Five hundred and ninety-four gamers filed into the Valley Forge Scanticon for Grand Prix Philadelphia, but only one got to walk away with a shiny gold cup, six Pro Tour points, and $2,400. That man was Jeff Cunningham of Vancouver, BC, Canada.
Jeff, an 18-year-old that just had his breakout PT season, including a Top 8 in San Diego, came to this event with the hopes of earning enough points to qualify himself for the next Masters event. He did that and more, winning the whole thing. His black/green draft deck was nothing spectacular, but solid play allowed him to defeat Jacob Rabinowitz in the quarterfinals, Morgan Douglass in the semis, and Shaun Doran in the finals.
Cunningham was just one of the interesting stories here. Philadelphia had a great crowd that ran the entire gamut of the Magic community, from local favorites to European journeymen, from Internet writing personalities to Magic Online standouts. And the Pros turned out in droves as well.
The format for day one was Onslaught sealed deck. Although some pundits claim that the format is luck-based due to the number of insane rares in the set, the standings at the end of Round 8 showed that play skill is still king. Check out the Bob Maher/Andrew Cuneo match or the Brian Kibler/Justin Gary match for just some of the more intense and complicated moments of the day.
And just to reinforce exactly how much skill there is in the sealed format, we asked the Pros what they did wrong on day one, and some of their answers may surprise you.
The field was cut down to 64 players for day two's Rochester draft action, and for once the cutoff was not dictated by tie-breakers. Everyone that managed 19 points (a 6-1-1 record) on day one advanced, and everyone with 18 or fewer did not.
Pittsburgh's Nick Eisel was the first to sew up a Top 8 birth; after going 8-0 in sealed, he went 3-0 at the first draft table, and then needed just a draw in the last three rounds to get in. Canada's Gab Tsang and New Jersey's Craig Krempals were both in great position as well going into Draft 2.
Sadly, the wheels seemed to fall off for most of the big names in that second draft. Tsang managed only a 1-2 record. Bob Maher and William Jensen were both in the running, but after Maher lost to Danny Mandel in Round 12, he beat Jensen in Round 13, which kept them both out. Gary Wise made quite a run at the end, beating former teammate Mike Turian to keep hope alive before falling in an unsightly final-round match with Patrick Sullivan, a match both players would probably rather forget.
And so, aside from Cunningham, the Top 8 was populated with a bunch of unfamiliar names. Eisel is best know for his successes on Magic Online. Sullivan and Krempels had a bit of success in Boston on a team named TOGIT. But the other: Shaun Doran, Jacob Rabinowitz, Morgan Douglass, and Eli Aden, don't have large Magic resumes; perhaps this event will mark the breakthrough for a few of these gentlemen.
Of the eight, Aden was the only actual amateur, meaning the rest of them did have some experience at professional-level events. Amateurs fared quite well at this tournament, placing 20 in the top 64.
The Top 8 drafted, and even though Cunningham was sitting behind another green drafter, he managed to pick up the tools needed to win. Congratulations to Jeff.
With Cunningham being the only player in the Top 8 already qualified for PT Chicago, one invitation slot passed down. Bob Maher, in 9th, didn't need it, so it went to 10th-place Gab Tsang. Tsang qualified for PT Houston at GP Cleveland last month; it looks like he's figured out a system.
The final match of Magic played on the grounds was not part of the Grand Prix, but rather the finals of a rather large (180-person) PTQ. The winner of the ninth PT invitation given out on the weekend was none other than Jon Becker, writer of our "Local Talent" piece. Looks like Becker is a good judge of talent after all.
For those interested, here is how the subjects of out sealed deck and draft coverage fared:
- Ken managed a 6-2 record (including 3 byes), which was just short of what he needed to advance. He picked up his second loss in Round 6 to Pittsburgh's Carlos Chadha.
- Zvi had a rough go with his blue/red deck and ended up taking the 0-3, which knocked him out of the money. He did recover and go 3-0 (with a bye) in the second draft.
- Nick's brash drafting style paid off, and he ended up winning the table 3-0, and an eventual Top 8 berth.
Bob Maher and William Jensen
- Maher came into the draft two points up on Jensen, and ended up having to play him in Round 13 after losing to Danny Mandel. Maher gave Jensen his only loss of the draft; they both went 2-1, and neither made Top 8. Had Maher conceded to Jensen, Jensen probably would have made it, but Maher needs every PT point he can get in order to get back on the Masters. Maher almost made the Top 8 even with the loss; if Igor Frayman had beaten Jacob Rabinowitz in Round 14, Maher would have finished 8th.
Gary Wise and Mike Turian
- Again, one of them needed to go 3-0 to make the Top 8, and just like Maher/Jensen, neither did, and one of them eliminated the other. Both went 2-1, with Wise eliminating Turian in Round 13 before losing to Patrick Sullivan in a play-for-Top-8 match in Round 14.