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Grand Prix Nashville
Day 1 Coverage

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  • Saturday, 11:41 a.m. - Sealed Deck Building Exercise #1
    by Steve Sadin

  • So you couldn’t make it to Grand Prix Nashville this weekend, but you’re still eager to see how your Sealed Deck skills stack up against some of the game’s best?

    Well, you’re in luck, because the Coverage Team just opened up a Sealed Deck for you to build.

    Throughout the day, we’re going to have some of Magic’s top pros show us how they would build the deck –so be sure to head on over to the Sealed Deck Builder, and see what you would do with this pool!

    Build your deck and share it on the forums to compare your deck with what others have created!





     

  • Saturday, 11:48 a.m. - Power AND Synergy
    by Blake Rasmussen

  • While the first round of a limited Grand Prix may not have much star power, it maintains a sort of egalitarian feel to it because, pro or Joe, Timmy or Spike, everyone gets a random assortment of 84 cards that may or may not lead them to Day 1 glory.

    The best part of my day, in fact, is listening to the judge announce deck swap followed by "these are the cards you will play." The resulting reaction is a combination of despondent groans and excited cries as players realize exactly what they'll be battling with today. Many a player shrieked over a Bloodline Keeper of Olivia Voldaren staring back at them from atop their passed pile.

    So while it might be premature to start picking favorites to emerge from the sealed portion of this weekend, it's never too early to start picking powerful pools. The best decks appeared to be tribal based – I saw more than one Angel of Flight Alabaster returning a Drogskol Captain, often playing right next to Diregraf Captain buttressing Geralf's Messenger – but one deck stood out for its power, synergy, and the fact that he was absolutely destroying his poor opponent.

    The player riding this sweet deck will remain nameless this early in the tournament in case he makes a run, but this photo pretty much says it all for the power of his deck:

    The powerful deck of our mystery player

    If it's not quite clear, yes, that is a Moorland Haunt in the bottom right hand corner of that photo. Predictably, his hand was stocked thanks to Mentor of the Meek and a bevy of tokens that trigger the Innistrad rare. So stocked, in fact, that two turns after this picture was taken he was forced to discard after flashing back Lingering Souls and using it as Divination.

    His hand even had token makers like Gather the Townsfolk and small creatures such as Vampire Interlopers to keep the gas flowing. Suffice to say, his green-blue opponent was struggling to keep pace.

    And even though the Bloodline Keeper wasn't on the field, its very presence – plus the insane combo with Mentor of the Meek – means this particular pool isn't lacking for power.



     

  • Saturday, 1:33 p.m. - Sealed Building with Shuuhei
    by Steve Sadin

  • Last night, Pro Tour Hall of Famer, and international jetsetter Shuuhei Nakamura went to dinner with a group of American players, and recalled the last time he played at a Grand Prix in Nashville two years ago. "Last time I played here, I came with three other Japanese players. This time, I'm the only one."

    Hall of Famer Shuuhei Nakamura

    And Shuuhei doesn't plan to stop travelling any time soon, as demonstrated by the fact that he already has his tickets booked for Grand Prix Mexico City next weekend, and Grand Prix Salt Lake City the weekend after that.

    Even with his busy travel schedule, Shuuhei was able to muster up the energy to show us how he would build the Sample Sealed Deck that coverage opened this morning.

    The first thing that Shuuhei did after sorting out his unplayable cards, was look at a White-Blue deck splashing a bit of black for Tragic Slip, Skirsdag Flayer, the flashback on Lingering Souls, and Forbidden Alchemy.

    Shuuhei was happy with the core of the deck that was in front of him, but he wasn't sure how much he could to stretch his mana.

    "I'm definitely playing Blue-White, I'm just not sure if I should splash black or not."

    Even with the aid of an Evolving Wilds, and a Traveler's Amulet, Shuuhei knew that he didn't want to play a deck with a bunch of double white spells (Chapel Geist, Fiend Hunter, Silverclaw Griffin), double blue spells (Bone to Ash, Stormbound Geist), and a black splash.

    Nakamura's building exercise deck

    "If I play the Stormbound Geist, and the Bone to Ash – I would have to cut the Skirsdag Flayer, and the Tragic Slip, because I don't want to play a deck that needs two Plains, two Islands, and a Swamp. I would still play one Swamp though so I can flashback my Lingering Souls, and my Forbidden Alchemy."

    After comparing the version of the deck that needed two Plains, and two Islands in play to cast all of its spells – and the version with the heavier black splash, Shuuhei ultimately decided to go with the black since it didn't hurt his mana much, and it made the deck noticeably more powerful.

    After deciding on the spells he wanted, Shuuhei still needed to figure out how many lands he was going to play. Shuuhei pointed to his Deranged Assistant, his Traveler's Amulet, and his Forbidden Alchemy and explained that he could probably get away with sixteen lands, since he would be drawing first with the deck – but Shuuhei determined that this was a bit too risky, and cut his Silverclaw Griffin for a seventeenth land.

    Shuuhei explained that he thought the deck was good, but he would be worried about really fast decks, and mana issues.

    "This deck can get beaten early, and it can have some mana problems. 8 Plains should be enough to cast an Evolving Wilds, and a Traveler's Amulet should be enough to cast my double white spells– but sometimes this deck will need an Island, a Swamp, and 2 Plains, and then it might get into trouble."

    Shuuhei was not, however, concerned about this deck's ability to win against slower decks.

    "I already have Helvault to win long games, so even though Back from the Brink is a really nice card, I don't want to play two really slow cards in this deck. I would sideboard Back from the Brink in if my opponent was slow, but I should be good against those decks anyway."

    Do you agree with the way that Shuuhei built the deck, or did you go with a different build?

    Head on over to the forums to share your thoughts!



     

  • Saturday, 2:27 p.m. - Round 3 Wrap-up
    by Blake Rasmussen

  • As Round 3 rises at Grand Prix Nashville, so are a number of well-known players who didn't quite squeak out that third bye. Just imagine making it through the first two rounds of a Grand Prix thinking you have another round till the pros wade in, only to see a U.S. National Team member or Pro Tour Top 8 competitor sitting across from you. A number of players had that sinking feeling this round, and most didn't fare so well against their experienced opponents.

    Haibing Hu, former U.S. National Team member, easily dispatched his opponent 2-0.

    Ben Zoz faced down an impressive ground army, but thanks to some timely tricks was able to out-tap, out-race and fly over his opponent's creatures on his way to a 2-0 win.

    Fresh off a Top 8 in Legacy at Grand Prix Indianapolis, Caleb Durward found himself battling in Round 3 today. Still, no byes, no problem as Durward cruised to a 2-0 victory and 3-0 record.

    Adam Prosak stumbled early in round three, dropping a close match one game to two to fall to 2-1 overall.

    Andrew Cuneo, most recently seen finishing second at Grand Prix Lincoln, could be seen searching for that second and third bye at grinders last night to no avail. He then stumbled in round two, but managed to fight back in the third round to improve his record to 2-1 on the day so far.


     

  • Saturday, 3:22 p.m. - Block Battles
    by Blake Rasmussen

  • Commander, team drafts, and Cube all battle at every Grand Prix for being the favorite casual format for spell slingers on the side. Team drafts are easy enough to assemble, and it seems as if everyone has a Commander deck (or, in my case, seven) put together, but Cube is often more difficult since someone has to take the time to meticulously design, balance and actually put together all of the cards in the Cube.

    Ethan Heilicher, though, has taken casual constructed formats to a whole new level with one of the most entertaining formats this coverage reporter has ever played: Block Battles.

    Block Battles is a format that would appeal to the long-time nostalgic player who loved Time Spiral's timeshifted cards (like yours truly) just as much as it would to newer players looking to discover ways to play the game they never dreamed of. In it, players pit block constructed decks from every block from Mirage forward. Every. Single. Block.

    There's ProsBloom, there's Bargain and Rising Waters, Jund and Affinity, Counterburn and Tempered Steel. Like I said, every single block is represented.

    The way it works is this. You roll two dice, a four-sided and a 10-sided. The four sided die tells you what box you open, and the 10-sided tells you which deck to choose. That's 40 decks or 2,400 cards for those of you who aren't strong at math (which, admittedly, is not our target demographic).

    Block Battle Boxes

    Heilicher has been lugging his set of Block Battles boxes around for about a year now after working on it for almost a year and a half. He credits the format to a player named Andy Martin from Minnesota and says he believes he's the third person to put the time and effort into collecting, sleeving and sorting the 2,400 cards necessary for Block Battles.

    Rules are that there is one free mulligan – it is a casual format, after all – and the winner stays, just like playground rules. The winner can keep their deck if they so choose, unless they have one of the combo decks, which Heilicher says can be oppressive. In addition to Bargain and ProsBloom, Heilicher throws Affinity in as one of the degenerate combo decks.

    ProsBloom or "Prosperous Bloom" combined tons of ways to make mana and Prosperity to draw cards, creating one of the first truly degenerate combo decks. Now, it's Box 1, Deck 2 in Ethan Heilicher's Block Battles.

    There is some variation in the choice of decks. Heilicher said he scoured old tournament coverage and tournament winning decks and included most anything that won or did very well at events or was otherwise iconic in some way, but that he also made some choices like eliminating Mono Black Infect as a choice because he found it uninteresting.

    Heilicher was nice enough to battle me between rounds to give me a taste of what the format is all about. I rolled and received a blue-red-white CounterBurn deck from Invasion Block, complete with Fact or Fiction, Meddling Mage, Absorb, Urza's Rage and more. He rolled and received Time Spiral block darling Pickles, full of counters, Mystical Teachings, Teferi and the Brine Elemental/Vesuvan Shapeshifter lock.

    I looked like I was in good shape early on when my Meddling Mage threatened to permanently suspend two Ancestral Visions. Unfortunately, a timely Venser, Shaper Savant freed one of them, but I was still able to strand the other.

    And even though I did resolve Fact or Fiction – back then known to many as "End of Turn, Fact or Fiction, you lose" – I found myself behind as I stared helplessly at my heavily metagamed, for that time, Galina's Knights and grip of instants that looked downright mediocre in the face of Teferi and Willbender. Eventually I succumbed to massive card advantage from Fathom Seer and Vesuvan Shapeshifter.

    Still, the experience was quite the trip through time and incredibly enjoyable.

    Four Yawgmoth's Bargain and four Yawgmoth's Will in the same deck? I'm sure that was totally fair.

    For those who want to put together their own set of Block Battles, first of all, good luck. Second, Heilicher had some advice for which cards were hardest to find. Undiscovered Paradise was vexing, for one, because the card is rarely thought of today but was the defacto multi-color land of Mirage Block. And while Heilicher had some access to cards because he has friends who own stores, he still said he had a tough time finding cards like Kodama's Reach, Sensei's Divining Top, Arcbound Ravagers and Vampiric Tutors.

    But if cards selection isn't an issue. If you find yourself hungry for a new format and with the cards to spare, Block Battles is a pretty sweet trip to take through time.



     

  • Saturday, 4:02 p.m. - Round 4 Wrap-up
    by Steve Sadin

  • Ben Friedman vs. Charles Gabbert

    Ben Friedman, Matt Costa's primary playtest partner, came into this event with 22 Pro Points for the 2011-2012 season. With the three points that are guaranteed just for showing up at Pro Tour Avacyn Restored, he should have Gold level in the Pro Player's Club locked up, right?


    Charles Gabbert (right) takes drop Ben Friedman (left) to 3-1 in Round 4.

    Only one problem. Ben he doesn't have an invitation to PT Avacyn Restored in Barcelona yet. He needs to pick up three Pro Points between this weekend, Grand Prix Salt Lake City (and maybe Grand Prix Manchester), or win a Pro Tour Qualifier for Pro Tour Avacyn Restored in order to reach Gold, and guarantee himself invitations to ever Pro Tour for the next season.

    Unfortunately for Ben, he's going to have somewhat of an uphill climb this weekend as he's just fallen to 3-1 after taking a tough loss at the hands of Charles Gabbert.

    Ben Stark vs. Tillman Bragg

    Pro Tour Paris champion Ben Stark is one of the most highly regarded limited players on the planet. And with good reason.

    The Florida based ChannelFireball member has been dominating limited events for the better part of the last decade and he has no plans to stop anytime soon.

    However, Tillman Bragg, a former Indiana resident who has been sharpening his skills by practicing with Hall of Famer (and Pro Tour Dark Ascension Top 8 competitor) Jelger Wiegersma, Rich Hoaen, and a host of other old school pros, is used to playing against top-level opponents.


    Tillman Bragg (left) has a lot to "bragg" about after defeating Ben Stark (right) in Round 4.

    Tillman's experience playing against the game's best certainly came in handy this round as he was able to defeat Ben Stark in three games.

    Shaheen Soorani vs. Alex West

    In the first game, two time Grand Prix Top 8 competitor Alex West played a turn two Skirsdag High Priest which Shaheen Soorani had no answer for. Without a way to deal with the Skirsdag High Priest, Shaheen knew that any attack he made would allow Alex to make a demon, so he had no choice but to sit back and watch as Alex took over the game with a Gavony Township.

    Alex West's took a fairly easy Round 4 win.

    Shaheen mulliganed down to five in the second game, and stalled out on lands long enough for Alex West to take the match.

    Jon Finkel vs. Chris Bingham

    After Jon Finkel's Top 4 finish at Pro Tour Dark Ascension, the Hall of Famer found himself with a lot of Pro Points for the season, and a overwhelming desire to play in more tournaments.


    Jon Finkel win's to become 4-0 in the standings.

    A Top 32 finish at Grand Prix Seattle put Jon up to 36 Pro Points, and with the three Points that are guaranteed to him just for showing up at Pro Tour Avacyn Restored in Barcelona, Jon only needs a single additional Pro Point to reach Platinum in the Pro Player's Club for the 2012-2013 season.

    Jon's opponent for this round, Chris Bingham, unfortunately received a game loss – putting Jon off to a quick 4-0 start.

    Luis Scott-Vargas vs. Scott Tompkins

    After he finished registering his deck, Pro Tour Berlin champion Luis Scott-Vargas made it clear that he was not happy with his Sealed Deck.

    But even though he had a weak deck, I still wanted to keep an eye on his match. I figured if anyone is likely to squeak out wins with a weak deck, it's LSV.


    Scott Tompkin's takes a win over LSV.

    A few minutes after Round Four began, I walked over to the table where his match was, and I couldn't find him. When I got back to the coverage booth, I hopped onto Twitter and I saw the following tweet from @LSV "3-1, feels like it's gonna be a real short day #GPNash"



     

  • Saturday, 4:47 p.m. - Round 5 Wrap-up
    by Blake Rasmussen

  • Round 5 was not kind to a number of pros who ran into decks and opponents who were able to outmaneuver even the best of the best.

    Speaking of...

    Even Jon Finkel couldn't find the answer in Round 5.

    Hall of Famer Jon Finkel lost a nailbiter to Anthony Morris 2-1 after Morris was able to maneuver some very large green creatures through Finkels smaller air force in game three. It all came down a turn where Kessig Wolf Run gave a Lumberknot trample, and enough power, to force through the last damage just one turn before Morris would have been dead.

    Raphael Levy could have used a little bit of luck facing down a second turn Mayor of Avabruck.

    Speaking of green monsters, the luck of the Irish seems to be with Charles Gabbert as his own green werewolves took down lifetime pro points leader Raphael Levy. Levy took the first game, but a turn two Mayor of Avabruck and Levy's mana screw sent the match to a third and final game where Levy again stalled on lands and fell behind Gabbert's horde.

    Evil Twin killing Geist of Saint Traft was about the last good thing to happen to David Ochoa in his match against Lissa Jensen.

    Meanwhile, continuing the Round 5 curse for the pros, David Ochoa was positively overrun by Lissa Jensen 2-0. He managed to stave off Jensen's Geist of Saint Traft in the first game with an Evil Twin doing its best impression of the Standard interaction between the legend and Phantom Image, but Jensen's follow-up Increasing Devotion let her devote more time to Ochoa's life total.

    The second game was even faster for Jensen. Her turn three Geist of Saint Traft picked up a turn four Spectral Flight. When Ochoa couldn't find an answer, he fell to 4-1 on the day.

    The one, the only, Gerard Fabiano.

    Someone, however, had to break the curse this round, and that man was the one, the only, Gerard Fabiano. In a matchup of black-red decks with yards of removal, Fabiano actually had time to flash back Increasing Ambition in game two. And that was the game he lost!

    Fabiano and Jason Schousboe traded removal spell after removal spell in game two, and both players were dangerously close to decking before a glut of lands doomed Fabiano.

    However, he came roaring back in the third game where he systematically dismantled a stalled board by using Traitorous Blood to not only steal a creature, but to bait removal before sacrificing the stolen creature to Altar's Reap. From there, mopping up was simple.

    On any other day, Reid Duke and Christin Calcano's epic match would be taking place in the feature match area.

    The match between Magic Online Champion Reid Duke and Hawaii Top 32 finisher Christian Calcano, on the other hand, was anything but simple. Duke had what some are describing as the best deck in the room, a black white concoction that could pass for a standard deck with some hands.

    Calcano, meanwhile, had an aggressive Green White deck with plenty of ways to make even the smallest utility creature a giant threat. The first two games were such back and forth affairs that game two came down to a flashed in Hollowhenge Spirit removing just the right creature from combat in time to keep Duke's Vault of the Archangel from putting his life total out of range.

    If game two was a mess of math and monstrosities mashing life totals, game three was a bloodbath. At one point Calcano attacked for a whopping 14 damage thanks to Elder of Laurels, but that merely dropped Duke to the high teens. His Vault of the Archangel had teamed up with Sorin, Lord of Innistrad and a multitude of tokens to put his life total sky high. Still, Calcano eventually dealt with the planeswalker and somehow threatened enough damage to break through...until Duke's Break of Day gave him enough to deal the final blow and move on to 5-0.



     

  • Saturday, 6:19 p.m. - Round 6 Wrap-up
    by Steve Sadin

  • Reid Duke 5-0 vs. Jesse Westphal 5-0

    Before their match in Round 5, Christian Calcano bemoaned the fact that he had to play against Reid Duke because he has, what Calcano described as, "the best deck in the room."

    Even a mulligan to four wasn't enough to prevent Reid from beating Chris, and advancing to a 5-0 record.

    This round, it was Jesse Westphal who was hoping to stop Reid's powerful Black-White deck. And while Jesse got off to a great start in game one with a Bloodline Keeper, and a Heretic's Punishment – Reid was able to outrace him by sacrificing an Elder Cathar to pump his Elite Inquisitor.

    Reid Duke's powerful deck lifts him to another win.

    Jesse was again able to resolve Bloodline Keeper, and Heretic's Punishment in game two – but by the time he had cast them, he was already too far behind, allowing Reid to swarm his way to a 6-0 record.

    David Sharfman 5-0 vs. David Thomas 5-0

    Pro Tour Nagoya Champion David Sharfman was a turn away from losing his match against David Thomas when he pulled off exactly the sequence of plays that he needed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.


    Both David's played a great game, Sharfman (left) beating out Thomas (right).

    Sharfman used a Blazing Torch to take out Thomas's only non-white creature, untapping his own Galvanic Juggernaut and setting the stage for a lethal (Fateful Hour enhanced) Faith's Shield.

    Logan Mize 4-0-1 vs. Josh Utter-Leyton 4-0-1

    After losing game one, three-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Josh "Wrapter" Utter-Leyton was able to go off with his Mentor of the Meek – drawing four cards when he cast, and flashed back his Lingering Souls.

    Utter-Leyton beats out Mize.

    Game three was a bit closer, but Josh was eventually able to seal the deal by using a Gravepurge to get back a Falkenrath Noble and set up a lethal attack.

    Martin Juza 4-1 vs. Michael Wetmore 4-1

    Michael Wetmore suffered a bunch of mana problems in game one, and while he battled on for a while – he ultimately succumbed to Juza's Wolfhunter's Quiver.


    Juza (right) holds off long enough to take this match from Wetmore (left).

    Game two went better for Wetmore, as he had all the lands he needed to cast his spells, and some fliers to punch through damage with – but Juza was able to hold on just long enough to win with a HUGE Lumberknot while on a mere 1 life.



     

  • Saturday, 6:41 p.m. - Sealed Building with LSV
    by Steve Sadin

  • Before looking at the deck, LSV jokingly asked if he could trade his Sealed Deck from the main event (which he was very unhappy with, despite starting off the tournament with a 5-1 record) for our Practice Sealed.

    LSV smiles as he shows off his version of the practice sealed deck.

    After removing his unplayable cards, and comparing the colors for relative power – Luis decided to put all of his white cards on the table.

    "White has Lingering Souls, which is the best card in the pool, and a bunch of other good cards like Fiend Hunter, and Chapel Geist – so it's a pretty easy choice."

    Once he knew that white was going to be his base color, Luis tried putting together a White-Black deck that splashed red for Geistflame, and Fires of Undeath.

    After examining the White-Black-Red build for a bit, Luis decided to see what the deck would look like without the red – and was very happy with what he saw.

    "The mana doesn't get that much worse with the splash – but if I played the red, I would just be cutting good cards, for other good cards, so it didn't seem worth it."

    Luis then reexamined his sideboard, before finalizing his choice.

    "The blue is close, but it just isn't as good as the black. If there's a match where I want Back from the Brink, or Saving Grasp (which combos really well with Fiend Hunter) – then I might board it in, but for the most part I would look to stick with the White-Black deck."

    Altar's Reap was the last card that I cut – it might be better than Moment of Heroism, but I'm really not sure. It works really well with Fiend Hunter, and Morkrut Banshee (if I have a lot of mana) – but I could also see it sitting dead in my hand a lot.

    So did you build a White-Black deck like LSV? A White-Blue-Black deck like Shuuhei? Or something entirely different?

    Head on over to the fourms to share your thoughts!



     

  • Saturday, 7:18 p.m. - Sealed Deck Building Exercise 2
    by Blake Rasmussen

  • So, you breezed through Sealed deck building exercise #1, did ya? Even built nearly the exact same list as Hall of Famer Shuuhei Nakamura within a card or two (or 40...)?

    Well, don't say your coverage team never did anything for you, because we're bringing you a second – yes, second – sealed pool for you to try your hand at.

    We'll reveal later how a few names you might recognize would have registered this pool, which is quite challenging to build. In fact, I will even guarantee that you will build your deck different from at least one Hall of Famer in attendance here today...or your money back!

    Build your deck and share it on the forums to separate forum for this sealed exercise to compare your deck with what others have created!





     

  • Saturday, 7:18 p.m. - Round 7 Wrap-up
    by Blake Rasmussen

  • Round 7 is typically where the rubber starts to meet the road at 9-round grands prix. Players who hit 7-0 are guaranteed Day 2, but are jockeying to head into the drafts at the head of the pack and in line for the Top 8. Meanwhile, players sitting at 5-2 must win out to even have a shot of doing anything but birding or winning side events on Sunday.

    Today's seventh round saw a number of pros sitting on 15 points and above looking to make a run reigning Play of the Year and Grand Prix guru Owen Turtenwald found himself with a rare early loss, while teammate Luis Scott-Vargas was struggling with a pool he deemed "unplayable" despite his 5-1 record so far.

    Sitting with them at 5-1 were Alex West and Josh Ravitz, who were paired together this round, and Ben Stark and Shenhar Shahar, also facing off.

    At the other end of the spectrum (the spectrum being 5-1 to 6-0), Reid Duke was 6-0 with a monster of a deck that could do no wrong. A win in the feature match area would secure him as a favorite to go through the day unscathed, while a win would show Duke and his black white deck were mortal.

    Reid Duke

    Except, like Duke's centerpiece undead lord, Sorin, Lord of Innistrad, the reigning Magic Online Champion appeared unkillable. Squaring off against Charles League, Duke faced down Pyreheart Wolf with so many tokens it may as well have had no text. Duke made short work of his opponent and moved to 7-0, guaranteed to be back tomorrow and looking like the odds on favorite to finish the day at the head of the field.

    LSV

    If Duke was part of the haves in this tournament, Luis Scott-Vargas was definitely one of the have nots. His green white deck managed to squeak out one win against Philip Deitz, but Falkenrath Aristocrat and Bloodline Keeper teamed up to make life difficult in the air. After the match, Scott-Vargas, who had already stated his dislike for his pool, tweeted "Back to reality. 5-2."

    Josh Ravitz

    Meanwhile, right next door to Scott-Vargas, Josh Ravitz was bludgeoning Alex West with an assortment of tokens from Increasing Devotion and Lingering Souls to take game one. In the second game, a relatively even board fell in Ravitz's favor quickly as he flipped a Ravenous Demon and used the sacrifice to throw a Brimstone Volley at West's head, dropping him from 13 to zero life in the blink of an eye.

    Owen Turtenwald

    Owen Turtenwald also had a rough round. His white red deck couldn't keep up with Mikaeus, the Lunarch and Ludwig's Test Subject. As Mikaeus pumped up tokens, the Test Subject got closer and closer to hatching until it stampeded all over Turtenwald's life total, providing a major setback to the GP master.

    Shahar Shenhar vs. Ben Stark

    Renowned limited master Ben Stark had a rough outing this round as weak draws seemed to doom him as Shahar Shenhar played both Geist-honored Monk and Dungeon Geists to fill the air with plenty of spirits. An anemic draw couldn't keep up, and Shenhar took the match to move to 6-1 and one win away from Day 2.

    Martin Juza

    But the real drama came from the match between Martin Juza and Thomas Roth. Juza's blue green deck touched on black for Dead Weight and Spider Spawning, but Roth's black red deck packed a ton of removal – including Helvault – and a ton of vampires backed by Stromkirk Captain.

    The the first game, Juza managed to stall out the board with a flashed back Spider Spawning for six, but Helvault and several undying creatures let Roth pick apart the spiders and remove anything resembling a threat.

    In the second game, Juza flooded the board with a ton of creatures, but saw his advantage quickly dissipate in the face of a Rolling Tremblor, leaving just a Stalking Vampire on the board. However, Grasp of Phantoms and a Dead Weight removed that threat, and the flashback on the Grasp kept the way clear to force a third game.

    And what a third game it was. Juza traded creatures for removal as the players parried for position. Every time Juza played a creature, Roth found a way to deal with it. But when some of those answers required multiple cards, Roth started falling behind. Eventually a transformed Grizzled Outcasts was too much to deal with and the 7/7 beater moved Juza to 6-1.



     

  • Saturday, 7:53 p.m. - Quick Hits: What's the worst card in your main deck?
    by Blake Rasmussen

  • Owen Turtenwald was 6-2 before Round 9

    “Can I say all of them? It’s the Rakish Heir with no other vampires. The Nakish Heir.”


    Patrick Chapin fell to 5-3 after 8 rounds.

    Break of Day”


    Caleb Durward was 8-0 with one round to go.

    Thraben Pureblood


    David Sharfman was 7-1 despite his GW deck’s inability to kill a creature.

    Midnight Guard


    David Ochoa was dead pretty early on and finished 5-3 before dropping. Was the 2nd Gravepurge to blame?

    “The second Gravepurge.”


    Reid Duke is riding high at 8-0 prior to round 9. That doesn’t mean all of his cards are winners.

    Abbey Griffin or Ghoulcaller’s Chant.”



     

  • Saturday, 7:55 p.m. - Sealed Deck Building with Rob Dougherty and Darwin Kastle
    by Blake Rasmussen

  • Hall of Famers, teammates and all around masters of the game, Darwin Kastle and Rob Dougherty will always be linked in Magic lore. Alongside fellow Your Move Games teammate Dave Humpherys, the pair even won the first ever team pro tour, in limited even.

    So it was hardly a surprise when the pair tackled the sealed deck exercise and immediately likened it to the team sealed tournaments of years past. The pair quickly formed a plan to individually assess the colors and compare notes on what they were looking for our of their colors.

    "Viability," Dougherty said. "I like to break up the curve and see what the colors are about."

    Kastle added that you certainly look for bombs, but that "depth matters and synergy" as well.

    Each player broke their colors into curves, with Dougherty handling the Naya colors while Kastle thumbed through the black and blue piles. Then, as if it were a dance the two had been to before, both players got up and switched seats to examine the rest of the pool.

    Both players immediately dismissed white as being too shallow while also taking note of the plethora of playable artifacts available for just about any deck. Their initial assessment was that, no matter what they built, Wolfhunter's Quiver, Evolving Wilds, and the Geistcatcher's Rigs would likely make the cut.

    Dougherty was drawn to green early thanks to its strong curve, wide base of good cards, and two drops that were useful throughout the game.

    That was when Kastle stepped in to explain why he and Dougherty made such good teammates..

    "This is the style difference between me and Rob," he said. "Having a lot of twos ... for me, the green doesn't look that impressive."

    However having Avacyn's Pilgrim, Scorned Villager and two Dawntreader Elk pulled Dougherty in as ways to support a strong mana base. That, along with some other aggressive spells started pulling him toward a red/green deck.

    "These are fantastic two-drops, but none of these get lame as the game goes on," Dougherty said. "As two-drops go, these are really sweet."

    Meanwhile, true to his word about differing styles, Kastle had started assembling a black blue deck centered on Morkrut Banshee. Dougherty didn't like the rest of the black cards, but agreed that having two banshees and multiple ways to trigger morbid was "absurd." So absurd, Dougherty was even considering the option of playing the banshees in black red.

    That was when I noticed the black blue deck – with Sturmgeist, two banshees, two Geistcatcher's Rigs and Soul Seizer – was a bit top heavy, and asked Kastle how he felt about having a good mana curve in sealed.

    "It's certainly not nearly as important as draft," he said, but added that a strong curve might be the only way to go if a pool lacks real power. In those cases, it might be necessary to run over an opponent quickly.

    Dougherty's RG deck looks like it could do just that, though it has power to spare. He was still high on his two-drops and the late game power his Butcher's Cleaver would give to even the smallest beaters. He seemed to really like his deck.

    "This red-green build is pretty sweet," he said, looking over what looked like a very aggressive curve.

    Oddly enough, Kastle was just as happy with his BU deck and the myriad ways he had to trigger morbid. The pair went back and forth a bit on the usefulness of Sightless Ghoul – they both agreed it wasn't good, but Kastle saw synergy with his sacrifice and morbid effects – before opting to exclude it.

    Each player pared down the list to the last few cards. Kastle declined to play the Wolfhunter's Quiver due to his high curve while Dougherty cut the second Geistcatcher's Rig in order to keep his curve smooth.

    Then Dougherty said something that perked up the ears of several other players nearby.

    "This is probably a 17/41 deck," he said, referring to the nearly blasphemous act of playing 41 cards.

    Dougherty explained that when players shoot for only 40 cards no matter what, they were taking "a mathematical shortcut."

    The difference, he said, between 16 and 17 or 17 and 18 lands in a 40 card deck can be large, when sometimes all a deck wants is a fraction of a land rather than a full other land. But, since you can't register 16 2/3 lands, that's not really an option.

    "Sometimes, in order to get the right ratios, you can't get the right ratios at 40 [cards]," he said, adding that the trade off is that you draw your best cards slightly less, but it can be worth it for smoother mana.

    Kastle wasn't all on board with the 41 plan, but said that it was something he would consider because Dougherty's logic was "very compelling."

    From there, all that was left were the mana bases. Kastle split his down the middle with eight each of islands and swamps plus the Evolving Wilds. Dougherty meanwhile would have played 9 Forest, 6 Mountain, Evolving Wilds and a single Swamp for the flashback on Fires of Undeath.

    After all that, two Hall of Fame players had come up with wildly different decks from the same pool (see, I guaranteed you would disagree with at least one Hall of Famer). That, however, is part of what makes them great players.

    "Our different color preferences were really synergistic when we played team events," Kastle said as the players got up to start their next round.

    Check out the decks Darwin Kastle and Rob Dougherty built below.



     

  • Saturday, 8:12 p.m. - Quick Hits: What's the best card in your sideboard?
    by Steve Sadin

  • Conley Woods

    The best card that I could reasonably play, but I didn't, is Blazing Torch. I don't usually cut Blazing Torch – but it was between the torch, and an instant or sorcery, and I already had a Delver of Secrets in my deck, so I decided to get rid of Blazing Torch.




    The best card that I can't cast is Wild Hunger (green is the one color I'm not playing). At Grand Prix Seattle, my Sealed Deck wasn't very good – but I had two copies of Wild Hunger, and I was able to make Day Two pretty easily.




    Gerard Fabiano

    I left Increasing Ambition in my sideboard, and that was probably a mistake. No matter how many other 5 drops you have – it's still such a good card.




    My deck doesn't have any bombs to search for, so I didn't think it would be worth it – but I've boarded it in every game, and it's been really good for me.

    Shuuhei Nakamura

    In my colors, Delver of Secrets – outside of my colors, Sever the Bloodline. My deck needs double green, and double blue to cast its spells, so I didn't want to splash.




    Todd Anderson

    The "best" card in my sideboard is Liliana of the Veil, but the best card that I can cast is Divination. I decided to leave it in my sideboard because I don't want to draw it against aggressive decks, but it's really good against control, so I've boarded it in a lot.



     

  • Saturday, 8:43 p.m. - Round 8 Wrap-up.
    by Steve Sadin

  • Reid Duke 7-0 vs. Bernie Makino 7-0

    Reid continues his day 1 dominance.

    Reigning Magic Online Champion Reid Duke continued slicing through opponents with his powerful Black-White deck. Reid took the first game thanks to the constructed ready combination of Sorin, Lord of Innistrad plus Vault of the Archangel. Reid didn't have his planeswalker in the second game, but a Morkrut Banshee, a Farbog Boneflinger, and a Moan of the Unhallowed provided him with all the card advantage he needed to advance to 8-0.

    Shuuhei Nakamura 7-0 vs. Ben Zoz 7-0

    Shuuhei wins over Ben in 3.

    Shuuhei Nakamura took game one on the backs of Increasing Savagery, Griptide, and Snapcaster Mage – but Ben Zoz bounced right back, taking the second game in a matter of minutes thanks to Invisible Stalker plus Butcher's Cleaver.

    Game three was all Shuuhei, as Ben found himself stuck on two lands for quite a few turns. By the time Ben started drawing out of his mana problems, Shuuhei had a Kessig Recluse, and a Wolfhunter's Quiver, allowing him to deathtouch away Ben's creatures at will and take the match with ease.

    After watching Reid Duke, and Shuuhei Nakamura pick up their 8th wins, I began scouring some of the lower tables to check in on some of the players who needed to win their last two matches to make Day Two.

    Elie Pichon 5-2 vs. Melissa DeTora 5-2

    French pro Elie Pichon was able to dispatch Melissa DeTora in two quick games.

    Jon Finkel 5-2 vs. Stephen Strange 5-2

    Jon Finkel brought himself within a match of making Day Two, after flying to victory against Stephen Strange.

    Luis Scott-Vargas 5-2 vs. Eli Aden 5-2

    Luis Scott-Vargas got eliminated from the tournament at the hands of Eli Aden.



     

  • Saturday, 9:30 p.m. - Round 9 Wrap-up.
    by Blake Rasmussen

  • Round 9 separates the herd out in two very important ways. For one, the 6-2 players – like Jon Finkel and Owen Turtenwald were – must win to even be invited back to draft.

    For another, there's a gulf the size of Tennessee between 8-1 and 9-0. One loss puts you near the top of the standings, sure, and a ton of players would trade spots with you in an instant. But don't tell that any of the eight players who had a shot at an undefeated record in the last round, including Reid Duke, Shuuhei Nakamura, Caleb Durward, Tristan Sommer, Travis Turning, Brandon Kasay, Tom Manuel and Daniel Cecchetti.

    And then, because we felt like it, we'll give you the gist of the Lissa Jensen, Ben Zoz match as well. Just because we like you.

    Starting at on the bubble:

    Jon Finkel

    Watching Finkel maneuver a strong, but not overly powerful, sealed pool all day has been one of the rare treats in coverage. Round nine, with the Hall of Famer on the brink of elimination, was no different. First, he fought off a Kessig Cage Breakers and Wild Hunger with a timely Hollowhenge Spirit, which not only saved a lethal attack, but gave him enough power to win through the air the next turn.

    The second game was a similar fight for survival, as an early Falkenrath Aristocrats took four-point chunks out of his life for four turns, dropping Finkel to just 4 life. Fortunately, that also turned on his Gavony Ironwright, stopping his opponent's attacks and putting Finkel into Day 2.

    Owen Turtenwald

    Owen Turtenwald had to scrap for his win as well, but he summed up his 2-1 victory so succinctly I'll just let him tell how it went.

    "He didn't draw Lingering Souls the other two games."

    Well said.

    Lissa Jensen

    Moving up the standings, Lissa Jensen and Ben Zoz were battling at 7-1 and split the first two games. Then, in the third game Jensen hit Zoz exactly how she took down David Ochoa earlier in the day: Turn 2 Avacyn's Priest, turn 3 Geist of Saint Traft, turn 4 Spectral Flight, tap your blocker.

    And that's how you go 8-1.

    Reid Duke vs. Shuuhei Nakamura

    Shuuhei Nakamura summed it up best when after the match he covered his face and told a coverage reporter he had no chance. No one really did against Reid Duke, who had a deck that featured Sorin, Lord of Innistrad, two Lingering Souls, Vault of the Archangel and tons of other black and white goodies. Duke easily dispatched Nakamura 2-0 to end the day at 9-0.

    Tables 1 and 2

    Meanwhile, at the rest of the undefeated tables, Daniel Cecchetti (in purple above) flung a flipped Ludevic's Abomination at Tom Manuel one turn after Manuel had flashed back Increasing Devotion to narrowly win 2-0.

    Joining Ceccheti at 9-0 is Brandon Kasay (in orange above), who narrowly beat out Travis Turning when, in need of an 8th land to flash back Increasing Ambition, Turning drew Evolving Wilds to lose to a Gallows Warden one turn before he could stabilize.

    Tristan Sommer rounds out the last of the four 9-0 players, defeating Caleb Durward in a final round feature match.



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