Pro Tour–San Diego Blog: Day 1

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Welcome to Pro Tour–San Diego! The crack reporting squad of Bill Stark, Josh Bennett, Nate Price, Monty Ashley, Rashad Miller, and Craig Gibson are combing the halls of the San Diego Convention Center for all the inside information.


  • 7:42 p.m. – The Hot List
    by Bill Stark
  • 6:28 p.m. – Make / Organize / Sell / Judge the Game, See the World
    by Bill Stark
  • 5:11 p.m. – From the Living Room to the Big Stage
    by Josh Bennett
  • 4:58 p.m. – Elephant Watch
    by Nate Price
  • 4:19 p.m. – Outside Looking In
    by Josh Bennett
  • 2:55 p.m – LCQ Winners
    by Nate Price
  • 11:41 a.m.Worldwake's Professional Debut
    by Josh Bennett

 
  • Friday, February 19, 11:41 a.m. – Worldwake's Professional Debut
    by Josh Bennett

After all the armchair speculation, it's time for the world's best mages to demonstrate what's hot in Worldwake. A quick tour of the tables during Round 1 revealed a mix of obvious inclusions and exciting surprises.

White

Front and center for white is Kor Firewalker. Jund is still the Standard Constructed boogeyman, and white mages are no longer pulling the blankets over their heads at night. They're also enjoying the benefits of Stoneforge Mystic, usually getting Basilisk Collar to skew combat in their favor.

There was some loose talk about a possible ally deck, made possible by Hada Freeblade and Join the Ranks, but not much evidence of it on the tables.

As for breaking spirits and backs, you could do worse than Marshal's Anthem. How many kicks is too many?

Blue

Blue's trio of popular cards are the control mariachi band. First you hold the ground with Calcite Snapper. Next, you tap out for Jace, the Mind Sculptor and cross your arms with a smug expression. Finally, the Mind Sculptor rigs the top of your deck for Treasure Hunt. If necessary, Halimar Depths plays the maracas.

Black

Vampire enthusiasts cheered the arrival of Kalastria Highborn and Urge to Feed and are out proving their devotion this weekend. It's good enough for Hall of Famers Dave Humpherys and Rob Dougherty. Meanwhile, some Jund decks are finding room for Abyssal Persecutor, because that deck wasn't swingy enough already. No word on whether anyone was daring enough to play Bazaar Trader.

Red

Red seems to have gone underground outside of the ubiquitous Jund. Searing Blaze is working overtime in the few mono-red decks out there, and some players were scrounging draft debris for sideboard Cunning Sparkmages. There's also at least one Dragonmaster Outcast out there.

Green

Green is displaying the expected suite of Worldwake cards: Elf decks are enjoying the one-two punch of Arbor Elf and Joraga Warcaller, and many players are supplementing Master of the Wild Hunt with Wolfbriar Elemental.

Colorless

Players have had no reason to say "no" to the Worldwake dual lands. So far Celestial Colonnade and Raging Ravine are the most popular, but there are more than a couple Stirring Wildwoods in the mix.

Last, but certainly not least, is Everflowing Chalice. There are a lot of cups out there, and if they rise to the top, we could be looking at the least conspicuous format-defining card ever.

 
  • Friday, February 19, 2:55 p.m. – LCQ Winners
    by Nate Price

The letter F!orty-five minutes isn't a lot of time. It's about half of a feature length movie, just longer than most syndicated TV shows, and just shy of a full round of Magic. It's also about the amount of time Tristan Shawn Gregson, Avy Jonay, Damon Johnston, and Shady Badran slept last night. You won't hear any of them complaining, though. After all, lack of sleep is a small price to pay considering that 24 hours ago, none of these players were qualified for the Pro Tour.

For every Pro Tour, Thursday night marks the last chance for unqualified players to score a seat in the big dance. The aptly named Last Chance Qualifier started around 5 p.m. with the goal of reducing the 312 players who started to a sleek, form-fitting 4 qualified players. After ten rounds and twelve hours, four very tired yet very excited players crawled back to their rooms to get congratulations, a deck for the weekend, and a well-deserved nap.

From left: Tristan Shawn Gregson, Avy Jonay, Damon Johnston, and Shady Badran are short on sleep, but happy to be here.

You may recognize the first of the above names, Tristan Shawn Gregson, as a contributor on the ChannelFireball.com video series Magic TV. During his 6th-grade year back in 1994 (it's strange to think that that's over a decade ago), at a summer camp, he was introduced to the game and began a romance that would eventually blossom into a job. After finishing school, he was bitten pretty hard by the competitive bug, and started cutting his teeth at Friday Night Magic at Triple C in Scott's Valley. Some time later, he ended up losing his job and was ready to scale back on the Magic playing, but his roommate came to the rescue, convincing Gregson that they really could play competitively.

"He comes to me and he's like, 'We'll do this for real.' I mean, sure, I've got the 1996 World Championships decks, I've watched the video and seen Finkel and those guys ... I get it. Eventually I decided it was better than Counterstrike, so I said all right. The competitive love affair went from there."

His off-and-on romance took him all over, eventually landing him in position to work with some of the finest minds in the game, including his screen partner Luis Scott-Vargas.

"There were a lot of smart, opinionated guys there preparing for the event. There were many long nights filled with prop bets and burritos."

In fact, it's really these people that are one of the main reasons he enjoys the game today.

"When I left the game, it wasn't just the game that I missed. It was friends and people that I met through the game. There were so many people that you meet through the game that live in different locations. A prime example is Luis and I. We work out of San Jose. I live in Santa Cruz, which is 45 minutes south of the location, he lives in Davis, which is 45 minutes north of the location, so every week, when we come together to do the show, it captures that essence that people have to travel and come together to meet and play this game."

One of the players he's met along the way is Avy Jonsay, who is playing in his first Pro Tour thanks to the support he got at channelfireball.com's live counterpart, Superstars Games, in San Jose. Jonsay's been playing the game since the end of Masques block.

"I was in high school, and I'd just have my dad buy me a pack of Sixth Edition every time we were in the mall."

From these inauspicious beginnings, Jonsay found a very welcoming home at Superstars Games, and it fostered a love of the game.

"I love playing there. It's great that you get such a collection of those big name, good players, but they aren't too big to play and teach the little guys. Honestly, if I hadn't found Superstars, I'd probably still be a guy in college buying Sixth Edition boosters."

After coming to San Diego with some friends from San Jose, Jonsay decided to play in the LCQ simply because he didn't have anything to do on Thursday. After opening a Jace, the Mind Sculptor, the fate of his weekend was almost completely different.

"My friends were just trying to get me to drop rather than pass the pool and try to play. After all, I could sell it and end up positive on the tournament. I decided to just let it go and give the LCQ a whirl."

At 4:30 in the morning, Jonsay ended up back at a friend's apartment frantically trying to piece together a deck.

"It started as a group effort, and we were just scrambling cards, but as time went on, I started to realize that I was the only one left awake."

Fortunately for him, the channelfireball.com guys take care of their friends and provided him with a copy of the Naya deck many of them are running for the tournament. It was a perfect fit for him considering his exhausted state.

"I'm usually a control player, but this is nice. If anything it gives me time to relax while I play."

As I sat to talk to Damon Johnston, he flashed me a smile and said, "I think all the other guys are sleep-deprived, too, so you can't hold anything I say against me."

Citing the common law ruling that anything said on less than 45 minutes of sleep is inadmissible in a court of law [CITATION NEEDED], I agreed and proceeded to talk to him about his gaming experience. This is his second Pro Tour, the first being the last voyage of the Queen Mary in Los Angeles. He's been an off and on gamer over the past few years, though his love of the game never left his system.

"I may have stopped playing for a while, but I never stopped reading spoilers."

He's been back in since around Lorwyn, having found something that really struck a chord with him.

"I really liked Kithkin and the whole tribal thing. That really drew me in. Also, the power level of the creatures looked like it was trending up."

As a California native, he was headed to San Diego regardless of his qualification, though it wasn't a chance to play in the Pro Tour that really drew him to it.

"It really came down to my friends coming up with Legacy decks that I had faith in. It seems like more of an adventure. Force of Will keeps things a little more calmed down."

Ironically, immediately after telling me how Force "calms things down in Legacy," he went on to talk with me a little more about one of his favorite decks in the format, which is based around the powerful Dream Halls.

"First-turn Progenitus, or even first-turn quad Cruel Ultimatum if you get the God draw. It's fair. That's kid stuff. It's just so fun!"

When we talked about where he got started playing, he said that he hit up a lot of the central Cali stores to play, but he mentioned two that were near and dear to his heart.

"If I had to give a shout-out, it would definitely be to Legacy in Glendale or A Place to Game in Yuma City. Good people."

We talked a little more about the people in the game, and Johnston told me how much he enjoys seeing people returning to the game.

"I mean, Dave Williams is here, and he's got millions in the bank, but he still comes out here to play Magic. That's really something to admire. And little Ben Rubin comes back to play all the time. I know him from the Bay area. It's good to see these guys."

The lone non-California resident that made it through the LCQ was Shady Badran, who made the trip out from Salt Lake City, Utah with his friends.

"I had a couple of friends who were already qualified, so I decided to just fly out, LCQ, and hope for the best. Looks like it went alright so far."

San Diego marks his first Pro Tour, but he was quick to mention that he qualified for U.S. Nationals a year ago. From humble beginnings, anything is possible.

"I used to FNM a lot back in the day, chit chat, and socialize at the Hidden Keep and Hastur's back home."

He showed up to the tournament, with a Jund deck that he'd been playing for a while, which made him the only player other than Gregson who came into the event knowing what he was going to play. The LCQ was what drew him here, and his preparation paid off. He wasn't too pleased with his drafting chops, and showed a little nervous trepidation as he laughed about his chances in the Draft portion of the tournament. Luckily, while Worldwake changed the Limited environment up on him, it also improved his Standard deck of choice, returning the creature-lands it desperately needed—and with a bit of an upgrade too. Hopefully, he can return to Utah with a strong finish from San Diego.

Four players, four sleepless nights, and four slots that made it all worthwhile. Welcome to the Pro Tour, gentlemen.

 
  • Friday, February 19, 4:19 p.m. – Outside Looking In
    by Josh Bennett

For those unfamiliar with Magic, the Pro Tour is a window into a strange, fascinating world. The San Diego Convention Center is hosting a pair of conventions for professionals (climate science and physical therapy, we're told) whose attendees find themselves in line for Starbucks trying to figure out why the young men in front of them are talking about angels.

They're busy people, though, and curiosity can only hold them for so long. It's a different story for the security, who have to keep their eyes on the tide of humanity. They get at least a rudimentary understanding of what's happening. Last night, one such guard was staving off boredom by keeping the girl at the Mrs. Fields booth company, possibly in hopes of scoring free cookies. When I went up to buy my hot chocolate he turned his mustachioed smile on me.

"Let me ask you something," he said, gesturing at the hall behind us. "This game ... if I had a deck set up just right, could I beat the best player?"

"Yeah, for sure," I replied. "With luck being part of the game, the best player can lose to the worst player on a bad day."

"So I could win?"

"Well, you'd have to know some basics about how the game works, but ... yes."

"So, what, you like, try to guess what the other guy's gonna do, and set things up accordingly?"

"Well, your deck has to be randomized, but yeah, you choose what cards go in the deck partially based on what you expect other people to play."

"And the winner gets how much?"

"Forty grand."

He whistled. "That's a hell of a lot of money." He thought for a minute, then slapped the table. "Dammit, I'm gonna get a deck!"

 
  • Friday, February 19, 4:58 p.m. – Elephant Watch
    by Nate Price

Once upon a time, there was a deck known as Jund. This was a time in Magic's before the invention of the Island or Plains. There were rumors that Magic was looking to expand to five colors, but no one understood why you would when you could just play Jund. Jund was such an overpowering deck that it became the face of the Standard format. If you were entering a Standard tournament, you were sure that everyone was running it, yourself included. After all, it was Jund. The mirror match was the only match-up that mattered, since if you played any collection of 75 cards that wasn't Jund, you didn't stand a chance of winning.

Alright, this is a little bit of an exaggeration (only a little bit), but at Worlds only three months ago, this was the general feeling of the Magic community at large in relation to the Standard format. Strangely, since that time, the feeling has gone away.

Note I said the feeling, not the deck. Jund is most certainly around, and as long as Bloodbraid Elf, Blightning, and Maelstrom Pulse are in the format, it will continue to be around. But the overwhelming aura surrounding the deck seems to almost have disappeared completely. I didn't think it was possible for a deck to be quietly make up a third of the field, as it has done here in San Diego, but that certainly seems to be the case.

After talking with Luis Scott-Vargas, I think I get an understanding of why Jund seems to have disappeared from the front page.

"The main reason none of us are really playing Jund is that we are just sick of it."

Jund has officially become the elephant in the room. It's still a very strong deck choice and must be in consideration when testing for Standard, but it's no longer the focal point of the format. Being the "it" deck of the format comes with its disadvantages also.

"Another thing about Jund is that people have it figured out now. If someone plays a Savage Lands, you usually know over fifty cards in their deck. You play a Stoneforge Mystic, and people start to wonder what's up."

When Worldwake came out, there was so much hype focused on Jace, the Mind Sculptor and the cards that were going into other decks that people didn't bother to mention the help that Jund got. The addition of extra dual lands and the reintroduction of creature-lands to the deck—in the same cycle of cards—went an incredibly long way to making an already formidable deck even more consistent, but that fact was drowned out by an inundation of "OMG JACE!"


One important thing to note is that while Jund is hiding in plain sight, it's important not to forget that it's there. As Luis Scott-Vargas said, "We obviously still tested against the deck. It's not going to just go away."

As long as you can cascade a Bloodbraid Elf into a Blightning, expect Jund to be around. Just don't always expect people to talk about it.

 
  • Friday, February 19, 5:11 p.m. – From the Living Room to the Big Stage
    by Josh Bennett

Pro Tour Qualifiers have come to Magic Online, and the first batch of champions have graduated to the Pro Tour.

Of the sixteen who battled through a huge tournament of the world's best, twelve actually managed the trip out to San Diego. Vikmar Chekan, Trevor Jones, Christoffer Larsen, and Alexander Onosov will be spending their weekend away from the hustle and bustle, possibly enjoying some Magic Online Worldwake Prereleases.

The bolder twelve are Nick Mohon, Jörg Unfried, Jake Woods, Thomas Ashton, Kenneth Cordell, Jason Cawley, Benji Ashman, Charles Wong, Alexander Kreuz, Matt Nass, Nathan Bertelsen, and Gianluca Filippini. They've had a rocky start off the gates, with Nass (featured in The Week That Was), Cordell and Unfried leading the group at 3-2. Nass is playing the ChannelFireball.com Naya build that has the crowd buzzing. Cordell has the modern incarnation of PT Junk, a black-green-white deck. Unfried is playing the forgotten Boros Bushwhacker deck.

I got a chance to talk to Unfried briefly and he said that the last thing he wanted to do was play Jund and get mired in mirror matches. Expecting a higher percentage of control decks at a Pro Tour, he opted for the blistering beatdown plan, and is happy with how the day has started. He's less certain about the draft portion, as the bulk of his practice was online in triple-Zendikar, and he's only gotten a handful of drafts in with Worldwake. However he believes that the format is similar, and slower, and that all that he's learned should still apply.

Stay tuned to see if any of these warriors can translate online success into PT glory. For those of you thinking "I could do that," step up and earn yourself a spot at Pro Tour San Juan. Just six qualifiers remain!

 
  • Friday, February 19, 6:28 p.m. – Make / Organize / Sell / Judge the Game, See the World
    by Bill Stark

Much has been said of the Pro Tour's impact on competitive players and their ability to travel to exotic locales thanks to everyone's favorite game, Magic. But it takes a village to raise a child, and there are more travelers for big Magic events than just the pros playing in them. Like Dave Guskin, for example.

Guskin, who lives in Seattle, Washington, works for Wizards of the Coast as a web developer. He's responsible for helping to create Gatherer and worked on the technical design for magicthegathering.com, but he's also a former Pro Tour player and when he's not busy doing computer work he even has helped design and develop Magic sets (if you're a Kederekt Creeper fan, thank Dave for making it!). Because Dave works for Wizards of the Coast, he's prohibited from playing in tournaments, but that hasn't stopped him from traveling to events occasionally to take in the festival atmosphere.

"I like to explore as much as possible [when I travel]," he explained. Previously Dave has traveled to Italy, Geneva, and Mexico to attend Magic events. He's also a regular at PAX in Seattle, a large gaming convention that features tons of Magic and other Wizards of the Coast games. "I used to live in Los Angeles, so I wanted to come to San Diego to see old friends and family. I can't play, but there is still a ton of stuff to do at the Pro Tour."

Dave knows plenty about having lots to do at Magic events. In fact, the weekend prior to Pro Tour–San Diego, he returned from a Magic-themed cruise to Jamaica. The Magic Cruise is an event put on by Legion Events out of Madison, Wisconsin. The 2010 voyage marked the second such event, during which a hundred plus players and fans enjoy a beautiful trip that features sun, sea, and plenty of Magic playing. In fact, the organizers of the cruise were in the house for the Pro Tour this weekend!

Lindsey Port has been an instrumental element of Legion Events in making the Magic Cruise a successful and recurring event. She's also at numerous Pro Tours and Nationals events as one of the tournament organizers of the Public Events area, tournaments open to anyone who wants to enter. When asked how much she's traveled thanks to Magic, she ran through a list of locations both past and present that she had been to or is planning on going to: San Diego, Mexico, San Juan, Amsterdam, Minneapolis, Gen Con, and of course the Magic cruises. All told, she estimated she spends a whopping 30 weekends a year traveling for Magic events, and those are just the ones she's organizing!

"I love seeing new cities," she said, helping to explain her frenetic schedule. "Steve [Port, her husband and the head of Legion Events] and I love eating at fun local places." Her favorite Magic trip? "The cruise! Drinking a mai tai on the beach in February definitely doesn't suck!"

Another tournament organizer in attendance this weekend was Jared Sylva, but he wasn't actually organizing any events in San Diego. Instead, Jared was putting his Level 3 judge status to good use, watching over the events Lindsey was busy running for rules questions, card interactions, and scorekeeping. As the events manager for StarCityGames.com, Jared also has a very busy schedule.

"This is my first Wizards event this year, but over the next couple of weeks I go to Orlando, Richmond, Indianapolis, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and St. Louis. And I just got back from a road trip that saw me go from Roanoke, Virginia to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to Dallas, and back to Roanoke."

Why is Jared doing so much traveling? He's attending all of the events in the StarCityGames Open series, a large privately run tournament series featuring both the Standard and Legacy formats. But Jared was also planning on attending a handful of Pro Tours, and Grand Prix in Nashville, Washington D.C., Houston, and San Juan.

What did he enjoy most about traveling? "Getting to see everybody. If I'm traveling I get to see people I wouldn't otherwise. It's a great opportunity and lets me get in touch with other judge and player communities."

The final globetrotter we spoke with was a card dealer named Zack Reiter. Zack was attending the event on behalf of Pastimes, a large gaming store and Magic events company based out of Chicago, Illinois. "I started playing about eight years ago, mostly in PTQs and the JSS," Zack explained, describing his history with the game.

The Midwesterner had traveled all over to attend events for his employer. It was his third trip to San Diego for Magic, in addition to another California voyage to Pro Tour–Hollywood. He had also attended tournaments in Minneapolis, Seattle, Indianapolis, and Tampa, and was a regular at Gen Con during the summer. "I like to explore as much as I can when I travel. I've definitely had an opportunity to travel I wouldn't have otherwise."

Play the game, see the world. But judge, tournament organize, sell, and make the game and you can travel the world too! Find out more about becoming a part of the Magic festival Pro Tour experience by keeping an eye on magicthegathering.com.

 
  • Friday, February 19, 7:42 p.m. – The Hot List
    by Bill Stark

A number of cards have been very popular with players at the dealer's tables this weekend. Chris Carney of StrikeZoneOnline.com compiled data from his booth to share with the coverage team on what cards players were urgently looking for.

Chris's hot list focused on Standard, the format for the Pro Tour, and Extended, the format for the Pro Tour–San Juan qualifier season. A number of Worldwake cards were movers and shakers, as the new set has really done a number on the Constructed landscape. Jace, the Mind Sculptor was, of course, very popular as was expected headed in to the weekend. The dual creature lands were also very popular, but a few surprise lands were moving briskly from the latest expansion: Tectonic Edge and Sejiri Steppe. Everflowing Chalice was also in high demand, and Chain Reaction, a pseudo-Wrath for red decks, was being sought out frequently.

The most surprisingly popular card might just have been Cunning Sparkmage. The little 0/1 common was a huge part of the success of the deck numerous Americans brought to do battle, picking up a Basilisk Collar and shooting down many a far larger threat thanks to the deathtouch-granting artifact. Other popular Standard cards seeing action this weekend: Quenchable Fire, Glacial Fortress, Luminarch Ascension, Mind Control, and Wildfield Borderpost.

As for Extended, Kor Firewalker and Sejiri Steppe were the biggest Worldwake movers for Chris. Some surprising cards players desperately needed were Culling Scales, Flagstones of Trokair, and Ghost Quarter.

The latter two were likely as a result of Petr Brozek's Top 8 at last weekend's Grand Prix-Oakland. His deck was an aggressive red-white deck that used Ghost Quarter and Flagstones of Trokair to super charge his landfall duo of Plated Geopede and Steppe Lynx. In fact, Ghost Quarter was so highly sought Chris added an "On fire!" exclamation to emphasize its popularity. Other cards players needed for their PTQ decks: Negate, Knight of the Reliquary, Ajani Vengeant, Wall of Reverence, and Master of the Wild Hunt.

Stay tuned all weekend long to find out the rest of the hot cards and the decks that featured them here on magicthegathering.com!

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