Round 11 Feature Match - Gerrard Fabiano vs. Stanislav Cifka
by Blake Rasmussen
Pod No. 2 was something of a murderer's row in the first draft of the day. Jon Finkel, David Shiels, Martin Juza, Owen Turtenwald and our two competitors in the feature match area here, Gerard Fabiano against Stanislav Cifka. It's a draft pod that would look just as realistic for the Top 8 as it does for the first draft of Day 2.
Cifka, of course, is hot off a 6-0 Return to Ravnica limited run on his way to winning the Pro Tour. His draft choices have been openly noted as strange by his teammates and testing partners—including Martin Juza—but it's hard to argue with his results, following up that Pro Tour win with a 9-1 run yesterday with a deck that even he considered questionable.
Fabiano is riding high this weekend as well, also sitting pretty at 9-1. The longtime pro's last Grand Prix success was in Nashville in 2010, but that tournament was also limited. Could he replicate that success here? He was certainly off to a good start.
Cifka, however, was not. He mulled to four cards on the draw and looked immediately behind the ball, especially as Fabiano played Goblin Electromancer and Nivix Guildmage on successive turns.
But Cifka certainly put up a fight. Two Daggerdrome Imps gave him the possibility of racing alongside a Lobber Crew...
...until Fabiano played a plains and a Skymark Roc. When the Roc crashed in the next turn, it started setting Cifka's flying brigade back by one Imp every turn. Fabiano even turned the screws tighter with a Pyroconvergence. Given his three multicolor plays so far, it was likely he had more where that came from.
There wasn't much Stanislav Cifka could do after he mulled to four in game 1.
Cifka, however, wasn't done just yet. He drew and played Bloodfray Giant, very much leashed, but still leaving it as the largest creature on the board.
Meanwhile Fabiano looted once with his Guildmage, discarding a very scary Rakdos Return that, nonetheless, wouldn't be doing much after Cifka had already mulled to four.
Fabiano simply attacked with his Skymark Roc, then, once Cifka had replayed his Imps, cast an Izzet Staticaster to deal two damage to Cifka and kill both Imps.
One more draw step and Cifka had seen enough.
Fabiano 1 – Cifka 0
On the play for the second game, Cifka both kept and started strong, running out Grim Roustabout on turn two and Rix Maadi Guildmage on turn three.
Fabiano wasn't sitting on his heels though, casting two Goblin Electromancers on the first two turns.
Cifka used his fourth turn to attack for four and activate the Guildmage twice, bringing Fabiano to 12. Fabiano had to have been happy that Cifka didn't add another threat, but his life total was dropping quickly and blocking was virtually impossible at this point.
But Fabiano made a show of it anyway, casting Izzet Keyrune and Nivix Guildmage and leaving his entire team back to block. He knew he wasn't winning the race at this point, but blocking didn't look favorable either.
After considering the board, Cifka chose not to expose his Guidmage, instead just attacking with the Grim Roustabout. He got through for two damage, pinged for one with the Rix Maadi Guildmage, then used his last three mana to kill Fabiano's Guildmage with Augur Spree. Fabiano fell to 9.
But, Fabiano also had a second Nivix Guildmage and a Tower Drake on his next turn, against passing with no attacks. With only one card in hand, his options were starting to look thin if he couldn't get Nivix Guildmage active and looting. But if he could kill Rix Maadi Guildmage, his position would suddenly look much, much better.
Cifka simply played a land, his 6th, and attacked with both of his 2/2s, leaving Fabiano to wonder if he had any tricks.
Eventually, Fabiano opted to block the Rix Maadi Guildmage with both Goblin Electromancers and his Tower Drake. Cifka used the Guildmage to kill the Tower Drake and then traded with an Electromancer, getting in for two with his Roustabout. Fabiano fell to 7, but at the very least he had removed the offending Guildmage.
Now it was Fabiano's turn to attack. His Guildmage and Electromancer brought Cifka to 13, and his Hussar Patrol shut down Cifka's next Grim Roustabout attack...
...or at least it would have if a Sewer Shambler had not been invited to a Launch Party at the Hussar's face. That dealt 2 to Fabiano and let the Roustabout get in unmolested, dropping Fabiano to a precarious three life.
Looking for an answer, Fabiano attacked with his Guildmage and Izzet Keyrune the next turn, digging up a Frostburn Weird to add to his defenses.
But even the 1/4 wouldn't be large enough. Cifka scavenged onto his Grim Roustabout, making it a 4/4 that Fabiano would have to answer somehow. He simply chumped with his Electromancer. Cifka played a leashed Grim Roustabout with mana up to regenerate and passed the turn.
"That was a tight game," Gerrard Fabiano said after Game 2.
Looking for a way to get in, Fabiano attacked with his Frostburn Weird and Nivix Guildmage. Cifka, possibly looking to make Fabiano use some mana, blocked the Nivix Guildmage. Izzet Staticaster dealt the regenerated Roustabout 1 damage to kill it after blocks, and Fabiano put Cifka to 8 with a single Frostburn pump.
Drawing nothing but land, Cifka attacked again with his 4/4, earning another chump block from Fabiano, this time throwing his Izzet Keyrune under the bus. But the Czech player wasn't drawing any action and had to simply pass back the turn.
Still searching for an answer and short of lethal damage, Fabiano looted with his Guildmage to start the turn. Discarding Skymark Roc, Fabiano attacked for 6, knocking Cifka to just two life.
Cifka, now in trouble himself, had to draw something to help him get through or block two creatures the next turn. Instead he drew... Batterhorn. With no way to get the Roustabout past a chump-blocking Izzet Staticaster, Cifka was out of options and extended his hand when Fabiano attacked and pumped the next turn.
Fabiano 2 – Cifka 0
Drafting with Stanislav Cifka
by Blake Rasmussen
It's pretty rare to have your draft strategies openly questioned after going 6-0 in limited and winning a Pro Tour, but ask testing partner and fellow countryman Martin Juza what he thinks of Stanislav Cifka's draft evaluations and the best he'll often offer is that they're "different."
But results speak for themselves, and Cifka is currently riding a limited streak that no one save maybe Yuuya Watanabe could boast of. He's followed up Pro Tour Return to Ravnica with a 9-2 start at Grand Prix Philadelphia, and whether his draft strategy follows the normal patterns, he certainly has a direction and a personal take on the format. So, we followed his first draft to figure out just how to Cifka Draft (Patent Pending).
Stanislav Cifka's take on Return to Ravnica has served him well so far.
He started out taking a Rix Maadi Guildmage over an Archon of the Triumvirate. I also noticed that he shifted a Rakdos Shred Freak and a Daggerdrome Imp to the front of the pack, but those two certainly don't compare to the Guildmage in terms of power level.
"I think Guildmage is just better than Archon," Cifka said. He added that he doesn't mind drafting any of Izzet, Rakdos or Golgari. He's not, however, overly fond of white cards.
He was immediately rewarded with a second pick Augur Spree before things got a little less obvious.
Pick three saw a choice between Daggerdrome Imp, Rakdos Guildgate and Izzet Staticaster. Though he lingered on the Staticaster, he even eventually chose the Imp, the first of three he would get.
"I think it's very strong in Golgari," Cifka said. "I think it's like, ok in Rakdos."
He followed up with a Sewer Shambler over Gatecreeper Vine and Izzet Guildgate, then chose Traitorous Instinct over Spawn of Rix Maadi, though he admitted the choice was close.
Pick 6 was interesting as well, as Cifka chose a very much not Rakdos Grisly Salvage over Cryptborn Horror. Cifka said that, despite the card's aggressive nature, he simply didn't think it was good.
"It's a card that's only good if you're winning. It's a win more," Cifka said.
From there he picked up a Cobblebrute, Bellows Lizard, another Imp, Lobber Crew and some detritus, rounding out a somewhat unimpressive pack one.
So unimpressive that Cifka dabbled in jumping into Golgari in pack two. He opened Lotleth Troll, but eventually opted to take a Bloodfray Giant to stick to Rakdos. However, four picks later he chose a Dreg Mangler over Golgari Longlegs, reasoning that Longlegs was replaceable, but Dreg Mangler might mean Golgari was open.
It wasn't, though. At least not from both directions. Juza, sitting to Cifka's right, was in Golgari and had snapped up the Lotleth Troll Cifka had passed. And this pick highlighted the difference in how the two players draft.
"You took my Dreg Mangler?" Juza said when he found out. "You don't just pass Lotleth Troll and then move into Golgari pack two pick five."
Cifka, however, saw that he was losing little passing the Longlegs and potentially gaining quite a bit if it turned out Golgari was open.
As it happened, Golgari wasn't open and Cifka simply added a few Grim Roustabouts, Launch Parties and other assorted cheap beaters.
The draft was fairly straight forward from that point. He picked up a key Stab Wound and another Bloodfray Giant in the third pack, as well as an Annihilating Fire and several Traitorous Instincts. It was a fairly typical Rakdos deck with a low curve, aggressive creatures and a smattering of removal.
Ultimately Cifka said it was "just ok," after losing the first round of the draft to Gerrard Fabiano. He had some bad luck in the first game, mulling to four, but lost a tight game two to drop the match. He'll definitely need his Rakdos list to perform better if he hopes to make a run at the Top 8.
Stanislav Cifka - Day 2, Draft 1
Philadelphia Grand Prix - Limited
Round 12 Feature Match - Yuuya Watanabe vs. Bing Luke
by Frank Lepore
The two giants shuffled up in silence, undoubtedly due in small part to the language barrier that existed between them. Magic is a game of universal appeal, and built for no one particular language. The two competitors before us come from completely different sides of the globe, yet are able to interact with one another fluidly thanks to the game we all play. Yuuya Watanabe is on top of the world right now as a finalist from Pro Tour Return to Ravnica, while Bing Luke is in the midst of climbing up it. As the last two undefeated players in the event right now only one will leave with the 12-0 record
Luke won the die roll and unfortunately had to go down to six cards.
"I think we picked a good side," Martin Juza joked to Yuuya who was sitting beside him. "What do you got?" he asked, inquiring of Yuuya's hand. "Better than mine?" Everyone laughed with the playful Czech.
Luke led off with a Crosstown Courier milling a Selesnya Sentry and a Knightly Valor from Watanabe's deck: precious information. Watanabe's first play would be a Security Blockade on a Plains. Another hit from the Courier would mill a Slime Molding and a Precinct Captain. Watanabe's game plan was becoming clear; even more so from his freshly played Eyes in the Skies which copied the Knight token in order to help take down Luke's Frostburn Weird.
Watanabe played a Selesnya Sentry and a Keening Apparition and with seven power to Luke's zero, things were looking up. Watanabe then cast a Knightly Valor on his Apparition and an Ethereal Armor on his Knight, bringing his total power to 13! Luke had a Detention Sphere for the two Knights, but was still staring down seven power from Watanabe. An Azorius Arrester bought him some time as he detained the 4/4 spirit. Luke mustered a mainphase Inspiration, played a land, then made a Stealer of Secrets and a Fencing Ace. It looked like Luke had stabilized, but the regenerating elephant might prove to be troublesome. Watanabe knew this, and attacked with it alone.
Looking for answers, Luke cast a Teleportal on the Stealer allowing him to dig one card deeper. Watanabe attacked with both his creatures. "Wait," Watanabe proclaimed, before Luke could declare blockers. Watanabe's eyes darted around the field as he figured his play. A Trostani's Judgment made short work of a blocker. "Okay, I'll take three. I'm at one..." Luke mentioned. Watanabe looked confused, before Luke continued, "it doesn't matter," as he realized that the game was over.
Yuuya Watanabe 1, Bing Luke 0
One by one Yuuya fanned out his cards and lifted them to his hand. Luke would proclaim he was good to go and Yuuya would follow. The first play was a Concordia Pegasus by Watanabe, which would be met with a Seller of Songbirds by Luke. The Pegasus got in for one, and Watanabe secured his land with... well, with a Security Blockade.
Armory Guard from Luke looked to prevent any combat shenanigans and we seemed to have an early stalemate. A Rubbleback Rhino from Watanabe followed by an Azorius Keyrune and Fencing Ace from Luke meant that things were looking sticky for some time. Luke managed to find an Isperia's Skywatch to detain the Pegasus for a turn, allowing his lonely bird to peck away at Watanabe's life.
Watanabe went back and forth on his options for a while, making out the numbers with his lips. He played a Knightly Valor on his Rhino then played an Ethereal Armor on his Knight, granting both creatures five power: a one-two punch that was quickly becoming his trademark. Both creatures were sent in for the attack.
Luke was satisfied to simply take ten, dropping to nine life. A counterattack in the air from Luke prompted Watanabe to throw his Pegasus under the 3/3 flier and drop to 15. Watanabe once again attacked with his five power monsters and Luke sent a Seller of Songbirds to the grumper before dropping to four life.
Luke went deep into the tank His options were limited and his time was running out. He decided his best option was to take to the skies. He swung in for five, keeping the bird back along with his ground forces. Watanabe sat back in his chair, arms crossed, and thought about the play. Watanabe had the Eyes in the Skies, but Luke had the Syncopate. Watanabe dropped to 11 life, but had much more pressure than Luke was representing. This time the whole team would get in, and Luke was prepared, blocking both high power gentlemen. Luke dropped to two life and drew his card. Both players had access to three creatures, but Watanabe's could devour Luke's. Luke was forced to attack with his Skywatch, using a Teleportal on it combined with a Swift Justice to gain some life, but Watanabe had Ethereal Armor to seal the deal on the next turn.
Yuuya Wantanabe remains undefeated at 12-0!
Round 13 Feature Match - Seamus Kelahan vs. Jonathan Rizzo
by Blake Rasmussen
Immediately prior and totally unconnected to selecting this feature match, there were several Tweets asking us to feature one Jonathan Rizzo. Though the Argentinian had been playing for about 13 years, he had yet to have the kind of success outside his home country that would normally alert us to his success in the tournament.
But 11-1 is really hard to argue with. While a whole group of Pros were making their presence known here this weekend, Rizzo was quietly having one of the strongest weekends of anyone, known or unknown. Having come all the way from Argentina—he played at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica last weekend—made it all the sweeter.
Right there with him was Seamus Kelahan, also at 11-1, but a little more local having made the drive from Connecticut. When he found out how far Rizzo had come, he was suitably impressed.
"You are dedicated. I was waffling about driving 3 ½ hours from Connecticut. There was TV I wanted to watch, there was the weather," Kelahan said.
I'm sure at this point both players were glad they would come. The winner would be well positioned for a run at the Top 8 in the final draft and the loser, while less advantaged, would certainly still be in it.
Rizzo kicked things off with an Azorius Guildgate and a Vassal Soul, but Kelahan played the Vassal Soul's mortal enemy: Sunspire Griffin.
Rizzo kept the Griffin on the sidelines the next turn, playing an Azorius Keyrune into Inaction Injunction, saying "That's in jail," as he attacked for two.
That kept Kelahan from attacking, but it didn't stop him from playing Phantom General with his four plains.
Lyev Skynight put the Griffin back in jail for a turn, and Rizzo attacked Kelahan down to 12. Rogue's Passage even gave him another potential way to get through the Sunspire Griffin, should it ever find itself out of jail.
But Kelahan, even on mono-Plains, wasn't done yet. Knightly Valor made his Phantom General huge while adding a 3/3 vigilant token to the board. Rizzo had jumped out to the lead, but Kelahan was quickly beefing up his team.
Rogue's Passage let Vassal Soul get in unencumbered, and Kelahan declined to block Lyev Skyknight, dropping the American to 7 life.
Rizzo attacked the next turn, but Druid's Deliverance—off Kelehan's long-awaited Forest—turned off the attack and made another token. It seemed devastating for the Argentinian.
At least it looked that way, until Rizzo showed him what real devastation was. Supreme Verdict wiped the board and let Rizzo follow up with a Hussar Patrol. Thanks to Keyrune and Rogue's passage, Rizzo was able to attack Kelahan down to 5 the next turn, even through Kelahan's post-wrath Coursers' Accord.
Jonathan Rizzo has come a long way to play this weekend. At 11-1, it's a good thing he did.
The Accord, though, was a strong clock in and of itself, and he used it to hit Rizzo to four life.
The race was tight, but when Rizzo played a New Prahv Guildmage with enough to detain a Centaur token, he narrowly squeaked out game one.
Rizzo 1 – Kelahan 0
There's not much to say about this game (sorry, Rizzo's Twitter following), but Kelehan stalled on three lands and never cast more than a Sunspire Griffin. Rizzo, meanwhile, cast Keening Apparition an suited it up with Knightly Valor. New Prahv Guildmage sealed the deal and pushed Rizzo to an impressive 12-1 on the weekend after his 3-0 draft performance. He wouldn't need much at this point to Top 8.
Rizzo 2 – Kelahan 0
Quick Hits - What is the number one card you hope to open in Return to Ravnica draft that isn’t Pack Rat?
by Frank Lepore
Reid Duke: Angel of Serenity (to which Bing Luke promptly asked to change his answer to).
Gone and Back Again: The Argentinian Magic Community Through 12-1 Jonathan Rizzo
by Blake Rasmussen
Any Grand Prix after a Pro Tour has the potential to attract a strong contingent of international competitors when the host country of the Pro Tour is the same as the Grand Prix. Players come from all over the world to participate in the Pro Tour and then extend their trip by a week to experience the country, the culture and, of course, play some more Magic.
But it still can come as a bit of a shock to the locals at a Grand Prix just how far some people are willing to travel to play the game they love.
During Round 13, Seamus Kelahan, out of Connecticut, was paired against Jonathan Rizzo, an Argentinian with an apparently fervent Twitter cheering squad.
"You are dedicated," Kelahan said as the two shuffled up for their match. "I was waffling about driving 3½ hours from Connecticut. There was TV I wanted to watch, there was the weather."
For Rizzo—who is 12-1 after 13 rounds and well within reach of the Top 8—this week represents not only a long-awaited achievement for himself, but also a step for the Magic community in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Jonathan Rizzo may be supporting the Izzet guild this weekend, but it seems every Twitter account in Argentina is supporting Rizzo.
Rizzo started playing when he was 12—he's 25 now—and has long been mostly a limited player in a country where limited tournaments are far more scarce than in the U.S., where it's often hard NOT to find a draft at a store selling Magic on many given nights.
However, Rizzo said, the Buenos Aires community is thriving. There is something of an Open series that attracts 200-300 players on a regular basis. The tournaments rose out of the community as a whole, working through www.mtgmulligan.net to organize tournaments and community information.
In fact, while Grand Prix Philadelphia is going on, the headline on www.mtgmulligan.net reads (translated) "Grand Prix LIVE Philadelphia - Jonathan Rizzo fighting to get the Top!" There's certainly no question that the community supports its own, something I figured out quickly as my Twitter feed filled with requests from Argentinians wanting any information about Rizzo they could get.
With his performance here this weekend, there's certainly enough for them to digest. He didn't do well at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica, due, he said to a bad read on the metagame. He played UW tempo but took out his Dismembers expecting more Scapeshift decks. When it came time to game, he couldn't kill a Deathrite Shaman to save his life. And so he died repeatedly to the 1/2.
But he's certainly doing better here in Philadelphia. 9-1 on Day 1, 3-0 in his first draft pod. He has a very strong shot at the Top 8.
But even within shouting distance of his first major result, Rizzo was still most interested in talking about how far the Buenos Aires community has come.
Around the turn of the century, mostly between 1999-2002, Argentina suffered a severe economic crisis, one so bad it has its own Wikipedia page. During that time, Rizzo said, people quit playing. Understandably so. The crisis resulted in riots in the Buenos Aires and the country didn't really stabilize till 2003.
But when it did, Rizzo said the community picked itself back up and started putting their own money into tournaments. Coupled with the store Dominaria, www.mtgmulligan.net has helped the community grow to its current size.
The next step, Rizzo said, is for more players to do just what he's doing this week.
"We have a lot of players but not a lot of high level tournaments," he said, adding that he hopes Buenos Aires gets a Grand Prix soon.
But that isn't stopping the community from expanding its wings. Rizzo said the group plans to go to Grand Prix Rio de Janeiro by organizing online. And, in fact, the top headline on the websites sidebar reads "8/12 You're going to Rio or Las Vegas!"
Rizzo said they're trying to bring about 50 people to Rio de Janeiro, and to make it easier, they're making airline tickets prizes in some tournaments.
A large part of the reason for the growth of the community, he added, has been the success of the past three sets.
"It helps that people really want to play with these sets," Rizzo said, saying that they probably get 200-300 players participating every weekend.
Whether Rizzo wins this weekend or not, he's certainly given his players back home a lot to cheer for (They're certainly a vocal group. At one point there were 12 straight Tweets asking for a Rizzo on-camera match). And maybe, just maybe, his performance there this weekend will spur a second jump in the burgeoning growth of the Buenos Aires Magic scene.
Round 14 Feature Match - Luis Scott-Vargas vs. Yuuya Watanabe
by Frank Lepore
Yuuya Watanabe has two Pro Tour Top 8's and 16 Grand Prix Top 8's to his name. Luis Scott-Vargas has eight Grand Prix top 8's and five Pro Tour Top 8's to his. Needless to say both players are looking to add another to their resume today.
"I'm not sure how to spell your name," the table judge admitted reluctantly. "I got this," Luis responded as he stopped Yuuya and helped the judge spell his opponent's name. This is the kind of camaraderie that exists within the Magic community: two players vying for the same prize, from completely opposite sides of the world, familiar enough with one another to not only know, but spell one another's names.
Watanabe won the die roll and led off with an early Grim Roustabout. It was a Crosstown Courier from Scott-Vargas. Watanabe followed up with a Drudge Beetle, missing a land drop. When the Crosstown Courier connected, "two land!" Scott-Vargas verbally hoped.
"Augh!" Two lands fell into Watanabe's bin.
Scott-Vargas's Splinter Thug paid the Ultimate Price and Watanabe swung in for four dropping him to 14. A Rakdos Keyrune was all Scott-Vargas had, and after a Grisly Salvage for a land, Watanabe played a Deviant Glee on his skeleton, knocking Scott-Vargas down to eight. Scott-Vargas was not out of tricks yet though: a Voidwielder was sure to make the board a little more even.
A Dreg Mangler from Watanabe allowed him to get two points past the blocker and Scott-Vargas was hanging on at six life.
Scott-Vargas attacked Watanabe down to nine life before playing a Stab Wound on Watanabe's Mangler: the zombie's days of attacking seemed to be numbered. Watanabe went deep into the tank. He eventually decided that playing a second Drudge Beetle and passing was his best option. Scott-Vargas was content passing back after laying his land. Watanabe attempted to remove the painful enchantment with his Golgari Charm but Scott-Vargas was having none of it as his own Charm of the Izzet variety said "no."
Alas, after a non-lethal attack from Watanabe, leaving his creatures tapped out, Vargas managed to play Traitorous Instinct on Watanabe's four powered Beetle, and swing for the last five points.
Luis Scott-Vargas 1, Yuuya Watanabe 0
Watanabe was on the play once more, only this time his hand would simply not do. While Scott-Vargas was content with his opener, Watanabe had to go down to six.
A Grim Roustabout once again started the action for Watanabe, followed by a Drudge Beetle Vargas soon had a Splatter Thug to hold off the beats, but Watanabe had the Giant Growth to give Scott-Vargas some unfavorable trades. An end-of-turn a Grisly Salvage showed three Swamps, a Daggerdrome Imp, and a Grim Roustabout for Watanabe... he thought long and deep about what to take before settling on the second Roustabout.
Another swing for four, and Scott-Vargas's Runewing was taken down by a Savage Surge on Watanabe's beetle. A Voidwielder from Scott-Vargas bounced one of the skeletons, but Watanabe was still managing two damage per turn... that is, until Scott-Vargas played Street Spasm for two damage, annihilating Watanabe's entire field!.
A Sewer Shambler from Watanabe was no match for a Minotaur Aggressor from Scott-Vargas, but the Aggressor was no match for Watanabe's Ultimate Price. The score was now eight to 12 in Watanabe's favor after Vargas managed to detain Watanabe's Sewer Shambler with an Isperia's Skywatch.
Despite his newly acquired Dreg Mangler, a Thoughtflare from Scott-Vargas guaranteed to keep him in business for quite some time. This allowed to Vargas to cast a Stab Wound on a 4/3 Sewer Shambler, making it a much more natural 2/1 again. Another Voidwielder from Scott-Vagas bounced the Skeleton back to Watanabe's hand; it had to be done as it threatened to Swampwalk all over Scott-Vargas' Blood Crypt while he was at a precious three life.
With Scott-Vargas' three blockers at the ready, Watanabe had no profitable attacks. But the game had already been won: Scott-Vargas untapped and Overloaded his Teleportal. With his entire team behind enemy lines, Watanabe extended the hand.
Luis Scott-Vargas defeats Yuuya Watanabe, 2-1
Round 15 Feature Match - Shuhei Nakamura vs. Joe Spanier
by Blake Rasmussen
We haven't heard much from Shuhei Nakamura so far this tournament. For a player of his caliber, that usually means he isn't doing well. Only, that hasn't been the case. After going 7-2 through his first 9 rounds and barely make the cut, Nakamura hasn't lost a single match since. And now he found himself at 12-2 likely needing two wins to make the Top 8. There's a reason you never count him out.
Standing in his way is Joe Spanier with an identical 12-2 record, also looking to run up to the Top 8. Hovering over this match was the realization that, no matter how great Nakamura's comeback or Spanier's run have been, the loser would almost assuredly not make the Top 8. (Insert tiebreaker disclaimer here.)
Spanier started quickly with a Slitherhead into an unleashed Thrill-Kill Assassin. Nakamura simply fetched up a Swamp with his Gatecreeper Vine, fixing his colors. Spanier had no third turn play, which gave Nakamura some breathing room.
But it didn't last long. Nakamura had no turn three play, while Spanier continued to flood the board, adding a Grim Roustabout to the battlefield. When Nakamura tried to make a Centaur token with Centaur's Herald, Spanier sacrificed Slitherhead to Launch Party to clear the way. An Augur Spree then killed Nakamura's Golgari Longlegs, and Nakamura quickly conceded when his draw step offered no help.
It happened just that fast, and Spanier was up a game on Hall of Famer Nakamura.
Spanier 1 – Nakamura 0
Joe Spanier's Rakdos deck was capable of some blazing fast starts.
Spanier mulled to 6 and was considerably slower in the second game, having no play on turns or two, and merely and Augur Spree on turn three and a second on turn five to kill Nakamura's first two plays.
Nakamura did manage to keep around an Azorius Justiciar, with nothing to arrest, but was faced with a Tenement Crasher the following turn.
Vraska the Unseen, revealing the reason for the Black splash, killed the Tenement Crasher, then traded with Perilous Shadow the next turn.
Meanwhile, Nakamura reloaded with Golgari Longlegs and a Towering Indrik.
Thrill-Kill Assassin, very much leashed, traded with the Towering Indrik on the next attack, and Spanier dropped to 5. When Nakamura was able to get his Justiciar through the next turn, Giant Growth put away the game for Nakamura.
Spanier 1 – Nakamura 1
Centaur's Herald led off the match for Nakamura, and once again Spanier had no plays on his first three turns, and then just a Perilous Shadow on turn four.
Spanier elected to block when Nakamura's third-turn Selesnya Sentry attacked in, and Nakamura made him pay with a Giant Growth, even ratcheting up the pressure with Sunspire Griffin.
Spanier got big with a Spawn of Rix Maadi, then the next turn got optionally large with a Perilous Shadow. He wasn't faster than Nakamura this game, but he was certainly bigger.
Finally, for the first time in this breakneck match, the players paused. Nakamura was doing combat math as his Centaur token, Selesnya Sentry and Sunspire Griffin faced down the two beefy creatures on Spanier's side of the table.
Knightly Valor, it turned out, was the answer he was looking for, turning his Sentry into a 5/4. The Sentry bounced off Perilous Shadow, pumped once, but that let Nakamura get in for five damage to drop Spanier to five.
Rare shot of Shuhei Nakamura not playing at a pace faster than the speed of sound during Round 15.
On his turn, Spanier simply attacked an laid his 7th land before passing.
Letting Nakamura untap might have been a mistake. When Spanier blocked then moved to kill the 5/4 Sentry with Augur Spree, Giant Growth made it, well, ginormous (or 12/3).
"One more win," Nakamura said as he gathered his things. And, indeed, he was just one win from the Top 8 after barely making the cut on Day 1.
Nakamura 2 – Spanier 1
Quick Hits - What is the number one card you hope to open in Return to Ravnica draft that isn’t Pack Rat?
by Frank Lepore
Brian Kibler: It really depends on the deck I'm trying to draft. Like, it especially changes whether or not I get any Ogre Jailbreakers. If I want to splash a particular card I'll pick them up with the intent to get those cards, but I'm always picking cards for a particular strategy over them.
Ari Lax: It varies drastically on the deck you're building. I'll usually start picking them up whenever I determine I need them.
Martin Juza: This format is really deep and complex. The Guildgates aren't like the bounce lands from Ravnica which you could first pick, and they let you keep land light hands, etc. Now it really depends on the deck you have.
Bubble, Bubble, Who's On the Bubble
by Frank Lepore
Several players were on the very cusp of making the Top 8 here at Grand Prix Philadelphia. Unfortunately, as with most great competitions, there can only be one winner.
Shaheen Soorani bested Jon Wdowiasz, rising to 39 points with his lightning fast Rakdos deck thanks in no small part to a number of Gore-House Chainwalkers
Jake Gans bested Seneca Hobler to make it to 42 points! While both players had Supreme Verdict Jake's Pack Rats won out in the long run!
Despite having a deck full of cards like Assassin's Strike, Desecration Demon, and Auger Spree, Travis was unable to secure the victory against Harry who ascended to 42 points and a Top 8!
Down in the feature match area, several heavyweights were battling it out for the Top 8.
On camera, Shuhei Nakamura defeated Tom Martell in two straight after Martel stumbled on mana in the second game after mulling to five. His hand was chock full of powerful spells, but he could only gain a few life and delay Nakamura a bit before succumbing to the Hall of Famer's horde of creatures. Nakamura hasn't lost a match since Round 5, a feat he had to pull off in order to reach this Top 8.
Right next to them, Martin Juza was taking down Bing Luke with tiny, irritating, Golgari-sized cuts. In the second game, Juza did 18 damage to Luke with a Stab Wound and the other two damage with a Launch Party.