There are two compelling stories that emerge each year during the Grinder portion of US Nationals. The first is always about who is playing in the Grinders. The stories can be about the Pro Tour mainstays who find themselves a few points short of qualifying. The single elim Grinders are a cruel mistress though and the closest many popular Fantasy Pro Tour picks will get to Nationals is watching from the rail of the feature match area. Eric Froelich, Brett Shears, Ed Fear, Dave Williams, and Pat Sullivan were all unsuccessful in their efforts yesterday.
The flip side of that story is, of course, those players who will be playing today. Brock Parker was the only member of the Fantasy Pro Tour crowd to grind his way in. One of the great tales is of YMG's Paul Reitzl. After losing to Mark Zadjner in the final round of the Chicago Last Chance Qualifier, Paul once again found himself in a make or break match. His deck was a bomb-tacular black-white sealed deck with Exalted Angel and Soul Collector. He lost in heart-breaking fashion to Dave Chung's three color special and had to scramble to make the final constructed grinder. Despite steep odds and looming sense of doom, Paul played a U/G Madness deck and piloted it to the 6-0 record that had eluded him earlier in the evening.
When players stumbled in this morning and looked over the pairings there were more than a few raised eyebrows when they saw the name Frank Gilson. One of the original Pacific Coast Legends, Frank had drifted away from the game like most of his other teammates. Recently, he began to write about the game and showed a renewed interest in tournament play. He ground into this year's tournament with a Sealed Deck that sported Silvos and a Canopy Crawler backed up by a fair number of beasts.
The most compelling story from the Grinders each year is, of course, the decks themselves. With most of the competitors still looking for a deck up until the very last minute, the Grinders have become an annual source of inspiration. Several years ago Spike Weaver made his tournament debut in the Grinders in the Stupid Green Deck. The Limited grinders have even shaped the Nationals metagame. During a limited grinder, Mike Flores used the 'at end of turn' Waylay trick that he and his Cabal Rogue teammates had discovered. Word spread quickly of the trick and a couple of days later Kyle Rose was the National Champion with a White Weenie deck sporting four Waylays.
The first Grinder extruded two decks that caught people's eyes. First, Bryn Kenney won with a Blue-Black Zombie deck that he devised in his room the night before the tournament. Many players were copying down his list and asking for advice on how to play it. As the day wore on it seemed to lose its appeal for most of those players after some testing revealed a poor match-up against Red-Green Beats.
A deck with a good match-up against Red-Green Beats was Brad Rowell's Blue-White Punisher deck. Not seen since the last Odyssey block constructed season the deck caught everyone by surprise. While many players dismissed Brad's victory as a match-ups fluke the deck qualified Michael Locarnini in the wee hours of the morning during the final Grinder as well.
The most successful deck was Red-Green Beats, which qualified three of the twelve constructed players. Next up were Wake and Punisher with two slots apiece. In the singleton category were Tog, Blue-Black Zombies, Black-Green Cemetery, Blue-Green Madness, and Slide.
Grinder 1 Constructed Winners
Justin Bonomo – Tog
Bryn Kenney – Blue-Black Zombies
Jeff Hans – Wake
Brad Rowell – Punisher
Grinder 2 Limited Winners
Grinder 3 Constructed Winners
Ross Freeman – Red-Green Beats
Mike McKenna – Wake
Chris DeMaci – Black-Green Cemetery
Terry Welty – Red-Green Beats
Grinder 4 Limited Winners
Grinder 5 Constructed Winners
Paul Reitzl – Blue-Green Madness
Michael Locarnini – Punisher
Spencer Padway – Slide
Cyrus Rastchian – Red-Green Beats