gpvan14

Day 1 Coverage of Grand Prix Vancouver 2014

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The letter N!ine rounds have done their cruel work, and where once there were over a thousand, now only 128 remain. Standing tall over them are our three undefeated players, Matt Sperling, Travis Boese, and Ryan Bemrose. They'll have a leg up on the field, but they shouldn't expect an easy road. Eight of the Top 25 Ranked Players will be in the hunt as well. Further complicating things are the nineteen players with fewer than twenty-one points who have snuck in to Sunday. So few players had byes this weekend, that we only had 109 7-2's!

We are in the twilight of this Standard Constructed environment as we head towards the release of Born of the Gods, and common wisdom has it that the Three Big Decks are Mono-Black, Mono-Blue Devotion, and Sphinx's Revelation decks of various colors. They seemed to be the most numerous in Day 1. Still, there are a thousand flowers blooming out there. What decks can navigate this wide-open metagame? Will Canada keep the GP Trophy on home soil? Will the Top 25 grab the Top 8? Day 2 begins at 9am local time. Tune in for all the action!











 

  • Saturday, 11:30 a.m. – Grand Prix Vancouver Trial Winning Decklists

    by Josh Bennett

  • Shen Hamming
    GP Vancouver Trial Winning Decklists



    Kar Yung Tom
    GP Vancouver Trial Winning Decklists


    Michael Schwarz
    GP Vancouver Trial Winning Decklists


    Paul Dunn
    GP Vancouver Trial Winning Decklists

    Main Deck

    60 cards

    Mutavault
    20  Swamp

    24 lands

    Agent of the Fates
    Gray Merchant of Asphodel
    Nighthowler
    Pack Rat
    Tormented Hero

    20 creatures

    Gift of Orzhova
    Hero's Downfall
    Thoughtseize
    Underworld Connections
    Wring Flesh

    16 other spells

    Sideboard
    Dark Betrayal
    Doom Blade
    Duress
    Pharika's Cure

    15 sideboard cards



    Alastair Pickett
    GP Vancouver Trial Winning Decklists


    Jordie Jacura
    GP Vancouver Trial Winning Decklists


    Connor Hayward
    GP Vancouver Trial Winning Decklists


    Peter Sundholm
    GP Vancouver Trial Winning Decklists




    Ryan Perez
    GP Vancouver Trial Winning Decklists


    Bill Mercer
    GP Vancouver Trial Winning Decklists




     

  • Saturday, 11:35 a.m. – The Evolution of Theros Standard

    by Marc Calderaro

  • It seems like only yesterday Pro Tour Theros in Dublin, Ireland ushered in this vibrant Standard format. But oh how young we were back in October! There were only three Mono-Black Devotion decks at the entire tournament, and a total of two(!) Pack Rats among them. No. 5 Jeremy Dezani along with the formerly named Team Revolution (now The Madness Project) cleaned up the Top 8 with then brand-new Mono-Blue Devotion deck. Playing Master of Waves and Thassa, God of the Sea was a novel idea in those days.

    The other big Standard breakout of the Pro Tour was a little Legendary Land called Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. No. 14 Martin Juza and the rest of the ChannelFireball team were calling it the new Tolarian Academy, and the comparison didn't seem to far off. With enough devotion, often the right play was to tap your first Nykthos, then play a second to make more. Though you would have to bin the first one via the "Legends rule," it was more than worth it for the extra seven or eight mana. The deck that best showcasing the land was No. 13 Makihito Mihara's Colossal Gruul deck – powering out green fatties like Polukranos, World Eater and Garruk, Caller of Beasts.



    But those halcyon days are far behind us. Six Grand Prix later, the format has re-shaped and re-shaped again. Many of the Pros thought Mihara's deck was the one to beat coming out of the gates. But with the rise of Mono-Black Devotion (now sporting four copies of Pack Rat every time) and Mono-Blue Devotion, both of which were not positive matchups for the Colossal Gruul, the ramp deck all but fell of the radar. In fact, at Grand Prix Louisville, taken down by Brian Braun-Duin (and his four Pack Rats), the Colossal Gruul was replaced by No. 25 Jon Stern's Gruul Beats that featured a total of zero Nykthos, and zero Garruk. The deck also played two Mistcutter Hydras in the main to shore up the Mono-Blue Devotion matchup, which put three players in the Top 8.

    Also at Grand Prix Louisville were two Esper Control decks. Its pilots who had struggled to contain all the new questions from other decks had now figured out answers. William "Huey" Jensen and Alex Sittner used the two powerful planeswalkers Elspeth, Sun's Champion and Jace, Architect of Thought, along with the supremely powerful Ætherling, to make Esper the pillar control deck in the format – proving that Sphinx's Revelation was still really, really, good.



    With four Pack Rats now the gold standard in Mono-Black, and Mono-Blue Devotion the deck to beat, Grand Prix Santiago was a departure, setting some amazing alternative decks to play. The new toys to adjust to were Azorius Devotion, a control deck with Master of Waves, and two Red Aggro decks (one featuring Mogis' Marauders which won the day thanks to Chilean newcomer, Luis Navas).


    Luis Salvatto – Azorius Devotion
    Grand Prix Santiago - Top 8


    At Grand Prix Albuquerque, hailed as the "Return of Owen", Standard reached a scary nadir. It seemed that perhaps the two big dudes in the room, Mono-Blue and Mono-Black, had figured out how to stop the alternatives, putting seven decks in the Top 8. Dark Betrayal was the sideboard card of the weekend for the black mirror match, and a whopping 28 copies of Nightveil Specter were in the Top 8. There were many decks bubbling up in the Top 16, but the Top 8 looked grim. Todd Anderson and No. 6 Sam Black both put up their second Grand Prix Theros Standard Top 8s.


    Owen Turtenwald – Mono-Black Devotion
    Grand Prix Albuquerque - Winner


    And then in Vienna a little card appeared that turned the format on its axis. Last Breath, the number four card of the weekend, gave white decks (and any deck that could splash white) the ability to kill Pack Rat, Nightveil Specter, Frostburn Weird and Master of Waves for two mana at instant speed – all the while keeping Whip of Erebos from returning them. The four life was basically negligible for any deck slower than Mono-Blue or Mono-Black.

    Though only 13 copies ended up in the Top 16, Grand Prix Vienna marked the rise of white. A Mostly White Humans deck, an Esper and an Azorius Control deck and two Red decks splashing white all finished in the Top 8. The Aggro decks eschewed Last Breath for another one-mana answer, Chained to the Rocks. These white aggressive decks, though not taking down the tournament, served as an indicator of the aggressive turn of the format to come.


    Niklas Kaltenböck
    Grand Prix Vienna - Top 8


    These decks all provided answers to a necessary deckbuilding question in this Standard – Can you kill a turn-two Pack Rat? Chained to the Rocks, Last Breath, Orzhov Charm were all up to the task, and Detention Sphere provided a great answer after the second turn. All these cards could also conveniently kill the threats out of Mono-Blue. Perhaps it wasn't coincidence that not a single Mono-Black Devotion deck made the Top 8 in Vienna.

    This "Kill-The-Pack-Rat" trend continued into Grand Prix Dallas Fort Worth. Three Azorius Control, a Boros Aggro deck and two Orzhov variants showed up in the Top 8 – with only one Mono-Black Devotion breaking in (and only one more in the Top 16). This tournament was also notable because it was the first and only time Mono-Blue Devotion did not see the Top 8. Granted, there were three in the Top 16, but none under the lights.

    The Orzhov decks, sporting the versatile Orzhov Charm, infused some new ideas into the format. No. 1 Ben Stark's Mostly White Orzhov Aggro deck, with lots of human interaction, pinioned by Xathrid Necromancer, proved that an alternate aggressive deck could disrupt just enough to let little guys get through. Spear of Heliod (one of the top five cards of the weekend) was a big help, and started to show up more and more in the format.


    Ben Stark Mostly White Orzhov Aggro
    Top 8 - Standard – Grand Prix Dallas Fort Worth 2013


    In fact, the Orzhov deck was so influential it vaulted Ryo Nakada into the top spot at Grand Prix Shizuoka, the last Standard Grand Prix leading to this event. And Esper Control put three players into the Top 8 for the first time in the season (granted, one of those was No. 23 Shota Yasooka's off-the-wall Prognostic Sphinx/Master of Waves deck). Past that, and Esper Humans deck, piloted by Shota Takao, took the Orzhov model and ran with it. It kept the Daring Skyjek, Imposing Sovereign, Soldier of the Pantheon and etc., but added three Obzedat, Ghost Council, four Supreme Verdict, and four Detention Sphere. This allowed the deck to win either the short or the long game – whichever was preferable. Read Ben Schwartz's deck tech with Takao for more. In fact, Justin Tsang used it just last night to win a grinder here at Grand Prix Vancouver.

    The other card that Esper loves is Domestication. Almost unique in this format is the power of small creatures. Domestication takes them before they become a problem – stopping the growth of Pack Rats, killing Master of Waves elementals and creating card advantage – all while adding a chump blocker. Orzhov Humans' Cartel Aristocrat does a great job of halting such shenanigans.



    So here we are. At the final Grand Prix of the Theros Standard season. We've come so far. Pro Tour Theros showed us that devotion was indeed good, in fact quite better than good. This whole season can be seen as both aggressive and controlling decks trying to figure out how to beat Mono-Black and Mono-Blue Devotion. Esper and Azorius Control both provide great answers, as do the various Human decks. Will one of the more consistent decks reassert its dominance in Vancouver, saying that it in fact was the deck to remember from this season? Or will one of the less-proven decks show that the throne has been usurped, and that the community has solved the Devotion puzzle?

    And the bigger and even more exciting question: What tools will Born of the Gods provide to shake up everything we've been building towards? We'll find out as the weekend and the following weeks unfold. Welcome to Vancouver, everyone!




     

  • Saturday, 12:45 p.m. – View from the Sellers’ Tables

    by Marc Calderaro

  • Sometimes, the quickest way to get a look at what over 1,000 people are bringing to a tournament is to ask the dealers. People often come to events and make a last-minute swap in the deck list, or even come requiring a few final cards and the dealers are there to help them. It's a small coverage-team secret that before we pour over 1,000+ decklists, we take the dealers' temperatures. Though the readings might not be perfectly accurate, they're within an acceptable range – giving us a good start on what to expect at the tables.

    The dealers today were all saying the same thing: Black and Blue. I talked to Magic Stronghold, MTGDeals.com, GameKeeperOnline.com, ChannelFireball.com, CoolStuffInc.com, Face to Faces Games, and Fusion Gaming, and they all said the Mono-Blue and Mono-Black staples are hot commodities – Mutavault, Bident of Thassa and Desecration Demon galore! However, the real big sellers have been the sideboard cards for each deck. Dark Betrayal, Duress, Gainsay, and Rapid Hybridization have been going at a premium. Rich at Fusion Gaming and Tom at CoolStuffInc.com were unsurprised. Even though the decks haven't been putting up as consistent numbers as they were earlier in the season they are "still really strong decks" Rich said, and people are comfortable playing with them. With this as the last large event, why fix what ain't broke?


    Grand Prix Vancouver Dealers' Tables

    Face to Face Games added that Lifebane Zombies have been selling large, "along with Zendikar Swamps to go with them." In fact, Randy Buehler said the dealers told him, "if you want a fancy swamp, you can't get 'em. They're all gone." The zombie, whose true usefulness in the format is often debated, is incredible when cards like Polukranos, World Eater and Mistcutter Hydra show up, but lackluster other times. This buying trend shows that some players are on the right track, as ChannelFireball.com noted, they were selling more Mistcutter Hydras than they were expecting.

    Following closely behind the Mono-Blue and Mono-Black mainstays were cards like Sphinx's Revelation. As Esper Control maintains its pillar position as the go-to control deck in the format (along with Azorius Control), Sphinx's Revelation is a requirement, and pretty much the reason you play the deck. When the new hate bear from Born of the Gods, Spirit of the Labyrinth rears its ugly head, we'll see how much the big multicolored instant is affected, if at all. But until then Sphinx's Revelation is safe pick indeed.

    On slightly more unexpected grounds, David at MTGDeals noted that Boros Reckoner was selling like hot cakes (do hot cakes even sell anymore? Definitely at Tim Horton's, at least, the Canadian coffee shop dream factory). Boros Reckoner plays the dual role of being an amazingly aggressive creature while also adding three mana to either red or white devotion. It's like a Nightveil Specter in less-successful colors.


    Grand Prix Vancouver Dealers' Tables

    On the odd side, David also noted that tons of people have been asking for Voice of Resurgence tokens, but not the Voices themselves. And Tom at Cool Stuff said many people have asked about Foil Stirring Wildwood, but none of the non-foil. Sometimes the free market is weird.

    So this confirms at least to some degree what we already knew, or what most people were planning for. Mono-Blue and Mono-Black tuned for the mirror match are going to be here in fairly large numbers. If you've brought your own list that can take both of those down, you are a good percentage of the way there. And if you want Foil Stirring Wildwood or fancy Swamps you're out of luck.

    As Round 4 looms on the horizon, and all the Pros with three byes wait anxiously in the wings, we'll soon see what this weekend's format will really look like.




     

  • Round 4 Feature Match: Josh Utter-Leyton (2) vs. Brett Thompson

    by Josh Bennett

  • The Preamble

    As soon as he sat down at the Feature Match table, Brett Thompson had a question for his opponent: "So you're famous, right?"

    Josh Utter-Leyton laughed. "For some defintions of famous, yeah."

    "Are you in the Top 25 Rankings?"

    "Yeah, I'm number two."

    "Two.... wow."


    Brett Thompson

    Wow is right. Josh Utter-Leyton, reigning Player of the Year and backbone of Channel-Fireball's constructed playtesting, is a fearsome foe. He's come to Vancouver armed with a Blue-White-Red control deck that keys off powerful spells like Sphinx's Revelation and Jace, Architect of Thought.

    Brett Thompson will have his work cut out for him. An Alberta native, Thompson moved to Vancouver five years ago. HeHe's enjoying his first Grand Prix, having spent the past year honing his skills at West Coast Stamp and Coin in Nanaimo, and watching event coverage to learn from the masters. He earned his 3-0 without the luxury of byes, dispatching Mono-Black, Esper Midrane, and Mono-Red with his Mono-White Aggro deck.

    Welcome to the Big Leagues!



    The Match

    An inauspicious start for Thompson, who had to mulligan his first hand. It got worse as his first threats, Precinct Captain and Boros Reckoner, were matched by Last Breath and Detention Sphere from Utter-Leyton. Thompson had to pass his fourth turn with nothing more than a scry land, which gave Utter-Leyton an opportunity to play Jace, Architect of Thought and minus it for cards. Thompson split Supreme Verdict verus two lands. Utter-Leyton thought for a moment, then scooped the Wrath.


    (2) Josh Utter-Leyton

    Thompson's troubles continued as his next turn was just a Soldier of the Pantheon. Utter-Leyton used up the last of Jace's loyalty to get more cards, then replaced him immediately. He was in total control. Soon he was resolving Sphinx's Revelation for three while Thompson could only play out lands. Ætherling hit the table, and a turn later Jace Ultimated, allowing Utter-Leyton a look at Thompson's deck. He noted some surprises - Archangel of Thune and Heliod, God of the Sun, then took Elspeth, Sun's Champion for himself. Thompson, a true gentleman, even provided him soldier tokens with which to defeat him.

    Utter-Leyton 1 - Thompson 0



    Game two kicked off with another mulligan for Thompson, but at least his deck came off the blocks faster. He led with Dryad Millitant into Boros Elite into Boros Reckoner. Utter-Leyton took a moment on his third turn, before deciding on Detention Sphere for the Reckoner. Thompson hit for three more and played another Reckoner, mentally crossing his fingers.

    It wasn't a Supreme Verdict, but the Fiendslayer Paladin that Utter-Leyton put down was enough to convince Thompson to keep his troops home. Thompson played Heliod, God of the Sun, and passed. With a shrug, Utter-Leyton cleared the board with a Verdict. Thompson passed and empty turn, planning to rely on Heliod for troops. A Detention Sphere from Utter-Leyton meant he would only get one. Another Fiendslayer Paladin for Utter-Leyton was soon joined by Archangel of Thune, and the +1/+1 counters started to pile up. Thompson's draws provided no solution, and soon he was extending the hand in defeat.

    Josh Utter-Leyton defeats Brett Thompson 2-0



    The Postgame

    Brett Thompson was unfazed by his loss, and eager to move on to the next match. The players exchanged good luck wishes for the rest of the event.

    I asked Utter-Leyton about his deck choice this weekend. He was confident in its ability against the expected field. Assemble the Legion is backbreaking against Mono-Black Control. He said that you can't plan to just answer black's threats, because their Thoughtseizes and Duresses will make sure they can land a threat that you don't have an answer for. Instead, you play a threat that trumps their whole deck. I asked him about running Counterflux over Dissolve, and he said that the advantage Counterflux gives in Game Ones of blue-white matches is enormous. The opponent is simply unable to resolve their threats.




     

  • Saturday, 3:30 p.m. – Big-Name Metagame

    by Marc Calderaro

  • Ok, ok, so you know the basic shape of the Standard format. Your deck is prepared for everything. You've won a PTQ before, this stuff is easy, right? Not so fast, Kemosabe. When you go to a Grand Prix, you're not just going to run into Cheetos-munching local players; you've got to face the big names too. Nine of the Top 25 ranked players are in attendance, and many more who certainly could be or have been, in that Top 25. Just because you've got your local metagame figured out, doesn't mean you've figured out the big-name metagame. What about the people who know this format inside and out? What are they bringing? I walked around and watched cardboard be slung across the tables, taking a gander at what the faces of Magic were packing.

    Unsurprisingly, a majority of the big guns are packing Mono-Blue Devotion or Mono-Black devotion. Paul Rietzl summed it up well. He was testing some other interesting and powerful builds, but they weren't quite enough. "I didn't want to bring a deck and play B+ Magic all weekend." Rietzl continued that this format really rewards feeling comfortable with a deck. He said, "there isn't really a 'best deck'. Mono-Black is really good, but it's very beatable." Rietzl continued that overall, that's a good thing. When the format isn't "solvable" it allows you to play the deck you like the best, and importantly, the deck you know how to play the best.


    Paul Rietzl

    Rietzl clearly spoke for a fair amount of pro players like Eric Froehlich, Christian Calcano, Owen Turtenwald, Shahar Shenhar, and Matt Sperling who were all on the tried-and-true plan of either Mono-Blue Devotion or Mono-Black Devotion. Why mess with a great-tasting recipe? However, some other players were a mite more exotic. For example, though Brian Kibler eschewed the "true" part, though he went with the "tried" side. He's playing a tweaked version of his Black-Green Midrange deck he's been tinkering with during this format. He's knows the deck well and he knows it can succeed, and now he's looking to prove that before Born of the Gods shakes up the format.

    Even a little less predictable, though it's a stereotype that pros don't play aggro decks, Conley Woods, Pascal Maynard and two-time Grand Prix winner Ben Seck are slinging Mountains this weekend. Though they are playing those lands in completely different ways, they are all hoping to burn the crap out of their opponents before they knew what hit them. One of the above pros, I won't say who yet, has gone so far as to play Foundry Street Denizen and Seismic Stomp. Yes, that Seismic Stomp. As he told me, "when you're on a plan, you're on a plan." He was undefeated so far when I talked to him. Seems like a fine plan so far.

    William Jensen, who has two Top 8s to his name in the Standard format (of his 12 total), like Rietzl, is sticking to his guns as well. The Azorius Control deck that took him to the finals of Grand Prix Dallas Fort Worth is still a very solid deck. As he knows that puppy backwards and forwards, he's hoping it might vault him back into the Top 8 like it did less than two months ago. Alexander Hayne is playing a similarly situated control deck, but the Esper version, using the discard and removal suite black offers, albeit with a tad less mana consistency.


    Pascal Maynard

    And then there's David Ochoa and Josh Utter-Leyton. They are both playing a deck that Utter-Leyton built, and boy does it seem fun, and really dangerous. Utter-Leyton had a text feature match in the fourth round where he decimated his opponent with his Blue-White splash Red Control deck. The red is mostly there for Counterflux and Assemble the Legion, powerhouses in their proper matchups. Both Ochoa and Utter-Leyton have been successful with the deck thus far, so watch out for it the rest of this weekend. If it keeps performing the way it has been, it might see Sunday night play, even though there are only two pilots out of 1040 players (although the two pilots have 12 Grand Prix Top 8s between them).

    Although Rietzl's words are instructive and correct, they might not be all that helpful when trying to figure out what a given top player is doing. Since there are so many playable decks in the format, "tried-but-true" can mean five different things for five different pros. Jensen, Turtenwald, and Kibler are playing decks you could have guessed without knowing, but outside of them, there are at least eight viable builds among about 16 players. Even as this format edges closer to the Born of the Gods release, there is no "right deck;" the format has not been "figured out;" and there is still a bevy of viable decks. So even the pros who value consistency sometimes to a fault, concede that you should play what you want – as long as you can play it right. Good advice, but it's that second part where so much of us have the trouble.




     

  • Round 6 Feature Match: (4) Shahar Shenhar (Mono-Blue Devotion) vs. Josh Ravitz (Esper Control)

    by Marc Calderaro

  • When both No. 4 Shahar Shenhar and three-time Grand Prix Top 8 finisher Josh Ravitz sat down at the feature match table, they danced a fun little dance of "Do you remember what I'm playing?" The two playfully jockeyed about who was playing what, and when they each had revealed to the other what was being played.

    "You should know what I'm playing. And you could probably guess anyway," Shenhar said.

    New York native, Ravitz was coy in his response. He might not have remembered, or he just preferred that Shenhar didn't know that he remembered. It's tough to tell with Ravitz. His face is placid, and his beard and glasses aided in hiding his emotions.

    Game 1

    Shahar Shenhar started the game off with an Island and a Cloudfin Raptor.

    "So you're Blue-White Control?" Josh Ravitz quipped. However, maybe Shenhar was playing control because his next two turns involved playing a Mutavault and attacking with a 0/1 Raptor. Ravitz complimented Shenhar's style by attacking with an zero-powered dude. He did not smile alongside his joke.

    Ravitz's first play was a Supreme Verdict on turn four, wiping away a few turns of Shenhar's efforts. Ravitz was playing actual control, rather than "no-aggressive-play" control. The next few turns was a battle over Bident of Thassa. Shenhar snuck one into play when Ravitz was tapped out, and though Ravitz cleared it, Shenhar followed-up with a second. If the Legendary Enchantment Artifact was able to stay online, the steady flow of cards would allow Mono-Blue Devotion to out-gas the Esper Control deck. But Ravitz was able to remove the second with a second Detention Sphere. So although Shenhar had a couple creatures on the board, the constant card advantage engine was gone.


    Josh Ravitz

    Shenhar admits that the first game for Mono-Blue is horrible against Esper Control. Trying to attack that deck with slow beats was a losing proposition. However, Shenhar seemed to be doing well here. He had Judge's Familiar, Nightveil Specter and two Mutavault. The land had been hitting Ravitz basically every turn, knocking his total lower and lower.

    The big play came when Shenhar tried to cast a creature, leaving up Master of Waves mana. He was testing the water. If Ravitz countered the first creature, Shenhar would know there was no Supreme Verdict in his opponent's hand. The coast would be clear to tap out for the Master of Waves.

    Ravitz played a Dissolve. Shenhar confidently cast the Master of Waves and gained five elemental tokens. Even if Ravitz had a removal spell, because the score were 20-6 in Shenhar's favor, an attack next turn would still be fatal.

    Ravitz untapped and calmly laid another Supreme Verdict. He was able to Sphinx's Revelation to stay alive the next turn, then stabilize with an Elspeth, Sun's Champion. Had he played Shenhar with that Dissolve? Nope. Ravitz merely drew the mass removal spell off the top, much to the chagrin of Shenhar. Although his face never revealed that was the case.

    After the big stabilization, it was elementary. Though Ravitz was at 4, Shenhar knew there was nothing he could do. He was ready for the second game.

    Josh Ravitz 1 – 0 Shahar Shenhar



    Game 2

    Shenhar kept a hand with no immediate gas but with a Mutavault, Thassa, God of the Sea, Dispel, and a Bident of Thassa. These are good cards in the match-up, and so Shenhar promptly kept the hand, laying Thassa on turn three.

    Ravitz had Detention Sphere ready for the God. His stoic demeanor was hard to read. He was barely audible when he cast Pithing Needle, naming Mutavault, although he was likely cheering loudly on the inside. Stopping the land was a big part of eking out the advantage in the game.


    Shahar Shenhar

    However, he might have cast his Needle a turn early. Shenhar tapped out for Jace, Memory Adept, a much swingier bomb that was just as susceptible to the Pithing Needle. Yet Ravitz's face remained calm. It was likely because he had the Heroes Downfall in his hand. But a Dispel later from Shenhar, then a Gainsay to counter Ravitz's Nightveil Specter blocker, and Shenhar was in the driver's seat. He had a 1/2 Cloudfin Raptor, Nightveil Specter, Bident of Thassa and his Jace had seven counters on it – an ultimate amount of loyalty.

    Even though Ravitz swept the creatures off the board with a Supreme Verdict, Shenhar was still able to apply milling pressure. The Jace started taking ten cards from Ravitz's library and tossing them into the graveyard. Ravitz had 28 cards left in his library when he cast an Elspeth, Sun's Champion. This game was now a battle of the Planeswalkers.

    It would take three Jace activations to finish off Ravitz, but if Ravitz made three more tokens with Elspeth, he could kill the Jace before that happened. Shenhar sat for a while and sighed, staring at the sad-looking Gainsay in his hand. He was deciding if he should ultimate his Jace. If he removed seven counters and had both players draw twenty cards, he would have more than enough good cards, like Cyclonic Rift, to hold off Ravitz for the turns required to draw himself out of the game.

    But Shenhar feared giving Ravitz twenty good cards, especially Thoughtseize. So instead, he milled his opponent for ten more and went through the graveyard, picking out the Sphinx's Revelation and generally counting cards. He wasn't sure if it was the right play, but it was still a good one.

    "Surprise, surprise," Ravitz said as he added three more tokens to the field. Jace ticked down to four counters. Sensing Jace, Memory Adept's impending doom, Shenhar killed it himself by playing a Jace, Architect of Thought on his next turn and drew a couple cards. The score was 21-16. Although the 16 life probably didn't matter, it was more the nine cards Ravitz's library.

    After the Jace died, Shenhar drew more dead cards. And as the Elspeth army increased in numbers, Shenhar drew deader and deader, and then he died.

    Ravitz had won the match and advanced to 6-0, but you wouldn't have known it if you looked at his face.

    Josh Ravitz 2 – 0 Sharhar Shenhar




     

  • Quck Questions #1: What card are people playing in Standard that they shouldn't be?

    by Josh Bennett

  • Matt Sperling : Sphinx's Revelation. Because of the open metagame, there are so many angles of attack to be ready for. It's just too much to ask from a control deck to have the right answers.
    Paul Rietzl (16): Chandra, Pyromaster. Hero's Downfall and Mutavault are everywhere, and you almost never get value the turn you play it. You don't want to play cards that let your opponents decide if they want to deal with them.

    Owen Turtenwald (12): Brave the Elements. It's only good against fringe decks, and the White Weenie deck only wins when it has good starts. You can't play cards that are bad in your opening hand.
    Jon Stern (25) : Domri Rade. It's so bad because of Hero's Downfall. I wish I could play it this weekend. I'd much rather play a deck like that.

    Josh Utter-Leyton (2): Off-Color Scry Lands. One mana for Scry 1 just isn't and efficient trade. If you're a blue-white deck, play more Divinations.
    Christian Calcano: Forest. You can't play green. C'mon.



     

  • Quick Question #2: Which Pro is going to have a big year, and break into the Top 25 Rankings

    by Josh Bennett

  • David Ochoa (17): Matej "Big Z" Zatlkaj
    Paul Rietzl (16): Is Huey in the Top 25? ("He is not.") Well then Huey, obviously. That was easy.

    Owen Turtenwald (12): William "Huey" Jensen. But he'll have to wait six months for the points to balance out.
    Jon Stern (25) : Well the question SHOULD be "Who besides Huey..." so probably Sam Pardee.

    Josh Utter-Leyton (2): Kenji Tsumura
    Christian Calcano: Valentin Mackl. He's gas. He just Top 16's every tournament.



     

  • Round 8 Feature Match: Matt Heiszler (Green-White Aggro) vs. Christian Calcano (Mono-Blue Devotion)

    by Josh Bennett

  • The Players

    Road Warrior Christian Calcano has only just slipped out of the Top 25 Rankings and is looking to climb back in. His opponent this round is Matt Heiszler, an amateur playing in his first Grand Prix. He joined a contingent from his local store, Palouse Games in Pullman, Washington and the decision has worked out well so far. He and Calcano sit at 6-1, and are looking to mark two more wins before the end of day to set themselves up for a run at the Top 8.

    The Match

    Heiszler won the roll and quickly went down to six cards. Calcano was first on the board with Cloudfin Raptor, and answered a Voice of Resurgence with Tidebinder Mage. Heiszler added Fleecemane Lion to his squad, but was stalled on two lands. Calcano added Thassa, God of the Sea to his board. Still no third land for Heiszler. He hit for three and passed.

    Calcano untapped and dropped Bident of Thassa into play, manifesting his God. He started to attack with just Thassa and the Raptor, but decided to add Tidebinder Mage. Heiszler ambushed it with a token from Selesnya Charm, but still took a pile of damage in the process. Calcano drew his cards from Bident and passed.


    Christian Calcano

    Finally, Heiszler found a third land, but it was far too late. Imposing Sovereign wasn't the help he needed. Nightveil Specter turned Thassa back on, and two mana made her unblockable. Heiszler was down to just five life, and after drawing, scooped up his cards.

    Calcano 1 - Heiszler 0


    It was a very different game the second time around. Heiszler missed his one-drop, but Imposing Sovereign meant Calcano would be on the back foot all match. Worse for Calcano, he had no play on island and Mutavault on his second turn. Heiszler attacked and added Experiment One and Soldier of the Pantheon to his side of the board.

    Calcano played a second island and summoned Tidebinder Mage to freeze the Experiment One, but Heiszler replaced it with a 3/3 Miscutter Hydra, smashing him down to eleven. Master of Waves made three tokens, but they were all tapped from the Imposign Sovereign. Banisher Priest took care of it and the monsters crashed in a gain. Calcano decided it was time to move to game three.

    Calcano 1 - Heiszler 1



    Again Heiszler was forced to go to six cards. Calcano was on the play, but his opening was slow: Cloudfin Raptor on turn two, Thassa on turn three. Heiszler had the mighty Imposing Sovereign and followed up with Voice of Resurgence, but he was missing the crucial third land.


    Matt Heiszler

    Calcano summoned the Master of Waves for three tokens, evolving his Cloudfin Raptor twice, and hit for two in the air. Heiszler drew, and it was a land! Unfortunately, it was Selesnya Guildgate, and came into play tapped. He hit for four and added a second Voice to his board, but now he was quite far behind. Tidebinder Mage from Calcano locked down the untapped voice and let him hit for a whopping fifteen damage. Heiszler could only shake his head and extend the hand.

    Christian Calcano defeats Matt Heiszler 2-1



    The Postgame

    Heiszler was understandably disappointed with his loss, particularly because he believes that Mono-Blue is his best matchup. Between maindeck Banisher Priests and Mistcutter Hydras, and Skylashers in the sideboard he's pretty well set. Given that he'd mulliganed so much, I asked him if that was typical, and how the deck mulligans in general. He said that it's not nearly as bad as it looked in that match, and that the deck's six card hands can win games.

    Meanwhile, Calcano was already looking ahead to his next match. For him, the goal isn't Day 2, but Top 8. He thought the matchup in general isn't quite as bad as Heiszler made out, but that enough hate can make it very difficult. I asked him if the field this weekend matched his expectations. He shrugged his shoulders, saying that it looked like there were a lot of Mono-Blue, Mono-Black, and Blue-White Control as he had expected, but he hadn't played any of them.




     

  • Round 9 Round-Up

    by Marc Calderaro

  • The last round of the day is always the heart-breaker. 7-2 will get you in, 6-3 usually will not. So everyone who's sitting on the bubble has a pounding in their chest. Going into Round there were tons of notable names at 6-2, on the cusp of coming back tomorrow morning. It would take some odd standings to allow many, if any 6-3s into the second day. William Jensen and Eric Hardman were battling, each at 19 points. At 18 were names like No. 2 Josh Utter-Leyton, No. 15 Eric Froehlich, Sam Pardee, Pascal Maynard, Jeff Cunningham and Thea Steele. While Ben Rasmussen and No. 17 David Ochoa were duking it out for the final three points. I jumped back and forth between all the matches to see how it would all shake out.

    Josh Utter-Leyton was out in two short games (short considering he's playing a big, tricolor control deck). When I talked to him after the match, he said his opponent, Aaron Maclean, "savagely outplayed" him. It was quite the stellar play. Utter-Leyton played a turn-five Archangel of Thune going up against a Mistcutter Hydra. Maclean used the bloodrush of two Ghor-Clan Rampagers, which gave Utter-Leyton pause. He thought that Maclean must have another Ghor-Clan Rampager in his hand, or else he won't be able to attack into the Archangel again; also, he didn't play a Stormbreath Dragon on his turn five. That's usually a tell that they don't in fact have one, especially when the control player is tapped out.


    Eric Froehlich and Josh Utter-Leyton

    So on his next turn, Utter-Leyton attacked and left his Mutavault back to trade. He was playing around his opponent having two more Rampagers. If Utter-Leyton blocked with the Mutavault, a double Rampager would bring him to one life. Perfect. Utter-Leyton passed back the turn with two Islands, a red-white land and the Mutavault untapped; with a Counterflux, Negate and Supreme Verdict in his grip. If Maclean played a Stormbreath Dragon, Utter-Leyton was ready with the Counterflux and would mostly likely win after that. If he didn't play the creature pre-combat, trading the Mutavault away still leaves up Negate to counter anything relevant. Perhaps you see what's coming here.

    Maclean cast nothing pre-combat and attacked with the Mistcutter Hydra. The Mutavault trade happened, as planned. Then post-combat, with the Negate ready for the counter, Maclean cast Stormbreath Dragon – the only relevant card Negate couldn't counter. "If he had played it pre-combat, I would have won that game." It was true; Utter-Leyton got outplayed. Ironically enough, though we thought he was on the bubble, some 6-3s were able to make it and both Utter-Leyton and Maclean will be back here tomorrow.


    Ben Rasmussen vs. David Ochoa

    David Ochoa was the second out. Ben Rasmussen beat him in two quick games. Rasmussen cast Xenagos, the Reveler turn three twice in a row. The planeswalker can give Ochoa's control deck fits. And in the second game, Ochoa cycled an Azorius Charm and cast a turn-three Divination and still could not find his fourth land. It was sad. Rasmussen took the second game handily. After the match Rasmussen shrugged. He said, "It feels better when you earn it," referring to the lack of land out of Ochoa. But again, like Utter-Leyton, Ochoa still made it in on 6-3. So it is hoped Rasmussen feels a little less guilty now.


    Pascal Maynard

    Next up was Pascal Maynard's extremely aggressive red deck. I knew things were bad for Maynard when I visited the table six different times and he was still on the first game. That should not happen with his deck. His opponent, Blake Knezevich's deck powered out Blood Baron of Vizkopa, and Advent of the Wurm token and a Voice of Resurgence while Maynard had three Rakdos Cackler that couldn't even block. It was a sad scene. The second game went similarly and Pascal Maynard went down to 6-3. Unlike the other two, he did not make the Day 2 cut. "He only had one Unflinching Courage; and he drew it!" Maynard lamented after the game.


    Thea Steel

    Thea Steel won her match-up in three games against Patrick Kimball's Esper Control deck. Her Big Boros deck used Hammer of Purphoros, Assemble the Legion and Chandra, Pyromaster to take down the first game. In the second game, she packed it in with the third Sphinx's Revelation on the stack. She said of the big instant, "You can beat two of 'em; you can't beat three." And in the third game, Kimball was stuck on three lands; his Blind Obedience was not enough to stop Stormbreath Dragon and Chandra. Steele moved to 7-2 and made the second day.


    Huey Jensen

    Huey Jensen pulled it out at the wire. His Azorius Control has a tough match-up against Eric Hardman's Gruul Monsters. He lost the first game to a Domri Rade ultimate ability. But with help from Archangel of Thune he battled with his back against the wall and took the next two games to go to 22 points – ending in a slightly better position than his other win-and-in cohorts.

    Rounding out the rest of the matches, Jeff "ffej" Cunningham won 2-0 against Ryan Wilson – his Pack Rat tokens plowed through the Red Devotion deck on the other side. Sam Pardee won his match against Micheal Schwarz. And Eric Froehlich won his match in three games. Notably, EFro cast a Domestication on one Desecration Demon then sacrificed it to a second. Although he didn't win that game, it was a pretty awesome play none the less.


    Eric Froehlich and compnay

    So in totum, Jensen (7-1-1), Steele (7-2), Froehlich (7-2), Cunningham (7-2), Rasmussen (7-2), Pardee (7-2), Ochoa (6-3), and Utter-Leyton (6-3) all advanced. Pascal Maynard (6-3) did not advance as his breakers were too low.

    It was an awesome, crazy round. And because there were so many 6-3s, many people were able to advance despite losing the bubble match-up. It's a Vancouver miracle, I tell you!




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