1631 planeswalkers came to the Bay Area this weekend with hopes of being crowned the champion of Grand Prix Oakland. After nine intense rounds of Sealed Deck, only 186 remain. Of those, five players enter the second day of competition with untarnished records: Ben Lundquist, Ben Stark, Scott Gerhardt, William Jensen, and Elliot Woo have put themselves in an excellent position to battle their way through to the top 8. The remaining few have proven their master of Magic 2014 Sealed Deck, but today they will be thrown out of the frying pan and into the fire of Magic 2014 Draft. Stay tuned to coverage of Grand Prix Oakland to watch all the action unfold!
Round 10 Feature Match - William Jensen vs. Elliott Woo
by Blake Rasmussen
Meet the players
Sit down, gather around and let me tell you an epic tale. A tale of four Divinations and three Opportunities cast in a single game. A game that reached 17 creatures on the table. A game where variations of the following exchange took place roughly 87 times.
"How many cards?"
"Six. I never run out."
This is the story of the match between William Jensen and Elliott Woo.
It started like any other story. Both players were 9-0 after Day 1, having put on clinics in M14 sealed, but coming from opposite directions. Woo reached his undefeated peak the hard way—the Seattle native had zero byes along the way. He simply, and methodically, carved his way through nine straight opponents.
Jensen, on the other hand, is a newly minted Hall of Famer and the beneficiary of three byes. His Blue-White draft deck is something to behold and, if it performs like it should, there's really not much standing between him and a potential Top 8. When you can Divination and Opportunity seemingly at will in this format, there's little anyone can do to stop a competent player, let alone someone of Jensen's caliber.
Things started out simple enough. Woo had a turn two Young Pyromancer and a third turn Scroll Thief, both very good cards. Both very much stymied by Angelic Wall and Ajani's Chosen.
There was an Air Servant from Jensen and a Chandra's Outrage from Woo, followed by a Seraph of the Sword facing the same Outrage. They traded one for one a few times. The board started to get cluttered.
Let me tell you a tale of a cluttered battlefield.
Then Jensen cast Opportunity and everything changed.
Suddenly, everything was possible. More Divinations, more creatures, more Archaeomancers picking up Opportunity to cast it again. More fliers to hold down the fort. More ways to stymie everything Woo tried to do.
Even after Woo resolved his own Opportunity things didn't really change much. Jensen was chaining together card draw into card draw, and the ample options let him control the flow of the game at every step. All told he cast Opportunity twice and Divination five times.
Elliott Woo's deck was indeed "sweet." But getting matched against a Hall of Famer with three Divinations and an Opportunity can halt even the best decks.
It looked, at least from Woo's side, that he could possibly deck Jensen. He could just hold out a little longer, and Jensen's deck would run dry even as his battlefield filled up.
Then Elixir of Immortality resolved.
Suddenly, Jensen's deck was stocked even more. Divination yielded more goodies and Jensen's recycled library coughed the Air Servant back up. Eventually, methodically, Jensen ground out the last few points and took the first game.
Now copy and paste all of that for the second game, except this time remove the part where Woo ever was able to kill Seraph of the Sword.
Stuck staring at the Seraph, Woo could do little but sigh as Jensen churned through his library again. Opportunity gave way to Opportunity gave way to counterspells protecting his fliers. Woo spent most of the match staring at a handful of ineffective combat tricks, none of which let him punch through a 3/3 that was immune to combat damage.
And all the while Jensen's Air Servant kept things on lockdown.
"Air Servant is so good. It was completely controlling the game."
At one point, Woo got a bit frisky and attacked with his entire team. Jensen made some blocks, took some damage, and then drew more cards. He was at 12 life and it barely mattered. Elixir of Immortality even gave him some more room to maneuver.
And the thing is, Woo's deck was still pretty good. He had an Opportunity of his own, some removal, solid creatures, and combat tricks. His deck looked like a very strong Blue Red deck.
But it just couldn't match up against the monstrosity Jensen had drafted.
Eventually, Jensen's Air Servant cleared the skies long enough for the Hall of Famer to hit for the final damage. Even he seemed a bit surprised at how thorough his victory was.
A Hall of Famer with a truly scary deck. Can anyone stop William Jensen?
"My deck is so good. It is," he said shaking his head. There really wasn't any more to say.
William Jensen defeats Elliott Wood 2-0
Sunday, 12:00 p.m. — Drafting with William Jensen
by Blake Rasmussen
"You can pretty much guess every card he's going to take from now on. He's just going to take all of the Blue cards."
As I was recording William Jensen's draft at table one, Martin Juza was perched just at my shoulder, watching exactly what I saw unfolding. It was a draft virtually on autopilot punctuated by a cheeky smile and snap Divinations at every opportunity—plus, ya know, an Opportunity. Juza made the above comment after Jensen first picked an Air Servant. He was absolutely right.
"I love it, I think it's great," Jensen said of his deck afterwards. "It's a Claustrophobia or Pacifism away from being perfect."
Only one Opportunity? Someone wasn't trying hard enough...
That Air Servant kicked things off, and it wasn't even close. Jensen had the option to go with removal in Claustrophobia or stay out of the way of Blue by taking a Thorncaster Sliver. With Ben Stark to his right and a table full of players who could very well favor Blue, staying out of the way is an option.
Just not a particularly good one.
"I wanted to be Blue. I was really happy with my open."
From there, the draft was mostly on autopilot in Jensen's eyes. He took a Manaweft Sliver third over nothing of note, but then was gifted with a Serra Angel pick four. While there was a Time Ebb and a Disperse in the pack, Jensen didn't hesitate.
"Serra's just too good. Its power level is way higher than those cards."
Pack 1 rounded out with a Cancel, an Angelic Wall and a few other goodies. But things really picked up in Pack 2.
I wish I could give you some kind of analysis. I wish there was some "X card is better than Y because of Z" level thought process. But at this point, Jensen just took the best Blue card. And it wasn't ever really close.
Pack two started with Claustrophobia over Banisher Priest ("They do the same thing, but Priest is easier to remove"), and Jensen snapped off a succession of seven cards before venturing outside Blue.
He took, in order, Essence Scatter, Divination, Scroll Thief, Trained Condor, Divination and Archaeomancer. He briefly paused to take a Siege Mastodon before heading back into the safe confines of Blue with his second Cancel.
Pack three was a veritable gift. After being forced to first pick Negate, Jensen pulled up his second pick only to find an Opportunity staring back at him. He barely even bothered to look at the rest of the pack. At that point, Opportunity was exactly the card he wanted.
Pick three was another gift, as Seraph of the Sword flew into his pile, followed by Ajani's Chosen, a third Divination, Elixir of Immortality, and a few choice walls. He was particularly happy with the Seraph of the Sword.
"Seraph is just really good," he said. "Some decks just can't beat it."
The only pick Jensen regretted was in pack three, pick 10, and it was one Juza immediately reacted to when he saw Jensen make it. With Ajani's Chosen in his pile, Jensen opted for a Divine Favor over the strong sideboard option of Solemn Offering. After the draft, he admitted it was likely a mistake.
Was there anything Jensen was afraid of with what looked like a monster deck?
"I'm weak to Accursed Spirit," he said. "Otherwise, no, not really."
Drafting with William Jensen
GP Oakland 2013
Round 12 Feature Match - William Jensen vs. Alan Marling
by Jacob Van Lunen
William "Huey" Jensen
Only two players remain undefeated after eleven rounds of grueling competition. Alan Marling, an Oakland Native, and Hall of Fame Elect William Jensen have made it all the way here without being delivered a loss. Will the local be able to defend his turf against an all-time great, or will William "Huey" Jensen show us why he belongs in the Hall of Fame?
Marling got off to an aggressive start on the play in the first game of the match. Young Pyromancer was quickly joined by a pair of Deathgaze Cockatrice and the pressure continued to mount. Jensen drew tons of cards through three separate casts of Divination, but he continued to take a beating for Marling's flying army.
Jensen found Seraph of the Sword and things started to look like they might be swinging in Huey's favor. Unfortunately for Huey, Marling found a Corrupt and was able to use the big spell and a massive attack to secure victory in the first game.
The second game was similarly quick. Marling's Young Pyromancer and Marauding Maulhorn had the path cleared for them by Chandra's Outrage and it seemed like Jensen, with only Angelic Wall in play, wasn't long for this world.
Jensen did have Seraph of the Sword, though, and the Angel held down the fort while Jensen tried to stage a worthwhile defensive. Both players began to flood out a bit, and neither was a particular favorite. An army of Deathgaze Cockatrice was staring down at Jensen, who seemed to be exclusively drawing lands.
The boardstall continued for some time, but Marling eventually found a removal spell for Seraph of the Sword. Jensen had a sideboarded Brave the Elements to counter his opponent's Corrupt, but the Quag Sickness drawn a few turns later was good enough for Marling to take the second game.
Alan Marling defeats William Jensen in two games to be the last remaining undefeated player in Grand Prix Oakland!
Sunday, 1:30 p.m. — Things To Do In M14 For Fun & Profit
by Blake Rasmussen
There's much, much more to M14 draft than Opportunities and Divinations, despite what William Jensen's insane deck might indicate.
Instead, there are a bunch of really cool things you can do with some obscure and not-so-obscure cards and combinations of cards, even at the highest levels.
So we scanned the floor and found five of the coolest board states we cool. And what we found was plenty cool.
In fact, all I really want to do now is draft one of these sweet decks...
The picture that inspired this post. Mono Black decks happen now and then, thanks to the rewards garnered from Corrupt and Nightmare. But Sanguine Bond isn't usually given a second glance. But Sanguine Bond and Staff of the Death Magus, suddenly everything you do, even playing a land, comes tacked on with a free Extort.
Even better, Corrupt becomes effectively double Corrupt. Bubbling Cauldron always drains for four, Newt or no. Sanguine Bond isn't for the faint of heart, but a deck like this won't lose often when it does hit play.
Look, sometimes things are simple. Cast Garruk, Caller of Beasts, protect Garruk, Caller of Beasts, cast beasts (and other creatures).
Then, when Garruk, Caller of Beasts has given you a ton of creatures, attack. Look, it's not always rocket science.
Dark Prophecy is a card that's gotten a bit of love in constructed, at least for those of us who love drawing cards and sacrificing creatures. But players have gone out of their way to avoid the difficult-to-manage enchantment.
But one enterprising player went out of his way to manage his Dark Prophecy triggers. Gnawing Zombie offsets the life loss, and Bogbrew Witch can fetch up a certain Bubbling Cauldron as both a sacrifice outlet and life gain engine. It's tough to get it all in one draft, but when it does, it can lead to a veritable Opportunity of card advantage.
Most decks with Slivers have a few Slivers standing in for spots along their curve, often with only a few other Slivers to play off of. They work effectively together, but it can be difficult to assemble a group of them to really team up.
So it's always really cool to see when a plan comes together. One enterprising player was able to get the band together for this photo, doublestriking his way past even the deadliest defenses.
Blightcaster and Ajani's Chosen are the two primary reasons to end up drafting a heavy enchantments deck, so it's always really cool to see them pairing up to take an opponent down. The look on the opponent's face when your Pacifism not only stops their best creature, but kills another and creates a 2/2, is pure gold. Using Dark Favor as removal and creature generation is a pretty sweet bonus as well.
Sunday, 1:30 p.m. — A Firm Grasp Of The Basics
by Jacob Van Lunen
Ben Lundquist has a fair amount of high-level tournament success. Still, one would expect a Grand Prix competitor to have at least some amount of practice coming into the event. Lundquist, affectionately known as Benny Beatdown by those in the know, was unable to find any practice time in the last few weeks and showed up here in Oakland with only one bye and no practice with Magic 2014 limited.
I had the Opportunity to speak with Lundquist yesterday morning, after he built his sealed deck. I took a look through his deck and it seemed quite strong. Ben expressed a small degree of satisfaction with his pool and explained his lack of experience playing with the new set.
I ran into Benny Beatdowns again after the fifth round. He still hadn't lost a match and it looked like his confidence was building. He told me all the mistakes he had made, but he assured me that luck was on his side.
I was not surprised when I learned that Ben Lundquist had gone undefeated through the first day of competition.
Now, going into the second draft of the day, Ben is within striking range of Top 8 in this 1632 player tournament where he was completely new to the format. Will this be Benny Beatdowns' big comeback? Stay tuned to coverage of Grand Prix Oakland to find out!
Sunday, 1:45 p.m. — Magic 2014 Sealed Deck with Ben Stark
by Jacob Van Lunen
With another undefeated day in the books, Ben Stark has solidly established himself as the best Limited player in the world. A quick look at Ben Stark’s Sealed Deck shows a number of very interesting choices:
Ben Stark M14 Sealed
GP Oakland 2013 - Sealed
His deck looks reasonable, perhaps short a few creatures, but something that's definitely capable of beating even the most boombastic sealed pools. Enlarge is one of the better non-rare Green cards you can open in this format, but Stark's copy of the powerhouse sorcery is conspicuously located in his sideboard. I had the Opportunity to sit down with Ben Stark to talk about his sealed pool and Magic 2014 Draft.
You had an interesting sealed pool yesterday. Blue and Green are two of the stronger colors in Magic 2014 Limited, but your deck had very few creatures and you surprisingly decided to leave Enlarge in the sideboard. Could you offer some insight on your building process for those at home?
"Enlarge is a lot better at dealing damage than being a removal spell. The reason Enlarge is so desirable in comparison to something like Lava Axe is that it doesn't inherently incur card disadvantage. Your creature is guaranteed to kill something when it attacks. Essentially, it's a card that deals five damage and makes your opponent sacrifice a creature. My deck from yesterday did not really care about damage. I would either win with Millstone or simply by drawing a lot more cards than my opponent."
Blue seems to be the accepted best color in Magic 2014 Limited. Do you think the hunt for Blue cards has become such that it may be wise for players to steer clear of the color while others fight for the perfect Blue deck?
"I don't think anyone should ever think that way. You should just go into a draft and pick the cards that you open and get passed. I'm not going to take Divination over Rumbling Baloth just because blue is the best color. Forcing anything is usually wrong."
What is, in your opinion, the second strongest color in Magic 2014 Limited?
Are there any cards in Magic 2014 that are good in Draft and not good in Sealed Deck or vice versa?
"I just played a Millstone in the main yesterday in my sealed deck and I can't imagine ever doing that in a draft. Howl of the Night Pack is a lot better in Sealed than Draft. Haunted Plate Mail is pretty good in Sealed, but it's a bit less powerful in Draft. In Sealed, no one has a good curve beatdown deck, so I felt it was safe to maindeck the Millstone. In most drafts, about half the decks end up being beatdown decks with reasonable mana curves."
Any other Limited tips you would like to share with the readers at home?
"I think a lot of people are going to do badly if they try to force Blue. Green, Black, and Blue can all make winning decks. Red can be a great second color to augment any of them. White is just bad."
Round 13 Feature Match - Ben Stark vs. Alex Sittner
by Blake Rasmussen
Meet the players
"My deck is unplayable," Ben Stark said as he sat down. "Horrendous."
He flashed a Grixis, no-fixing deck with Corrupt, thumbing through it quickly so I could get a sense of just what he was working with. It definitely was not what I've come to expect from seeing Stark draft. He wasn't even happy about being featured this round.
"Couldn't you have covered me last round when my deck was insane and I somehow ran bad?"
We couldn't, actually, as both he and Alex Sittner were still very much in the running for the Top 8 at 10-2. The winner would likely need to win next round to be able to draw in, but the loser was almost certainly going to be on the outside looking in. This round was, for all intents and purposes, single elimination for the Top 8.
Stark wasn't the only one rocking three colors, however, as Sittner sat down with a RUG deck himself, though his was focused heavily on Slivers and seemed much happier with his deck. His multiple Predatory Slivers, Striking Slivers and Manaweft Slivers could make for a fast, intense game. He was hoping to run through this final pod on the back of his quick, synergistic beaters.
And that's exactly what it looked like he would do in the first game, curving Striking Sliver into Predatory Sliver. He would have even had a second Predatory Sliver, but a Lifebane Zombie robbed him of the chance before he could become really dangerous. He even lost the second Predatory Sliver to a Quag Sickness.
But not before he was able to take Stark down to just seven life with a quartet of 1/1s
However, at that point, Sittner's offense ground to a halt. He drew land after land after land, and his army of four 1/1s couldn't do anything about getting through Stark's more reasonably sized team.
Alex Sittner got off to a blazing start, but his army of 1/1 Slivers couldn't punch through in the end.
All the while, Stark was hitting for three damage a turn with Lifebane Zombie, not even missing a beat when a Sliver Construct threatened to end that avenue of victory. Corrupt removed the metallic Sliver and let the Lifebane continue munching on Sittner's brains.
Between games, Stark did quite a bit of sideboarding, removing all of his Red cards to help make room for a pair of Shrivels that gave him enough playables to cut it down to two colors. In doing so he felt he upgraded his deck from "horrible" to "alright."
Things continued to go "alright" for Stark in the second game as well. Sittner mulled to six cards and lost his early board to a Wring Flesh and a Shrivel. Even when Sittner reloaded with a second Predatory Sliver and Striking Sliver, he couldn't get past an Armored Cancrix.
Stark's big decision early in the game was to try and strip a second Predatory Sliver from Sittner's hand with Lifebane Zombie or to wait so it didn't die to Shrivel. He could have been punished if Sittner had been able to double up on Predatory Slivers, but, thankfully, Stark was able to snag both of them on the battlefield. He didn't get value out of the Lifebane Zombie on the way down, but the three damage it dealt every turn more than made up for it.
So, as in the first game, a Lifebane Zombie attacked and attacked and attacked while Sittner drew blanks. It didn't take long for Sittner to scoop up his cards as he drew blank after blank. Stark's deck may not have been ideal, but it could beat a bunch of 1/1s.
Ben Stark had plenty to be happy about in Round 13, even if he wasn't happy with his deck.
"I brought in Shrivel, and that allowed me to play two colors. I just needed playables. If I can play two colors, my deck's alright. Otherwise, it's awful," Stark said after the match, pointing to his 9 Swamp, 5 Mountain, 4 Island manabase.
So how did Stark plan to get to the Top 8 with a deck he actively disliked?
"I have to draw Swamp, Swamp, Swamp, Mountain, Island every game," he said. "They're not Volcanic Islands."
Ben Stark defeats Alex Sittner 2-0 to move to 11-2
Sunday, 4:30 p.m. — The Two Woos
by Jacob Van Lunen
Brotherly pairs have been a part of competitive Magic since the beginning. Steve and Dan O'Mahoney Schwartz and their brother from a different mother, Jon Finkel were a dominant force during the early years of the Pro Tour. Antoine and Olivier Ruel picked up the torch through the mid 2000s, highlighting their careers at Pro Tour Honolulu in 2006 when both of them found themselves in the Top 8 with very different decks.
This weekend, Magic has a new brotherly duo to be feared. Travis and Elliot Woo started playing Magic together in 1995 shortly after the release of Homelands. Travish fondly remembers opening Baron Sengir in his first pack. They continued playing together for years and have countless stories of kitchen table Magic.
Years later, Travis started to enjoy some high level tournament success. His penchant for unorthodox decks like Living End made him a fan favorite right away.
Travis and Elliot Woo
Recently, Travis has become one of the most visible Magic Online streamers. He always plays wacky decks and his emotional reactions to topdecks, strange interactions, and even die rolls make him one of the most entertaining figures in Magic media. Elliot occasionally makes an appearance on Travis's stream for a brotherly duo draft, but the two haven't actually played against one another in years.
That all changed here at Grand Prix Oakland. Coming into the final three rounds of competition, the eight players at the top of the standings were put into a draft pod together. Of the 1632 players that signed up this weekend, both Travis and Elliot had found themselves at the top of the standings. Seatings were posted, and the two brothers found themselves sitting next to each other for the final draft of Day 2.
Pairings for round 13 went up, and the Woo duo would be forced to battle against one another like two brothers on opposite sides of the field at Gettysburg.
The two joked with one another throughout the match. Travis exclusively used Conley Woods tokens, announcing, "Conley Woods! The greatest of all time," every time he put one into play. Travis was unreasonably afraid of the his brother's boardstate at times, "Oh no! I'm definitely dying to double Act of Treason here."
When the dust settled, Travis came out on top, winning the affection of thousands and solidifying his place as the favorite son.
Coming into the last round of swiss, each of the Woo brothers finds themselves in a win-and-in situation for Top 8. It's been too long since a brotherly duo has found themselves in the Top 8 of a major event together.