyard Battle we were introduced to above, Steve is also known for his work on such cards as Behemoth Sledge, Daybreak Ranger, Guttersnipe, Precinct Captain, and Shriekmaw, to name just a few of the 100+ Magic cards he's illustrated.
Steve has all kind of wares for sale, from prints of his works (including the famous Fauna Shaman!), playmats displaying his work, even prints of the Barnyard Battle displayed on the Grand Prix playmat!
However, whether the specific artist of the Grand-Prix-in-question's playmat is available or not, you're likely to find one amazing artist or another at most any Magic event you choose to attend. You think that Grand Prix are exclusively for the most competitive players? Think again!
You can find all of Steve's Magic work here!
Round 9 Feature Match - Yuuya Watanabe vs. Joe Spanier
by Blake Rasmussen
One of these days, Yuuya Watanabe is going to have a bad tournament. Probably. I mean, he has to, right? Probability and all that. I mean, the guy just won Player of the Year and followed up with second at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica.
But so far, no one has made a dent in his record this weekend. He's ridden a strong Selesnya/Golgari deck, including tournament all-star Pack Rat, to an 8-0 record. But then again, so has Joe Spanier, the man sitting across from him. Spanier has had his success with a Bant-flavored deck, but openly admitted he was weak to Pack Rat.
Right on cue, Yuuya Watanabe started things off early and ridiculously with a turn two Pack Rat.
"That's a fair card," Spanier said as he played a Keening Apparition and an Axebane Guardian.
Watanabe, of course, simply started making rats.
If you could only cast one spell...
Spanier fought back with a Knightly Valor on his Keening Apparition, but even as a 4/4 it barely slowed own the rat parade. Yuuya looked to be on his way to a pretty quick Game 1 win.
Gatecreeper Vine gave Spanier a roadblock, but Watanabe just kept doing what Pack Rat does.
And that was that. Even Watanabe had to shake his head.
"Unfortunately, this deck has nothing to side for Pack Rats," Spanier said, possibly giving away a little too much info. Or not. It's not like Pack Rats is a real card.
Too long, didn't read? Watanabe cast a Pack Rat, made more Pack Rats, and won.
Pack RatWatanabe 1 – Spanier 0
This time it was Spanier who started fastest, playing Call of the Conclave into Keening Apparition, but missing on his third land.
Watanabe ran Centaur's Herald and Centaur Healer out, trading the Healer for a combat trick and making a Centaur with his Herald.
Spanier hit his third land a turn late, but with it managed a Vassal's Soul to keep the pressure on. Meanwhile, Watanabe ratcheted up his presence with a 4/4 Ooze token off Slime Molding.
Joe Spanier jumped out to an early lead in Game 2. But could it hold against the seemingly unstoppable Yuuya Watanabe?
Another Vassal Soul started to put real pressure on Watanabe's life total and continued the back and forth. Attacks put Watanabe to just 12, but he crashed in with his 4/4 anyway, leaving his Centaur back to block, and passed after casting a Selesnya Keyrune.
A fourth land gave Spanier pause. He had Watanabe in a good position, but this was Yuuya Watanabe. There pretty much never is a safe position against him.
The players traded Centaur tokens the next turn, while Spanier cast Arrest on Watanabe's 4/4. Golgari Charm removed it, but now at 8 life and facing four power worth of fliers, Watanabe was in a tough spot.
Trostani's Judgment, however, flipped the script. Exiling a Vassal Soul, Watanabe made another 4/4 to block, then followed up by using Vraska the Unseen to kill the second.
Azorius Arrester let Spanier get in for 4 more damage, dropping Watanabe to four, but a Towering Indrik shut down much of Spanier's offense, even as he regrouped with a New Prahv Guildmage and a Centaur's Herald.
Back and forth and back and forth they went, but Watanabe was starting to put Spanier on the back foot. He had nudged, poked and prodded his way back to parity. Or, if you looked close enough, an advantage.
Yuuya Watanabe had to do a little bit more thinking in Game 2.
Vraska the Unseen killed the New Prahv Guildmage, but Spanier declined to use the ability in response. Instead, he opted to block a 4/4 with his Centaur's Herald and sacrifice it to make a token.
That was when Watanabe, ever the master, flashed in Selesnya Charm to trample over for lethal damage.
"Pretty strong," Watanabe said as he packed up his things and moved to 9-0. "Pack Rat is broken."
I think Watanabe can take some of the credit.
At least for Game 2.
Watanabe 2 – Spanier 0
Round 10 Feature Match - Yuuya Watanabe vs. Jon Finkel vs. Bing Luke
by Frank Lepore
Both players had made the cut to Day two with impressive undefeated 9-0 records. Jon Finkel is no stranger to center stage, but Bing Luke has been getting quite accustomed to it as well. With recent qualifications to both Nationals and the Magic Online Championship, Bing Luke built his name on the digital table, before becoming a regular columnist and paper player. Both players were looking for the coveted undefeated Day 1 record, but only one could walk away with it.
Finkel snap kept his seven cards and Luke followed suit. Luke led off with the first action in the form of a Vitu Ghazi Guildmage, but Finkel has his trademark Splatter Thug to counter. Luke played an Axebane Guardian and passed back. The two foes traded blows with one another while amassing their armies, including a Dead Reveler for Finkel and a Golgari Longlegs for Luke.
The Longlegs met an Auger Spree and Finkel's unleashed team battered Luke to 11 life. Luke analyzed his hand while trying to figure out what Finkel's three cards could be. He went deep in the tank before attacking Finkel for two and passing the turn. He represented six mana to make a centaur, but Finkel had the Tenement Crasher to lay waste to those plans. The Axebane Guardian took the hit, while Luke dropped to five and did indeed make a Centaur. Luke had few options, but he managed to make a Golgari Keyrune then populate his Centaur during his main phase. Things were looking bleak, but Luke was holding on as best he could.
Finkel declared an attack with his team - a 5/4, a 3/3, and a 3/4 - and Luke had no choice but to block with everything. Luke managed to keep one Centaur alive, dropping to two, but Finkel had the Stab Wound, causing Luke to bleed out.
Jon Finkel 1, Bing Luke 0
With nine rounds before them, each player sideboarded in silence. They were at the top of their games today, and they were each craving an unblemished record. Both players looked over at Yuuya Watanabe's board at the next table and chuckled at the amount of rat tokens he was currently lording over before presenting their decks to one another.
Luke decided to play and both players were satisfied with their hands. Finkel led with the first play of a Rix Maadi Guildmage, but Luke had a similarly powerful card in the form of a Loxodon Smiter.
Missing a land drop, Finkel decided to use his Mizzium Mortars on the elephant before attacking Luke down to 18. Luke followed it up with another troublesome creature in the form of a Centaur healer. 21 life and a blocker for Luke and things were looking good for him.
Finkel, without a third land, managed to play a Pursuit of Flight on his Guildmage, flying over Luke's horse-man hybrid. The two opponents traded blows for a bit before Luke laid a Golgari Longlegs. Another Pursuit of Flight from Finkel, and he had dropped Luke down to 11 with his 6/6. Finkel then went down to nine in similar fashion from Luke's counterattack.
A Golgari Keyrune and a Stab Wound from Luke dropped Finkel to seven and gave Luke a little breathing room.
Finkel couldn't attack; the situations were too tense. Luke had enough power to end the game, and, despite Finkel playing a Grim Roustabout, if Luke had a way to remove even a single blocker, Finkel would be done. The Stab Wound brought him to five life and it seemed like Finkel was at the mercy of his own creature. Meanwhile Luke had enough to play a Vitu Ghazi Guildmage last turn and even populate before his next turn. Luke looked over the board. All he needed to do was attack and with that, Finkel slid over the Stab wound and picked up the cards.
Jon Finkel 1, Bing Luke 1
Both players took another gander at the game that played out beside them once more: Alexander Hayne vs. Yuuya Wantanabe. Two of the game's greatest playing next to... well, two of the game's greatest. The only words spoken were by Finkel, who mentioned he would indeed play first. These were two masters who were gathering every ounce of concentration they could muster for the deciding game.
While Finkel would keep, Luke felt more secure with trying out a new six cards. Luke then led off with a Centaur's Herald as the only action for the first few turns. Finkel made a turn three Dead Reveler and Luke had made a Centaur during combat after blocking to absorb some damage. While both players had three power creatures, Finkel also had a Rakdos Keyrune, but no additional red mana.
A second Keyrune for Finkel, followed by a Splatter Thug was pretty ferocious. Luke's forces were looking slim... that is until he played a Loxodon Smiter, which threatened to block all of Finkel's army. Tenement Crasher came down once again, and attacked by his lonesome. Finkel's six drop looked to devour Luke's three drop, until Luke managed to play a Common Bond, making the 4/4 into a formidable 6/6. Luke cracked back for nine, feeling as though he was on the offense, bringing Finkel to a precarious five life. Finkel cracked back with his unleashed soldiers, but Luke had the Druid's Deliverance, making him another Centaur and preventing the damage. Finkel played an Ogre Gatecrasher, but would his two blockers be enough with Luke also having access to a Golgari Keyrune? Luke was willing to find out.
He tossed his four attackers into the center of the table, and Finkel extended the hand only able to block two creatures.
Bing Luke defeats Jon Finkel, 2-1, to go undefeated on Day 1!
9-1 or Better Decklists
by Event Coverage Staff
Philadelphia Grand Prix - Limited
Philadelphia Grand Prix - Limited
Philadelphia Grand Prix - Limited
Philadelphia Grand Prix - Limited
Philadelphia Grand Prix - Limited
Philadelphia Grand Prix - Limited
Philadelphia Grand Prix - Limited
Philadelphia Grand Prix - Limited