Saturday, 2:59 p.m. – Mystery Sealed Build-Along
by Josh Bennett
Your challenge this weekend is to make sense of a card pool that pulls you in a number of different directions. Featuring powerful cards spread across too many colors and a complete absence of some key commons, success will come from correctly identifying your best plan to victory, and tailoring your deck to execute that plan. Think you can come up with a better build than our Mystery Pro? Check back towards the end of Day 1 to see what they came up with!
Saturday, 4:24 p.m. – The Evolution of Theros Sealed
by Mike Rosenberg
It's no surprise that Theros Limited offers a lot of depth in Booster Draft with its wide variety of viable color combinations. Whether it's black or green devotion, aggressive heroic strategies, or other aggressive offerings, Theros has proven itself to be a diverse Limited format for players to explore.
And while Sealed being a very different beast than Booster Draft, the same applies for players registering and building from six booster packs as well.
The first aspect of Sealed that is different from Booster Draft is the desire to play with more lands. While you may see lands shaved from hyper aggressive archetypes in Booster Draft, you'll rarely see a player who is doing well in Theros Sealed with less than 18 lands in their deck. More lands ensures you can properly play all of your biggest and most powerful spells, but more importantly, lands let you get monstrous.
To be more specific, lands let you get monstrous with creatures like this. An 8/9 is pretty difficult to overcome in Sealed Pack!
One aspect of Theros Sealed that has not changed over time has been the value of creatures with monstrosity. You may be shocked to learn this, but monstrous creatures are big. Very big. However, one of the downfalls of putting too much effort into growing one monstrous creature in Booster Draft is the threat of a Voyage's End or Griptide ruining your day. While this can happen in Sealed as well, the decks that are often including copies of the powerful blue disruption typically aren't backed up with an aggressive heroic strategy, which is what often made a timely Voyage's End lethal if you were reliant on a Nessian Asp to dominate the battlefield.
Another key value of monstrosity is that you don't need to make a creature monstrous in order to make your opponent play differently. Due to the threat of being destroyed by a creature that can jump in size, players facing down a monstrous creature in its "tame" form will have to make plays expecting that the opponent will make that creature monstrous. This means making unfavorable blocks as well, and oftentimes players must do this against the threat of monstrous creatures
In Sealed Pack, the inconsistency of nabbing a synergistic and coherent heroic deck that is capable of fast wins is less, which means there are fewer ways to keep a giant creature in check. This makes Nessian Asp, which was already very good in Booster Draft, into one of the Sealed Pack format's defining creatures.
However, you're not limited to green. According to No. 17 Ranked Player Paul Rietzl, each color has some monstrous creatures that are worth considering. "I think that in the Sealed Deck format, if you just look at all of the monstrous creatures from common to mythic, their monstrosity costs are very undercosted given the speed of the format," he said. "You very frequently have time to monstrous them and they have a very big impact on the game. In the Sealed format, an unanswered Nessian Asp ends a lot of games. Even the answers that are more temporary like Voyage's End are often just stalling the inevitable."
When the consistently fast heroic decks are not something you need to fear as often, a Nessian Asp or a Keepsake Gorgon can do a lot more damage.
No. 17 Ranked Player Paul Rietzl is an advocate for playing any creatures with monstrosity that you can in Sealed Pack, as their size can quickly dominate a game.
Aside from the power of monstrosity, Rietzl's research also revealed to him which color is the best one to consider when building a Sealed deck. Since Theros has been released, there have been three Grand Prix events that have featured Theros Sealed (excluding Team Sealed). Rietzl compiled the undefeated decks from these events into a spreadsheet, and after analyzing each deck, it became clear that black was the color that stood above the rest.
"Anything I can have in a deck that can deal with a creature once it's gone monstrous is key. This is why Sip of Hemlock is so good in Sealed Deck, but only mediocre in draft," he said, emphasizing the power level of black and the frequency in which black has shown up in the undefeated decks from previous Theros Sealed Grand Prix events. Booster Draft all-stars such as Disciple of Phenax and Gray Merchant of Asphodel are obviously quite good when supported by more black cards, but other options which were good but not great in Booster Draft become stellar in Sealed.
One of these cards is Sip of Hemlock, a card that was certainly powerful in draft formats by providing players with hard removal in a format that lacks ways to directly deal with creatures. Its power level becomes much more pivotal in Sealed, as it is a surefire way to deal with a monstrosity creature no matter the situation.
Another card that changes drastically in playability is Lash of the Whip. While Lash offers a form of removal, its inability to take out a heroic creature that has already tripled in size was one of its downfalls and a reason why the card is not as high on the list of key black cards as it may have been in other Limited formats. In Sealed, removal is king, and Lash of the Whip oftentimes answers exactly what you need to take out.
Cavern Lampad, another creature that varies widely from Sealed to Booster Draft, is also on Rietzl's list of powerful options in black. In Sealed Pack, bestowing the Lampad onto an already large creature is a good way to quickly end games, and given the slower nature of Sealed, this is a quick route to victory when it goes unanswered.
Black also has the benefit of being a fine pairing with blue, especially when you open solid cards such as Returned Phalanx. Being able to have access to any copies of Voyage's End, Griptide, and Sea God's Revenge that you open is a nice perk as well, since all three cards remain very powerful in Sealed Pack.
We'll see at the end of the day if the undefeated decks from Theros Sealed continue to follow the trends Rietzl has studied, or if something unusual will show up in the spotless decks after nine rounds of competition.
Saturday, 6:17 p.m. – Quick Hits: Which card in Theros Sealed has changed the most in value for you since the set was released?
by Mike Rosenberg
No. 25 Ranked Player Jon Stern — “I thought Magma Jet was a premium uncommon when the set was first released. But now, I know that it doesn't kill what you need to kill. I also initially thought Voyaging Satyr was very good, but now I think it is even better.“
Grand Prix Portland Finalist Joe Demestrio — “Hopeful Eidolon. I always thought it was okay, but now I think it may be in the top 5 commons of the set for Sealed.”
Two-Time Grand Prix Champion Seth Manfield — “Probably Sedge Scorpion.”
No. 12 Ranked Player Owen Turtenwald — “Dragon's Mantle. I thought it was medium, but it's actually quite good.”
No. 12 Ranked Player Alexander Hayne — “Aqueous Form. At the start of a format, cards like that seem only like card disadvantage, but it turns out the format is more about building up a big guy and cards like that are key for breaking through.”
No. 3 Ranked Player Reid Duke — “Opaline Unicorn. It didn't really stand out to me at first, but I think both the ramping effect and the color fixing have both impressed me.”
Saturday, 7:29 p.m. – Theros Sealed: The Canadian Perspective
by Josh Bennett
The title of "Canada's Pride" is currently in dispute. On one side you have the reserved, soft-spoken Jon Stern, who found international recognition after his win at Grand Prix Atlantic City, and who broke into the Top 25 Rankings shortly after their inception thanks to his constitent strong finishes. On the other you have the (comparatively) flamboyant man-about-town Alexander Hayne, hot off a Grand Prix win in Kyoto with Hron and Hoaen, and looking for his third trophy of the 2013 Season. Unable to choose between these two modern Odysseuses I sought their combined wisdom about the ins and outs of Theros sealed.
For both, the format begins with blue, and specifically the two commons Griptide and Voyage's End. In a format where removal is either situational or expensive these two spells rise above. Hayne further broke it down by saying "If you look at this set, it's all about creating a single large threat - Monstrous, Bestow, and Heroic all push towards that." Giving blue two common ways to thwart that puts it way out in front of the other colors. Hayne went on to say that in a format where people are making big monsters, your best bet is to have the biggest monster, which usually means playing green. The gold standard is Nessian Asp who also shuts out the skies as a route to victory. Jon Stern sewed it up with this quote.
"I've done around twenty sealed builds, and probably sixteen of them have been blue-green. I'll try other builds, lay them out, and they just look terrible. Even a bad blue-green is often better than a decent deck of other colors." - Jon Stern
To me, the next logical (if naive) question was: Can't fast decks punish the focus on big creatures? The short answer is that sealed is not draft. You'll very rarely have the cards to consistently execute a game plan of hitting your first three drops and backing them up with tricks. Without all the pieces, those decks struggle with draws that don't come off the blocks fast enough, and then their late game draws are just worse than their opponents'. It's much easier to build a deck that consistently takes advantage of the middle game. Stern said "It's easy for creatures to get obsoleted on the board." Hayne added "Even the tricks that are available don't let you trade up." Titan's Strength might let you cut down their Asp, but you'll still lose your creature. Another interesting consequence is that Dissolve is a lot better than its analogues were in previous sets. Stopping a single Sip of Hemlock or Divine Verdict is often enough to put a game away.
I asked them if there were any common pitfalls that trip up those less experienced with the format. Stern pointed to the wealth of mana-fixing in the format, with Traveler's Amulet, Opaline Unicorn, Burnished Hart and Unknown Shores available for all colors. Stern says players are often seduced into splashing a powerful card without considering the space that fixing takes up in their deck. "The question I ask is 'What cards does the fixing replace?' Often those cards have more value than the splashed card and its support."
Hayne said that the easiest mistake to make is playing your 2/1's for two mana. In addition to being outclassed as early as turn three, they run into a lot of the common removal such as Lightning Strike and Pharika's Cure.
Round 5 Feature Match The First Table - Stephen Bergeron vs. (17) Paul Rietzl
by Mike Rosenberg
It's a double feature! In this round, two tables, each featuring contemporary masters of Magic currently in the Top 25 Ranked Pros, face off against local players who made the trek out to Grand Prix Toronto.
The first feature match featured Stephen Bergeron against No. 17 Ranked Player Paul Rietzl. Bergeron is a Toronto local that plays Grand Prix events that take place near his area. He's been playing casually since Odyssey block and has continued to hit up Grand Prix events that take place in this region of Canada.
Rietzl, an American pro, is currently making a run for Platinum Pro status following his Top 8 finish at Pro Tour Theros. Will he follow up his quarterfinal finish from last weekend at Grand Prix Albuquerque?
Bergeron started off with his back against the wall and accepted the attacks coming in from Rietzl's Observant Alseid, bestowed with a copy of the same creature. However, things reversed when he reached five lands and cast Prophet of Kruphix, giving him a creature and a multitude of instant speed options.
Rietzl, however, refused to be left as the only one playing fair, and he cast his own copy of the rare blue-green creature. However, it quickly became outclassed when Bergeron's Prophet was giving two copies of Ordeal of Heliod and an Ordeal of Nylea. It attacked in, and one of the Ordeal of Heliods went to the graveyard and put Bergeron to 20 life.
However, Burgeron's shields were down. The coast now clear to resolve a mid-combat creature, Rietzl cast Mistcutter Hydra for six, taking out Bergeron's Prophet, which still succumbed to Rietzl's blocking creatures despite the triple Ordeals.
Things went downhill from there, and Bergeron quickly conceded to the growing board and Rietzl's powerful players fueled by the Prophet of Kruphix's effect.
The second game went even more favorably for Rietzl, who had a third-turn Fabled Hero and an Ordeal of Heliod to follow. When Nimbus Naid came down on the fifth turn bestewed onto the powerful double striker, Bergeron offered the handshake.
Bergeron 0 – Rietzl 2
Round 5 Feature Match The SecondTable - Adam Benn vs. (2) Josh Utter-Leyton
by Mike Rosenberg
Adam Benn, newcomer from Ottawa, was competing in his second Grand Prix ever this weekend. His first Grand Prix was Calgary earlier in the year, a result of his return to the game during Return to Ravnica block. While Benn came back after a long break, he first picked up the game during Ice Age, making him familiar with the game despite his resume of events.
His opponent, No. 2 Ranked Player Josh Utter-Leyton, offered up a unique challenge. The relative local player would have a chance to take down one of the best players currently competing on the Pro Tour, and at the very least, it would be a great learning experience and something to talk about back home.
Ottawa native Adam Benn sat down for a mid-day match against Josh Utter-Leyton, 2012-2013 Player of the Year and No. 2 Ranked Player.
Benn was first to act with Leafcrown Dryad, which looked to do the trick when Utter-Leyton had no third land. It was joined by Favored Hoplite, and again Utter-Leyton had no land, forced to discard Nimbus Naid. Shortly after seeing Celestial Archon come down against his two lonely Islands, Utter-Leyton quickly conceded the first game.
Utter-Leyton actually had his Esper based landed in the second game, along with an Opaline Unicorn and a Wavecrash Triton to hold down the fort. Benn pressed on, however, with Favored Hoplite attacking in with represented tricks while a Wavecrash Triton of his own sat back to block.
Gray Merchant of Asphodel came down on Utter-Leyton's fourth turn, but Benn had instant speed action in the form of Horizon Chimera. It continued the attacks, dropping Utter-Leyton to 17. However, Utter-Leyton was able to go on the offensive with a bestowed Nimbus Naid on his Wavecrash Triton, which locked down Benn's Horizon Chimera.
Utter-Leyton continued to be in the driver's seat with another Wavecrash Triton. He passed with Hero's Downfall and Griptide in hand and enough mana to cast either. However, Benn wasn't biting with any major plays, and the game slowly moved into draw-go mode, with Benn adding creatures to the battlefield but being unable to attack through Utter-Leyton's creatures profitably.
At this point, while Benn was drawing creatures to add to his board, Utter-Leyton started drawing nothing but lands. However, when he found Helio'ds Emissary, he began to go onto the offensive by bestowing it onto his non-enchanted Wavecrash Triton. It attacked in and was not blocked, but thanks to Benn's Horizon Chimera, the 2012-2013 Player of the Year had a long way to go.
Benn, however, had some tricks. At the end of Utter-Leyton's turn, he had Lost in the Labyrinth targeting his Wavecrash Triton, which tapped Utter-Leyton's Triton that was bestowed with Nimbus Naid. When Benn went to his combat step, Griptide sent Calvary Pegasus to the top before Benn sent his flying creatures (and what would have been his humans as well) into battle. This warranted Hero's Downfall on Benn's Precient Chimera from Utter-Leyton, leaving Utter-Leyton at 12 after the dust settled, and in much better shape than what he could have been in.
(2) Josh Utter-Leyton
Thassa's Emissary on the untapped Wavecrash Triton with the bestowed Heliod's Emissary gave Utter-Leyton a decent threat, and put Benn into chump-block mode to prevent Utter-Leyton from drawing cards. Benn sent in his flying creatures along with the Battlewise Hoplite on the next turn, but Ray of Dissolution shrank the Hoplite when it destroyed the bestowed Leafcrown Dryad.
Benn had a tempo swing in the form of Sea God's Revenge, which left Utter-Leyton with some suddenly unbestowed creatures, but the damage had been done. Utter-Leyton was only at 10 life after attacks on that turn, and the Wavecrash Triton that was bestowed with both Thassa's Emissary and Heliod's Emissary kept coming in. A replayed board and another Gray Merchant of Asphodel put Utter-Leyton in good shape, and it soon became Benn's turn to start drawing lands.
After a few turns with Utter-Leyton making calculated attacks, Benn found himself with a smaller board, then a smaller life total, and then 1-1 as Benn scooped up his cards for the third game...
...which ended up being uneventful, as it was Benn's turn to have mana troubles. When he passed with no plays on the fifth turn and only blue and white mana available, the message was clear: Benn had a grip of green cards.
"Lot of green cards, huh?" Utter-Leyton inquired when Benn drew, played a land, and passed again with no action. "Yep," Benn acknowledged. "A lot of them." Griptide on Benn's Vaporkin didn't help matters following that.
When a Forest wasn't waiting on top shortly after that, Benn offered the handshake.
Benn 1 – Utter-Leyton 2
After the match, I talked to Utter-Leyton about his deck. Three colors in the format can be ambitious, and I asked if it was due to the depth of his colors.
Turns out, it was the opposite. "Basically, I had to play all three colors. I have two Opaline Unicorns and the Traveler's Amulet, so with those I figure I can be a little more ambitious with the [white] splash," he exlained. "I'm basically splashing for Celestial Archon."
He went on to explain further. "I could have been more conservative with my splash and simply splashed two green cards [for Reaper of the Wilds and Nessian Asp] instead of having a bunch of white cards. White isn't really a splash since the main card is Celestia Archon." This is the reason Utter-Leyton's deck was so heavily committed to all three colors. It was either play the best cards of all three colors, or cut the white and play some underwhelming blue and black cards that ultimately didn't make the cut in his place.
However, he knew that it needed to be done, and so far today, it has served the 2012-2013 Player of the Year well.
Saturday, 8:12 p.m. - Quick Hits: Have your initial impressions of Theros Sealed changed since the set was released, or have they remained the same?
by Mike Rosenberg
No. 25 Ranked Player Jon Stern — “The biggest thing that has changed is that I value the bounce spells a lot higher. I don't like the aggressive cards in this format.”
Grand Prix Portland Finalist Joe Demestrio — “I didn't realize how important it was to fight a big monster. You need to have spot removal.”
Two-Time Grand Prix Champion Seth Manfield — “What I thought at the start of the format was basically the same. It's just that I've learned more about how the one and two mana creatures just don't impact the board much in Sealed. I still think green is the best color in Sealed.”
No. 12 Ranked Player Owen Turtenwald — “I actually thought it was quite fast, but it's the opposite. It's a slow format, and monstrosity is the best mechanic.”
No. 12 Ranked Player Alexander Hayne — “Not too much, no. I initially thought the format was about big creatures, and it's still about big creatures.”
No. 3 Ranked Player Reid Duke — “I've been impressed by how diverse the format can be. There's such a wide range of ways the games can play out; they can be long or short, grindy or explosive. Whatever my initial impression was on the format was proven to be too narrow.
Round 6 Feature Match - (2) Josh Utter-Leyton vs. (12) Owen Turtenwald
by Josh Bennett
Two of the greatest players in the game today locking horns in early-round action. Owen Turtenwald is in pursuit of a historic three consecutive Grand Prix wins, while Josh Utter-Leyton is looking to dethrone Ben Stark as the Number 1 Ranked Player in the world.
Game one was defined by Turtenwald's turn-four Polukranos, the World Eater. Utter-Leyton had started with Wavecrash Triton and Scourgemark, hoping to slow the game down, but didn't have a second spell to lock down the big Hydra. He played Thassa's Emissary as a 3/3 and took five damage, while Turtenwald continued to build his board. Utter-Leyton put out Celestial Archon, looking towards an aerial assault. Turtenwald summoned a massive 7/7 Reverent Hunter, pressing the issue. Utter-Leyton risked it all on an the air force gambit, bestowing Nimbus Naiad on his Triton (freezing the 7/7 Hunter) and swinging in with his fliers, leaving only the Emissary home as defence. A quick double-check of the life totals, and Turtenwald fired off Lightning Strike to put Utter-Leyton to eleven, then untapped, sacrificed his Satyr Hedonist to hit seven mana, and the Hydra cleared a path for lethal.
Turtenwald 1 - Utter-Leyton 0
Game two started slowly. Turtenwald dispatched a Shipwreck Singer with Lightning Strike and Utter-Leyton fixed his mana with Traveler's Amulet. Wavecrash Triton met Nessian Asp. Utter-Leyton bought time with a Scourgemark and played a second Shipwreck Singer. Turtenwald spent a turn playing out two Nylea's Presences. He took three from Utter-Leyton's creatures, then another four from Grey Merchant of Asphodel. It looked good for Utter-Leyton.
Turtenwald wasn't about to go quietly, however. After being forced to attack with his Aps, he devoured the Shipwreck Singer with Time to Feed, then played Nylea's Disciple, making a total of eight life gained. Unfortunately for him, Utter-Leyton had another reversal in store. Hero's Downfall caught the Asp, and Hopeful Eidolon for Wavecrash Triton gave him a big lifelinking threat and kept Nylea's Disicple on the sidelines.
Turtenwald needed a big threat to get back in the game. He started with Minotaur Skullcleaver and gave it the Ordeal of Purphoros, getting in for a quick five. This gave Utter-Leyton pause, and he decided to keep his creatures at home for a turn. When Turtenwald followed up with a precombat Centaur Battlemaster and an attack with his now 4/4 Skullcleaver, Utter-Leyton took a moment to reconsider things. He let it through, taking four, then untapped and bestowed Nimbus Naiad on his Triton to fly over for a big five-point life swing. Turtenwald still had many big attackers, so it was down to the wire, but a Divine Verdict for Utter-Leytons sealed the game.
Turtenwald 1 - Utter-Leyton 1
Turtenwald led with Deathbellow Raider, and after Utter-Leyton played out Shipwreck Singer, decided to risk enchanting it with Ordeal of Purphoros. He got in a hit for three, but Utter-Leyton had Hero's Downfall, netting a quick two-for-one.
From there, the game became a grind. Nessian Asp held the fort for Turtenwald while he summoned more troops. Utter-Leyton got out Opaline Unicorn and a pair of Wavecrash Tritons. Turtenwald was stuck on five mana, however, so he was slow adding to the board. Utter-Leyton got aggressive with Heliod's Emissary on Wavecrash Triton, couldn't continue the assault as more creatures joined the fray. Eventually he chose to trade his souped-up Triton for Polukranos, then the Emissary and a Gray Merchant (with help from Sentry of the Underworld) for an 8/8 Centuar Battlemaster. Turtenwald had dropped to seven, and a Griptide on Nessian Asp let the Sentry bring him to four. From there, Sea God's Revenge left Turtenwald defenseless to a lethal attack.
Josh Utter-Leyton defeats Owen Turtenwald 2-1
As the players packed up Hall of Famer William Jensen strolled into view. He'd been watching from the sidelines, and talked with Utter-Leyton about an alternate line for the end of game three, Griptiding his own Heliod's Emissary in order to put it on his Sentry of the Underworld, and using that to push past the Nessian Asp, while holding the fort with a 6/6 regenerating body.
I also asked Utter-Leyton about the sequence in game two that had him neither attack nor block with his Wavecrash Triton. "Basically, after he has Ordeal on his Skullcleaver, my plan is to just hold back to block and play for the long game because my deck was better suited to it. So when I pass there I'm saying 'I'm blocking.' But then he plays his Battlemaster and attacks, and it's just that Coordinated Assault is so bad for me. So I have to change gears and just take it, then start attacking in the air. I played to my outs and got rewarded."
I caught up with Turtenwald a bit later to get his sense of things. He said the matchup definitely favored his opponent, thanks to his suite of removal spells. Still, he felt that he had to risk the turn-three Ordeal in the deciding game, because Hero's Downfall would beat him regardless, and the upside was too big to give up on.
Saturday, 11:00 p.m. - Mystery Sealed After-Action Report
by Josh Bennett
Captain Canuck alter-ego Alexander Hayne has continued to light things up following his surprise win at Pro Tour Avacyn Restored. He put a second Grand Prix Championship trophy on his shelf last weekend at Kyoto (helped in no small part by fellow masters and teammates Mike Hron and Rich Hoaen), and jumped back onto the Top 25 Rankings in 21st.
He had his work cut out for him this weekend, however, as he was the recipient of the sealed deck pool we showed you earlier. During his byes, I asked him to walk me through his thought process as he built his deck.
He said the first thing he settled on was playing the green. It has a number of very powerful cards, the Nessian Asps, Voyaging Satyrs and the Nemesis of Mortals. Blue gives him still more power in the form of two Nimbus Naiads and two Ordeal of Thassa. Knowing that he wanted all those cards together, the next step was figuring out what would best complement them. "The thing that stuck out to me was no bounce. No Voyage's End, no Griptide, no ways to interact with my opponent's creatures. So I figured I needed to go for as many cheap wins as possible. That's where this little guy comes in." He turned over the much-maligned Triton Shorethief.
"If I miss Day 2, this is the card that people will point at. But if I make it, I can go 'Haha! I was right!'"
He had considered a light red splash for Steam Augury and Crackling Triton, made possible by the Burnished Hart and Nylea's Presences, but ultimately decided against it. Consistency was key. The last two cards on the chopping block were Omenspeaker and Sealock Monster. Despite his many mana accelerants, Hayne says that the hexproof Benthic Giant will often outperform the Monster.
I asked him what he thought of black-blue, the three Returned Phalanx and Nighthowler seemingly demanding attention. He explained that the Black-Blue deck winds up short on cards, and can't really take advantage of the two blue Ordeals. The red tells a similar story, no way to support its two all-star cards. Hayne reiterated his dislike of aggressive creatures in this format. He wouldn't be caught dead playing Minotaur Skullcleaver.
Grand Prix Toronto 2013 - Theros Sealed
After 8 rounds Hayne was at a comfortable 7-1. He said the deck had been performing well, above his expectations. "I lost to Gerard Fabiano, he had the one thing I was worried about - another deck with Ordeals. I have no way to deal with them." Hayne also pre-empted my question about the little Shorethief that could. "I actually won this round because of Shorethief. It had to be him, not the Scorpion, because my opponent had Pharika's Cure. He dodges Pharika's Cure on turn two, and then outgrows Lash of the Whip!"
I asked if he'd done much sideboarding. He said he had been (perhaps reluctantly) taking out the Shorethief on the draw. He also brought in Sealock Monster against blue decks, and added the second Benthic Giant against black. Overall, he's very happy with his build, and delighted with his good fortune. He only has one more round with the Ordeal Machine, and then he can get rested for Day 2.
Saturday, 11:46 p.m. - Round 8 Round-Up
by Mike Rosenberg
Round 8 featured an two alleged grudge matches. No. 7 Ranked Player Samuel Black and Jonathan Johnson-Epstein are both Madison Wisconsin locals that have known each other for a long time, and the two players found themselves battling to see who would move on to a 7-1 record.
On the other table featured longtime competitor Gerard Fabiano up against Grand Prix Kansas City Champion Seth Manfield, with both players competing to see who would retain a spotless Day One record.
Samuel Black vs. Jonathan Johnson-Epstein
The first game was as uneventful as it could be, with Epstein failing to draw a third land while Black beat him down with an early Nessian Asp.
No. 7 Ranked Player Samuel Black
In the second game, Black went to six, but had a saucy curve that involved second-turn Vaporkin, third-turn Agent of Horizons, and a Bident of Thassa, putting Epstein in a bind. He had Staunch-Hearted Warrior on the fourth turn, and when he did not block the Agent, it became evident why when he used Time to Feed to take out the 3/2 creature, growing his Warrior to a 4/4.
Nonetheless, the Vaporkin was continuing its assault, and Black followed with Nessian Asp. "I was afraid of that," Black said when a second Time to Feed cleared away the Asp, making Epstein's Staunch-Hearted Warrior a 6/6 before it swung in. Artisan's Sorrow stopped Black from drawing further cards on the next turn when it disposed of the Bident of Thassa.
Black was able to turn it around though with a lowly Voyaging Satyr, backed up with a bestowed Leafcrown Dryad, Feral Invocation, and Hunt the Hunted to take down the very large Staunch-Hearted Warrior. Epstein fell all the way the 2 after the soldier token he received from a freshly cast Akroan Horse staved off the giant Voyaging Satyr. However, despite having a Griptide to delay matters, no permanent answers came off the top and he quickly offered the handshake before Manfield and Fabiano even finished their first game.
Black 2 – Epstein 0
Gerard Fabiano vs. Seth Manfield
Manfield followed up Fabiano's first play, Artisan of Forms, with Agent of Horizons. Fabiano's turn three was Flameshaper Mage, while Manfield's next play was Reverent Hunter, which came in as a makeshift Nessian Courser. The Agent of Horizons traded with Flamespeaker Adept, and play passed back to Fabiano, who got in for 4 with a freshly cast Minotaur Skullcleaver. Manfield cast Nimbus Naiad and passed back.
When Fabiano sent both his Artisan of Forms and Skullcleaver in, Manfield blocked with Nimbus Naiad. This prompted Titan's Strength, and the Artisan became a copy of the Naiad before smashing the flying creature out of the sky. It attacked in again on the next turn and was joined by Arena Athlete, which stared down Manfield's Hunter with the Skullcleaver. The two creatures both blocked the 3/3 Reverent Hunter when Manfield sent it in, prompting Fabiano to use Triton Tactics.
When Fabiano attempted Portent of Betrayal on the tapped Hunter, Manfield responded with another Voyage's End on his own creature. It nonetheless cleared the way for Fabiano's creatures to attack in, dropping Manfield to 8.
Manfield quickly untapped and cast Prognostic Sphinx, and on the next turn Nylea's Disciple, but it was not enough. Ordeal of Purphoros forced through Fabiano's creatures on the first attack in, and on the next turn, a bestowed Nimbus Naiad on Arena Athlete forced Manfield to pick up cards for a second game.
In the second game, Manfield had the first creature of the game with a Nessian Courser. Fabiano cast Spearpoint Oread, while Manfield added Karametra's Acolyte to his board. Fabiano went for Ordeal of Purphoros on the first striking creature, and used Magma Jet to finish off the Acolyte when it blocked, but Artisan's Sorrow quickly disposed of the creature, leaving Fabiano with his back against the wall. A bestowed Nimbus Naiad on Nessian Courser also gave Manfield a way to race above the Sealock Monster.
However, Fabiano had another monster in the form of the Titan of Eternal Fire. Manfield cast Agent of Horizons. Fabiano thought long about his attacks before sending in Titan of Eternal Fire. Manfield opted not to block, falling to 7. Manfield cast an end-of-turn Breaching Hippocamp. Manfield drew and cast Voyage's End, which bounced Fabiano's Sealock Monster and put him in a position where he had to chump-block with his Nimbus Naiad against Manfield's huge flying creature.
When nothing of merit was waiting on top, Fabiano picked up his cards and the two players moved to the final game.
Fabiano had the preliminary action in the third game with Artisan of Forms and Wavecrash Triton. Manfield had Nylea's Presence on the second turn, followed by Nimbus Naiad, which ate an upkeep Magma Jet from Fabiano. Manfield untapped and cast Kerametra's Acolyte, which blocked the attacking Triton on the next turn. Fabiano cast Sealock Monster post-combat.
Then, Manfield went off in a way. Nylea's Disciple gained him 4 life, then Kerametra's Acolyte tapped for four green mana, which when combined with an untapped Island, let Manfield bestow Nimbus Naiad onto his new Disciple.
Fabiano couldn't cast Ordeal of Purphoros on his Wavecrash Triton quick enough, sending all of his creatures in.
Manfield, however, found a second Nylea's Disciple thanks to Commune with the Gods. It gained Manfield 4 life when it entered the battlefield, 2 less than it would have thanks to Fabiano's Lightning Strike taking the new Disciple out with its trigger on the stack. When Fabiano sent his creatures (sans Artisan of Forms) in, Voyage's End bounced the Wavecrash Triton, disposing of a threatening Ordeal of Purphoros in the process. Fabiano replaced the temporarily dismissed creature with a much larger Titan of Eternal Fire.
Manfield thought long and hard about attacks on the next turn, as his Nylea's Disciple with the bestowed Nimbus Naiad was now available to attack. He sent the creature in, then cast Prognostic Sphinx and immediately bestowed it with another Nimbus Naiad. Manfield fell to 3 when Fabiano sent his creatures in and made his Sealock Monster monstrous.
Manfield attacked with only his Prognostic Sphinx on the next turn, leaving two cards on top. When Fabiano had nothing waiting on top, he succumbed to the flying creatures on the next turn.
Fabiano 1 – Manfield 2
After the game, Joshua Ravitz discussed the third game with Fabiano, bringing up that the Lightning Strike may have been better aimed at Fabiano's own Artisan of Forms. This would have triggered the Artisan's heroic power and would let Fabiano copy his Sealock Monster, giving him another 5/5 attacker for a few turns.
Fabiano had considered the play, but debated its effectiveness in being able to deal with Manfield's threats anyway. The critique was fair; even if Fabiano had another 5/5 creature, it wasn't clear that things would have changed given his final few d, especially since Manfield had a 5/7 in the form of an enchanted Prognostic Sphinx.
Sunday, 12:39 a.m. - Bubble Match Round-Up
by Josh Bennett
Heading in to Round 9 there were a handful of Top 25 Ranked mages playing for their tournament life at 6-2. It's nerve-wracking enough to play an elimination match, but imagine having to square off against these Titans. Here's a quick look at their matches.
(3) Reid Duke vs. Conal Klein
Duke had a slick Black-Blue deck featuring multiple Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Klein was with Blue-White-Red fliers backed with powerful spells and the oft-dismissed Spellheart Chimera. After Klein took game one, Duke went to his sideboard and brought in a splash of Reaper of the Wilds and a pair of Shredding Winds. In the deciding game, Klein came out fast while Duke was choked on mana, but Duke matched answers for threats and took control of the game. Soon the match was his.
Day 1 End Bosses 1 - Righteous Challengers 0
(9) Tom Martell vs Peter MacDougall
In game one, MacDougall kept a speculative hand that needed a forest and never got there. The second was much harder-fought. Martell blunted early agression and was soon safe behind Keepsake Gorgon. Still, MacDougall had stopped on just four lands, so his hand was pure gasoline. A fifth land let him have Arbor Colossus, but Martell had the trump: Hunt the Hunter for his Centaur Battlemaster, making it an 8/8 to kill the Colossus. The oversized Battlemaster soon ran roughshod over MacDougall. Afterwards Martell confided that in his haste to close out the match he'd given his opponent an out. "He'd discarded Portent of Betrayal game one, I thought I was safe at 14, but if he'd had Portent, Savage Surge and a land, he could've stolen the game. I even stupidly attacked with Baleful Eidolon to make sure the path was clear."
Day 1 End Bosses 2 - Righteous Challengers 0
(2) Josh Utter-Leyton vs. Nicholas Perrin
In the first game, Perrin worked over Utter-Leyton with a pair of unblockable creatures, forcing him well onto his back foot. By the time Utter-Leyton had removed them he was down to just three life. Perrin had no trouble pushing through the last few points. Utter-Leyton flipped the script in the second game, with his powerful late-game spells locking his opponent out of the game. Then came the decider, and Perrin curved out beautifully, and just as Utter-Leyton was threatening to stabilize, Aqueous Form snuck in a lethal attack.
Day 1 End Bosses 2 - Righteous Challengers 1
(17) Paul Rietzl vs. Ricardo Evangelho
The first game was short and sweet, after a turn-four Daxos of Meletis for Rietzl flipped up Evangelho's Sealock Monster on turn 5. Game two was a much longer affair, and led to this exchange between Rieztl and Turtenwald:
"Yeah... I beat Elspeth."
It was true. Rietzl's board was just a Wavecrash Triton with Observant Alseid and Nimbus Naiad. Evangelho had Cavalry Pegasus, Travelling Philosophers, Triton Fortune-Hunter with Aqueous Form, and Lagonna-Band Elder, then tapped six for the mighty planeswalker. He chose to destroy all creatures with power four or greater. Rietzl responded with Battlewise Valor on Evangelho's Fortune Hunter, then untapped and bestowed a second Nimbus Naiad on the Alseid so he could push past the one flying blocker and kill Elspeth. Evangelho didn't make it easy on Rietzl, drawing both Sealock Monster and Prognostic Sphinx, but by then it was too late.
Day 1 End Bosses 3 - Righteous Challengers 1