2009 US National Championship

Day 2: 2009 US National Championship

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The smoke has cleared from the end of Day 1, and two names stand atop the list: Brett Piazza and Mark Hendrickson. Both players are old schoolers of a sort, with Mark harking from days gone by out of Southern California and the Costa Mesa Women’s Center, famous training ground of some of the game’s biggest stars. Brett Piazza, meanwhile, comes from the mountainous Colorado region of the States, a Pro Tour ringer who has been known to test for events with his brother Shaun.

In the hunt alongside them are a number of other big name American pros, including bright new stars like Steve Sadin, Conley Woods, and Brad Nelson. Those three have all seen some manner of success at the Pro Tour level, with Conley making the Top 8 at Pro Tour-Honolulu, Brad finishing 9th at the same event, and Sadin, the former Grand Prix champion and gravy trainer. Former Pro Tour champion Jacob Van Lunen was also in the running with the crew.

Of course, a number of names waiting to get their own bite of Nationals fame and glory are breathing down the necks of the players you may already recognize. Mike Ward, DJ Kastner, Matthias Hunt, and David Cleveland all rounded out the Top 16. Who will we see in the Top 8? The established pros, or the new players waiting to tell their story? You’ll have to tune in all weekend long on magicthegathering.com to find out!



EVENT COVERAGE

 

  • Saturday, July 25, 10:25 a.m. – EDH in the Early Morning
    by Kelly Digges
  • When the day ends at a big event like this one, naturally, everyone has a healthy dinner, drinks plenty of water, and goes to bed at a sensible hour so as to be refreshed and ready for the next day’s festivities.

    ...

    Ha ha, no, just kidding! That would be crazy. When the day ends, most people go out and find some extravagant local dining, and then come back to the hotel lobby or the tournament venue to get in some after-hours games. Let me tell you, after a long day of playing Magic—or especially, as in the case of judges and staff, watching other people play Magic—nothing hits the spot like playing Magic.

    For the coverage staff, this after-hours Magic historically takes the form of drafting; for judges, famously, it’s all but certain to be Elder Dragon Highlander. Here at Magic Weekend, the latter is formalized as “EDH in the Evenings,” official Elder Dragon Highlander open play for judges and players every night and into the morning. (For more about Elder Dragon Highlander, see my article General Mayhem.)

    A little past 11 last night, I headed back to the tourney venue after dinner and found 15 or 20 people playing EDH, including coverage veteran and incurable draft addict Brian-David Marshall. If it can pull BDM away from drafting (two nights in a row, no less!), the format must really be taking off.

    BDM’s general was Momir Vig, Simic Visionary—an Elf close to my heart, for he was the general of the first EDH deck I ever built. Brian managed to stick Magic 2010 powerhouse Lurking Predators on turn six, which flipped, according to his Twitter, Deranged Hermit, Masticore, Coiling Oracle, and Draining Whelk (!) on one trip around the table.

    Meanwhile, I settled into a three-player game with my untested Uril, the Miststalker deck. Uril is the only creature in the deck who’s there to attack—the deck consists mostly of Auras to pile onto him, light removal to clear the way, and the occasional Arena-type card to let him step on things. I was fully prepared to be smashed by one too many Wrath of God or, worst of all, Hallowed Burial—the deck is gleefully lacking in a plan B.

    What I wasn’t prepared for was the brutal power of plan A.

    I built up mana early, and though I suffered a slight setback when my Overgrowth-enchanted Okina, Temple to the Grandfathers got legend-ruled away, I recovered quickly and landed Uril, enchanting him with Spirit Loop. This stopped some Doran, the Siege Tower beats from coming my way. When judge coordinator (and roommate) John Carter dropped Nevinyrral’s Disk, with my Uril still all too destructible, I had to act. I dropped Runes of the Deus onto Uril and attacked Carter with an 11/11 with lifelink, trample, and double strike.

    “So you’re ... dead?” I asked, shocked. In EDH, although you start with 40 life, 21 combat damage from a single general over the course of the game is lethal.

    “Yup!” said John, shrugging, and showed me the Hallowed Burial he’d been planning to cast next turn. In EDH, sometimes you get the beast, and sometimes the beast gets you.

    Tonight I’m going to aim for one of the really tough tables. This deck is awesome!

     

  • Saturday, July 25, 10:42 a.m. – Drafting With Brad Nelson
    by Bill Stark
  • Brad Nelson is a member of yet another generation of players who have picked up the mantle of “Future Face of American Magic.” His 9th place finish at Pro Tour-Honolulu was a near-miss at Pro Tour fame and glory for his very first event in the big time. Perhaps best known as “FFFreak” on Magic Online, Bradley entered the draft portion of Day 2 at a healthy 6-1, well within striking distance of the Top 8. We sat in with him to see what strategy he’d use to kick off the second day of play.

    The inaugural pack of Shards of Alara featured three cards that drew Brad’s attention: Blightning, Jungle Shrine, and Sharding Sphinx. After considering for the entire period, he opted to take the powerful artifact creature. In the second pack, he had a shot at Covenant of Minds, a powerful blue rare that would combine well with his Sphinx, but opted instead to abandon the first pick by eschewing blue and taking Sprouting Thrinax. Was Brad’s plan going in to the draft to wind up in Jund?

    Brad Nelson
    He followed the Thrinax up with Viscera Dragger as his third pick over the considerably more powerful Bull Cerodon. It seemed Nelson was intent on forcing Jund if he felt he could get it, and taking Dragger so high clearly indicated he thought he could. Just like that he took yet another turn with his fourth pick, opting for a white card in Knight of the Skyward Eye over Cavern Thoctar and Kederekt Leviathan. Was white going to enter the picture? From there Spearbreaker Behemoth made the cut, then a Grixis Panorama over Ridge Rannet and Court Archers over both Scourge Devil and Jund Panorama. He rounded out Shards with Jungle Weaver, Undead Leotau, Obelisk of Bant, and Carrion Thrash. As he shuffled the pack, it looked like he might be able to go Jund possibly splashing powerful blue or white cards thanks to Grixis Panorama and Obelisk of Bant.

    Conflux brought a hard decision from the get-go as Brad had to pick between Volcanic Fallout, Drag Down, and Fleshformer. The Fallout was the perfect type of card to help get Brad’s heavy hitters to the late game; playing a lot of powerful but expensive creatures left him vulnerable to aggressive early attacks from a weenie style deck. Volcanic Fallout was just the solution to that dilemma, wiping the board clean of everything under three toughness!

    The second pick offered up Ignite Disorder with little otherwise for Brad, then a Nacatl Outlander (a nonbo with his Fallout). A fourth pick between Might of Alara and Absorb Vis netted Nelson +1 mana fixing black card, though curiously there was an Esperzoa still in the pack. An Esper drafter downstream was going to be very pleased to pick up a very late copy of the 4/3. He then had the choice between a second Absorb Vis, a second Ignite Disorder, or a Grixis Slavedriver. He opted to take the creature rather than additional copies of cards he already had. Pestilent Kathari, Sedraxis Alchemist, and Unstable Frontier made the cut and as he headed to the review, it looked like his Jund deck was able to powerfully splash almost anything. Alongside his fixing from the first pack, he had picked up Unstable Frontier and Absorb Vis, so if he truly wanted to squeeze some off-color cards into his 40, he had all the tools he needed to do it.

    It was all down to the final pack, and the first pick, as usual for Alara Reborn, was a very juicy one for Brad Nelson. He had his pick between Sangrite Backlash, Behemoth Sledge, Kathari Bomber, and Veinfire Borderpost, but low on spot removal he opted to take the Backlash. Vengeful Rebirth was next on the docket over Sewn-Eye Drake, Rhox Brute, and Jund Hackblade, but he got a second crack at Rhox Brute in his very next pick and took it over Firewild Borderpost and Jund Hackblade.

    Picks started to thin out for the Jund archetype for a time as the fourth pick saw Siege-Mind Ogre as the only card for Brad, though he got right back into things thereafter with another Rhox Brute over Veinfire Borderpost, then Valley Rannet over Gorger Wurm and Igneous Pouncer. Jund Sojourners added a tiny bit more spot removal to his deck, followed by Putrid Leech over Igneous Pouncer. The deck rounded out nicely with Veinfire Borderpost, Monstrous Carabid, and late pick three-mana red-green and red-black cascade spells.

    By the end of the draft Brad had put together a very solid list, even if it was a bit unspectacular in regards to having bombs. The question remained as to whether he would take up the opportunity to splash additional spells into the deck, or if he’d stick with the more traditional red-green-black Jund archetype. In any case, the rest of the table was on notice: Brad Nelson was 6-1, and had the tools to take his record further in the second draft of the weekend.

     

  • Round 8 Feature Match: Brett Piazza VS Mark Hendrickson
    by Bill Stark
  • “Hey Mark,” Brett Piazza greeted his opponent as he sat down to his first match of Saturday play in the feature arena. “Did this have to happen?” He inquired, referring to the fact both he and Mark were the last undefeated players standing and were paired to battle for the eighth round.

    “Yeah, I think so,” Mark replied, though neither was certain. Hendrickson, an associate of the Texas Guildmages, a prominent playgroup from Texas, got his Magic career started at the Costa Mesa Women’s Center. The famous stomping ground of some of the game’s biggest names lost Hendrickson nearly a decade ago to the Lone Star State. Piazza, meanwhile, is a long time Coloradan with a Grand Prix Top 8 who has earned a heady reputation as someone you don’t want to square off against on the side draft circuit.

    Mark Hendrickson
    Hendrickson was first on the battlefield with a Jund Hackblade while Piazza ploddingly built up his manabase by way of an Armillary Sphere. Mark’s second spell was Bloodhall Ooze which, thanks to the Hackblade’s status as a partial hybrid would get +2/+2 each turn, but he missed his land drop and was stuck on a Mountain and a Swamp with multiple green and white cards in his hand. Piazza fell to 13 on the first attack from the Ooze/Hackblade combo, but was poised to take control of the game as he untapped with four mana, his opponent still on two.

    Sangrite Backlash was the removal spell of choice for Piazza, who was able to ace the Bloodhall Ooze with the enchantment. He then got onto the battlefield with Sewn-Eye Drake while across the table, Hendrickson drew a second Mountain but still couldn’t cast anything. The Hackblade continued getting its beat on, and the scores stood 14-9 in Mark’s favor. When Corpse Connoisseur dug up Kathari Bomber for Brett, it looked like he had stabilized with a 3/3 to block the Hackblade.

    His opponent had other plans, however. Finally ripping a Plains, Mark turned to Celestial Purge to deal with the Connoisseur. That exiled the 3/3 and allowed him to continue attacking with Jund Hackblade, dropping Piazza to just 7 life. His mana in a much better position, it was conceivable Mark could still climb his way back into the game.

    Brett untapped, unearthed his Kathari Bomber, and attacked to bing Hendrickson for 5, dropping him to 9. The Bomber also netted Piazza two 1/1 Goblins, cluttering the battlefield with blockers for his opponent’s Hackblade. Mercifully a Forest hit the table for Mark, who quickly plopped Rhox Brute onto the board. Unafraid of the chump blocking token creatures, he sent his now 3/2 Jund Hackblade into the red zone, trading it for both of the 1/1s.

    The match was turning into a real nail biter now that both players were able to cast their spells, but Deny Reality from Brett set Mark back doubly far. First, the sorcery put Fatestitcher onto the battlefield, then bounced Hendrickson’s 4/4 Brute. Mark untapped and cast Cerodon Yearling, pushing right into the combat step with his hasty, vigilant 2/2. After agonizing over what tricks his opponent could possibly have, Piazza opted to take the damage, falling to 5. Post-combat Mark had Sacellum Archers, but the play left him tapped out and Brett verified his opponent’s life total was 6 before revealing a second Sewn-Eye Drake in his hand. With no flyers or means of preventing the 3/1s from getting through, Mark nodded at his fate and picked up his sideboard.

    Brett Piazza 1, Mark Hendrickson 0

    Hendrickson got to start the second game with both a green and black source of mana as he played a Forest and cracked Grixis Panorama to fetch up a Swamp. When his third land was a Mountain, he used the three mana to cast Gift of the Gargantuan, revealing Cerodon Yearling and Mountain as his bounty. Piazza simply worked on his manabase by sacrificing a Jund Panorama for a Swamp.

    Brett Piazza
    The game rounded the fourth turn with neither player having cast a threat for the battlefield, but Mark soon took the responsibility upon himself to do so with a 3/3 Matca Rioters. Piazza dropped his fourth land, nearly at domain, and tapped out to cast Fatestitcher. He fell to 17 on his opponent’s attack, but Hendrickson had no spells post-combat, playing a Jungle Shrine tapped and passing.

    Igneous Pouncer pounced its way right onto the battlefield for Brett Piazza, accelerated by Fatestitcher which he used to untap one of his lands to get to six mana. He didn’t hesitate sending his 5/1 across the field to bash Mark to 15, and Hendrickson set about to answer the threat untapping and casting Stun Sniper, also keeping Rioters back to potentially block. Sangrite Backlash from Piazza dealt with the Sniper, and he aggressively tapped his opponent’s Rioters to bash again with the Pouncer. Mark Hendrickson fell to 10 life.

    The Stun Sniper was back from beyond the following turn as Mark cast Naya Charm to return the 1/1 to his hand. He then had enough red and white mana left over to re-cast the creature, but Piazza was prepared with Grixis Charm to kill it at the end of Mark’s turn. Untapping, Piazza began plotting plays out in his head. He tapped five mana to cast Corpse Connoisseur, fetching up Kathari Bomber for the second game in a row. The ‘Stitcher tapped Mark’s Rioters yet again, and the Pouncer attacked him to just 5 life. He needed a solution to his opponent’s threats, and he needed a big one.

    Woolly Thoctar was a step in the right direction, but Piazza was threatening a combat step that would see him tap one of his opponent’s blockers, unearth Bomber, and send with the Bomber, the Connoisseur that tutored for it, and Igneous Pouncer with Hendrickson only able to stop one of the creatures and at 5 life. It didn’t take Piazza very long to see the play, or more likely to execute the play he had been setting up the whole time, and when he didn’t forget to tap a blocker and unearthed the Bomber, Mark conceded.

    Brett Piazza 2, Mark Hendrickson 0

     

  • Saturday, July 25, 12:16 p.m. – Better Lucky Than Good?
    by Bill Stark
  • Gabe Stoffa
    When Conflux first came out, a card many people were talking about in Draft was Cylian Sunsinger. Was it possible to hope to draft multiple copies in a single event? Would doing so lead to as degenerate an outcome as one might dream? Fast forward a few months and the question for many still lingered. That changed this weekend, at least for one U.S. Nationals participant.

    Gabe Stoffa has been playing Magic since the mid-90s, and the 2009 National Championship was not his first professional level event. He has competed at that stage as well as on the Pro Tour. He rode down to the event from his home in Ames, Iowa with fellow players Jon Barnes and Thomas Maggio, both of whom were qualified for the big dance. Gabe had to earn his ticket the hard way, through the meatgrinders, but managed to do so successfully.

    Enter the second Shards of Alara-Conflux-Alara Reborn Draft on Saturday. Imagine his surprise when he got to the second pack and found himself not one, not two, but three Cylian Sunsingers. As Chris Cade might say: “Better lucky than good!” Gabe was 5-4 when we spoke to him after a few rough rounds in Standard with his Kithkin deck.

     

  • Saturday, July 25, 12:28 p.m. – Drafting with Mark Hendrickson
    by Brian David-Marshall
  • Mark Hendrickson may have been an unlikely choice to cover for a draft table that featured Pro Tour Champion Jacob Van Lunen, GP Champion Steven Sadin, Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Conley Woods, and Pro Tour Hollywood 9th place finisher Adam Yurchick. Mark has earned this moment; playing on the Pro Tour since 1996, posting a Top 32 finish at PT Geneva, grinding into this weekend’s tournament with a rogue Standard deck...and not dropping a match along the way -- 12 - 0 to this point including the grinder -- doesn’t hurt his case either. When I hasd a chance to speak with Mark last night at the end of his 7-0 run he talked about his draft strategy which involved letting the Pros at his table fight over Esper scraps while he feasted on either Naya or Jund. This was as good a table as any to put his theory to the test and I settled in behind the Texas Guildmage to see how it played out.

    As the players waited for the last couple of stragglers to take their seats, and the judge announcements to begin, Paul Rietzl leaned over from the next pod and asked everyone seated, “What’s it like to be in Pod 1 guys?”

    There was a chorus of nods and affirmative grunts which was cut off by a piece of harsh reality from Paul: “One of you is going to go 0-3. Just letting you know.”

    When asked if that reminder was based off of personal experience Rietzl scoffed: “Nah. I have never been at Table 1 in my life!”

    Mark Hendrickson
    With those ominous words ringing in his ears -- possibly literally since Rietzl was sitting directly behind him -- Mark dug into his first Shards of Alara pack and quickly flipped Naya Charm, Empyrial Archangel, and Naya Battlemage to the front. He flipped back and forth between the mythic rare and the uncommon before settling on the Naya Charm. Mark said he aims to be red-green and then decide if he will go Naya or Jund as the later packs unfold but a second pick Woolly Thoctar -- along with optional Steward of Valeron, Hissing Iguanar, or Jund Panorama -- put him squarely in Naya two picks in. Pick three offered Court Archers, Manaplasm, Akrasan Squire, Bant Charm, and Bant Panorama and he took the Manaplasm that had served him so well in yesterday’s draft. Mark took Sigil Blessing but seemed to be regretting the decision to ship the Bant cards as Kiss of Amesha went by later than you normally see at the Pro heavy tables. A late pick Jungle Shrine soothed his worried brow as the packs wound down.

    Going into Conflux Mark’s predictions regarding the predilections of the table seemed to be accurate as Adam, to his right, was leaning toward Esper with a possible 5Color in the wings and Jacob Van Lunen, on his left was straddling Bant and Esper. The opening cards of Conflux seemed disappointing to Mark as he reluctantly took Celestial Purge over Rhox Meditant and Bloodhall Ooze. He took a Meditant with his next pick over Nacatl Outlander and Nacatl Hunt-Pride -- there were plenty of Esper goodies going Adam’s way in the packs as well. For his third pick Mark took Sarcellum Archers over Wild Leotau, Nacatl Outlander and Dark Temper. A reasonably late Fiery Fall went into his drafted pile with barely a glance at any of the remaining cards. The second round of picks rounded out with Macta Rioters, another Archers, and Bloodhall Ooze coming back to where it started and a couple of Exploding Borders that he took over reasonable two-drops including a Nacatl Outlander.

    Mark seemed uneasy heading into Alara Reborn and seemed to be seriously considering a double splashed Enigma Sphinx before finally taking Bituminous Blast over Marisi’s Twinclaws, and Sangrite Backlash. There was another Twinclaws in the next pack but Stun Sniper was the obvious pick. Jund Hackblade and Colossal Might came next for Hendrickson. No doubt concerned about his mana he took Pale Recluse over Gorger Wurm. After a couple of thin packs he was suddenly offered a choice between a second Sniper, Rhox Brute, and Valley Rannet -- he took the Brute.

    After the draft Mark let out a deep sigh.

    “What do you do after going 3-0?,” asked Mark rhetorically. “Punt. I am sorry you had to watch that.”

    “I like it when the Pros around me draft Esper,” explained Mark, who prepared for this format with one of the longest running playtest groups in the game of Magic -- the Texas Guildmages. “Give me a table with four Esper drafters and let me be red-green. Then I can go either black or white later on.”

    Mark talked about the decision not to take Empyrial Archangel, something he regretted only in hindsight. “I don’t want to start off with either Bant or an 8-drop. An 8-drop is always rough and Bant is just the worst shard. I would probably take the Naya Charm again and then there was the Woolly Thoctar in the next pack.”

    He fanned out the smattering of Shards cards -- the two previously mentioned cards, Sigil Blessing, Manaplasm, and Gift of the Gargantuan -- that were going to make his deck to illustrate what he felt was a poor draft: “This is all that I am playing out of pack one. I only had seven creatures after pack two. I might be running as few as eleven creatures.”

    He fanned out ten Conflux cards that were all making his deck and said: “This is how I know Jacob ended up in Esper.”

    Still, had Mark really considered jumping in on Enigma Sphinx in packs three?

    “I have two Exploding Borders. I was really thinking about it. How many dragons can I afford to give away?”

    He talked about the decision to take Rhox Brute over the second pinger.

    “I took the brute because I needed bigger guys,” he said as he realized he had more creatures to play with than he originally had thought. “Thirteen guys is kinda workable. I was hoping to go 2-1 in this draft...maybe I can squeeze it out. I was hoping I would only need to go 2-2 the rest of the way with my Standard deck but I have confidence in it if I need to win three.”

    He was just hoping that he didn’t end up having to sweep Standard yet again with the words of Rietzl from before the draft ringing in his ears.

     

  • Round 9 Feature Match: “You lied to me Sam...” - Sam Black vs. Brad Nelson
    by Brian David-Marshall
  • There have been repeat members of the team for the past couple of years and Sam Black was hoping to be follow in that tradition this year. He was off to an 8-1 start after beating PT Hollywood Champ Charles Gindy in the previous round. This round found PT Honolulu 9th place finisher Brad “FFfreak” Nelson in his cross-hairs. Brad had been featured in the draft piece and it was not exactly a bomb-laden collection of 40 cards. Brad had pulled me aside during deckbuilding to look at his deck promising me “you will wonder how I went 3-0 with this thing later.

    Brad Nelson

    Game 1

    The two players looked for a randomization method which culminated in Sam saying, “I am going to make you go first anyway so it probably doesn’t matter.”

    Brad came out of the gate fast with Putrid Leech which raised one of Sam’s eyebrows. “I didn’t know we had gone back to the Constructed portion.”

    Sam’s draw took its time developing its mana with a Borderpost and Rupture Spire. Brad went right into Jund Sojourners on turn three only to have Sam play Infest. Brad paid two life and shot Sam with Sojourners. When Brad attacked a turn later Sam was already down to 11. Sam continued to play with his mana, making an Obelisk of Jund and cycling Deadshot Cyclops in search of a third land. Meanwhile, brad was about to untap into Jungle Weaver. Sam cycled another Deadshot Cyclops and Filigree Fracture on the Veinfire Borderpost but he could not find an way out from under the creatures bearing down on him.

    “I guess I got one win out of this deck,” said Sam. “Its about what I expected.”

    Game 2

    Brad got to go first again and pondered his hand before ultimately deciding to keep. Sam immediately sent his back.

    “I’m gonna need you to do that again,” said Brad who seemed disappointed with his own decision. He faked a turn two Leech but had no play. Sam played Nacatl Outlander and Brad passed back with no play. Sam attacked for two and made an Obelisk of Jund. Brad flashed out Gluttonous Slime. He played Singe Mind Ogre and saw Might of Alara from Sam’s four card in hand. Sam summoned a Mosstodon.

    Brad played Demonic Dread targeting Sam’s Nacatl Outlander and earned Putrid Leech for his efforts. Sam chose not to block the Singe Mind Ogre with his Mosstodon and took three. He also chose not to attack on this next turn. Brad cracked in with everyone and Sam blocked both creatures, saving his Mosstodon with Might of Alara. Brad added Grixis Slavedriver to the mix.

    Sewn-Eye Drake from Sam allowed him a quick tour of the red zone before a cycled Jund Sojourners took it out a turn later after Brad rumbled in with his Slavedriver and added his own Nacatl Outlander to the board. Sam was on four lands plus Obelisk and passed the turn with Mosstodon on defense.

    Sam Black
    Brad played Violent Outburst and started flipping through deck until he hit Sangrite Backlash. “I was about 100% to hit that.”

    “This will be over in a few seconds,” sighed Sam.

    Brad sent his team into the red zone only to have his Slavedriver get nailed with Bituminous Blast into Cylian Elf.

    “You lied to me Sam Black,” tsk’d Brad with a grin as Brad went from three creatures down to two.

    Sam untapped and announced, “He can’t block” as he parlayed Demonic Dread into Necrogenesis.

    Brad attempted to unearth his Slavedriver but Sam activated his enchantment in response. Brad was dumbfounded and looked around at the judge: “Is that how it works? Really?”

    Sam was close to being able to take the game over but was running low on life and on time. He cycled Deadshot Cyclops and made three guys. Two guys double blocked Nacatl and he went to three from the zombie token. Brad added an Undead Leotau. Sam passed with lots of mana open. Brad summoned a Rhox Brute and attacked. make two zombie and triple block with Fleshformer. Unearth Leotau to get it out of bin.

    Brad was able to get Sam down to one with his creatures on board before the former team member stabilized. By that point Brad’s deck churned up a timely Absorb Vis to finish things off for Brad -- who was still stunned that he had not been aware of the interaction between Necrogenesis and unearth.

    Final result: Brad Nelson - 2 Sam Black - 0

     

  • Saturday, July 25, 1:37 p.m. – Menger Sponge Update
    by Kelly Digges
  • True to my word, I checked in with Matt at Legion Events to see how his level 2 Menger sponge was coming. True to his word, he’s been hard at work. (Matt’s last name, by the way, is Danner—apparently his friends hounded him last night for being just “Matt” in yesterday’s coverage.)

    As you can see, he’s laid down the entire bottom row of Level 1 cubes and made some progress on the second row as well. He’s making good time, but the Saturday crowd is bound to put more actual work in front of him. It looks like he’ll have his level 2 sponge by the end of Sunday, but only time will tell.

    Keep folding, Mr. Danner. We’ll check back.

     

  • Round 10 Feature Match: Charles Gindy VS Matthias Hunt
    by Bill Stark
  • “You’re my only loss Day 1!” Charlie Gindy teased his opponent Matthias Hunt as they sat down for their Round 10 Feature Match. Hunt was threatening to become a cinderella story this Nationals weekend, like many of America’s best who made their names known first at the U.S. National Championship. He comes to Kansas City by way of St. Paul, Minnesota, a Midwestern powerhouse city that has seen rise to the likes of Gerry Thompson and Noah Weil. He was 7-2 so far in the event. His opponent, Pro Tour-Hollywood champion Charles Gindy was in the same boat, with half of his losses at the hands of Hunt.

    Scepter of Fugue went to work early for Matthias, who forced his opponent to discard an Exploding Borders. Gindy didn’t seem concerned, adding a Woolly Thoctar to the battlefield. “Just a Thoctar...” He said, dryly, as the 5/4 hit the field thanks to his perfect mana on the third turn. It soon rumbled across to ding Hunt for 5, though Matthias had managed to accelerate his manabase with an Obelisk of Grixis, activating Scepter for a free card out of Charlie’s hand.

    Charles Gindy finds himself back in the Feature Match arena.
    Charlie cast Manaforce Mace, but no additional creatures and Matthias played a land to give himself access to a whopping six mana. He considered all of his options before casting Dreadwing and activating his Scepter of Fugue. Gindy discarded Jungle Shrine and seemed perfectly content with the board state provided he could continue smacking Hunt around with Thoctar. The 5/4 picked up the Mace, then munched on the Dreadwing.

    Hunt was accruing some advantage with his Scepter, but he needed to start developing his board. He cast Veinfire Borderpost and checked the power/toughness on his opponent’s equipped Thoctar. “It’s 7/6,” Gindy replied, noncommittally. He discarded a Plains to Hunt’s Scepter, then Blister Beetle came down from Matthias to chump the Thoctar. Gindy happily attacked, then cast Rhox Brute and passed back again.

    Deny Reality for Hunt sent the Thoctar back to Gindy’s hand, and netted him a free Grixis Battlemage. Charles just sent his Rhox Brute into the red zone before re-casting the Thoctar and sending the turn back to Matthias. Scepter forced Charles to discard another land, and Matthias cast Nim Abomination to try to stop his opponent’s forces. The 4/3 was good enough to do just that, at least for a turn. The Pro Tour-Hollywood champ cast Drumhunter, then passed the turn to Hunt drawing a card in the process. Matthias didn’t know it, but he was dead on board if he couldn’t do anything on his own turn. Charles was sandbagging Naya Charm, and could untap, tap his opponent’s team, and bash for lethal.

    Matthias cast Faerie Mechanist, then made Charles discard another land from his hand. The Naya Charm was the last card in his grip, but Matthias passed with only a black mana up. Charlie untapped, drew, and calmly showed off his instant. Matthias did some math, then nodded and they moved to the second game.

    Charles Gindy 1, Matthias Hunt 0

    The first game had been an exercise in board presence and card advantage. Initially Hunt had gained an advantage in card resources against Charles as he forced him to discard card after card to no effect from his hand. But Charles managed to turn that effort on its ear by casting his powerful creatures, forcing Hunt to interact with him on the battlefield. As Matthias was forced to increasingly deal with his opponent’s threats via chump blockers, he lost card advantage by essentially “discarding” his own cards, the chump blockers, to almost no effect. Card advantage is good, but sometimes a third-turn 5/4 is just better.

    The first creature on the battlefield for the second game was Stun Sniper from Gindy while Matthias Hunt fixed his manabase using a landcycled Absorb Vis to fetch up a Mountain. With access to blue, black, and red, he cast Kathari Bomber while Gindy cast Druid of the Anima, leaving a mana untapped so he could Stun Sniper his opponent’s creature and prevent it from attacking. With his opportunity to get in with the Bomber stolen by the Sniper, Hunt cast Brackwater Elemental and passed the turn.

    Could Minnesotan math teacher Matthias Hunt knock off a Pro Tour champion?
    Gindy took advantage, plopping Gloryscale Viashino onto the table, his Druid still leaving him with a mana with which to use Stun Sniper again. When Matthias moved to his combat step, however, Gindy was all too happy to allow his opponent’s creatures to enter the red zone. He fell to 14, but was able to Sniper one of the Goblin tokens the Bomber put onto the battlefield, and at the end of the turn the Brackwater Elemental died. In the interim, Matthias had battened down the hatches with a Nim Abomination, but it wasn’t looking good for him.

    Charlie untapped and cast Jund Hackblade, pumping his Gloryscale. He turned both the Hackblade and the now 6/6 Viashino sideways, with the larger of the two being blocked by a Goblin token. Matthias used a Deny Reality to target his opponent’s Stun Sniper, getting an Obelisk of Grixis for his efforts, but he couldn’t know he had just handed his opponent the match. Gindy untapped, cast a Borderpost, then re-cast Stun Sniper and a second Jund Hackblade. Thanks to a pre-emptive strike with the Stun Sniper the turn before, tapping Hunt’s Etherium Abomination, the path was clear for Gindy to attack. He turned both his Hackblades sideways as well as his Gloryscale Viashino. Thanks to the four multi-colored spells Charlie had cast that turn, the lizard was a monstrous 15/15, and that was the match.

    Charlie Gindy 2, Matthias Hunt 0

     

  • Saturday, July 25, 2:15 p.m. – Magic Cruise 2010
    by Kelly Digges
  • One of the more intriguing side events this weekend is the Cruise Qualifier on Sunday afternoon. That’s right—the Magic Cruise is back, and one happy competitor tomorrow will win a free ticket and free tournament entry for the second—possibly annual?—Magic Cruise, courtesy of Legion Events, organizers of this very Nationals.

    I found Legion Events’ Steve Port behind the Public Events table to ask him a few questions about the last cruise, the next cruise, and the Qualifiers. Steve was in high spirits, with about as many people circulating in the public events area as there were last year in Chicago, despite a slightly less central location.

    After last year’s Game in the Gulf cruise, the players weren’t the only ones who came back ready for more. As soon as the cruise ended, Steve said, the universal sentiment was that “We’ve gotta do that again.” Did they take some time to mull it over? “Literally the day we got back,” said Steve, “we called Carnival to set it up for next year.”

    The genesis for the original cruise came when a travel agent contacted Legion Events to see if they wanted to promote an upcoming board game cruise. As they looked over the event, said Steve, it dawned on them. “This could work for Magic.”

    When Legion announced the 2010 cruise, they got an immediate and enthusiastic response. The cruise is still seven months away, but they’ve already booked more people than the total number who went on the cruise this year. More than half of the 70 or so slots have been filled.

    This time, rather than go through a travel agent, Steve worked with Carnival Cruise Lines directly. The result: “One more day, better locations, same price.” The cruise will depart on Sunday this time, and Steve is considering renting a block of rooms and an event space that Saturday night for the cruisers rolling into town that day.

    The itinerary is exciting as well. Setting sail from Ft. Lauderdale, FL, the cruise will stop in Key West, Grand Cayman Island, and Jamaica before returning to port. In Jamaica, they’ve already arranged for a unique local experience. Participants will take a scenic mountain hike, ride a zip line partway down, and make the rest of the return journey via, I kid you not, bobsled.

    Last year, said Steve, the VIP guests, including Patrick Chapin and Mike Turian, were class acts. This year’s Guest of Honor is 2007 U.S. National Champ Luis Scott-Vargas, and The Magic Show’s Evan Erwin will be on hand to record the proceedings.

    The format for tomorrow’s qualifier is Standard, and it will be run basically like a PTQ. The winner gets both a free cruise ticket and unlimited tournament entry for the duration of the cruise, and there are prizes for the other top finishers.

    Legion Events ran around a dozen qualifiers for last year’s cruise. This year, they’ve nearly doubled that number, in large part by letting other TOs buy a cruise ticket and run their own qualifiers. Nor is it required for the winner to use the ticket personally—Legion has a deadline by which they need to know the guest list, but otherwise it’s up to the winner. You can find the complete list of qualifiers and additional information about the cruise on LegionEvents.com.

     

  • Saturday, July 25, 2:19 p.m. – Judged Worthy
    by Bill Stark
  • Chris Richter is the level three judge heading up a staff of judges this weekend at U.S. Nationals in Kansas City. The Great Plains region is familiar to him as he hails from the Midwest, and we caught up to chat with him about heading up the largest U.S. Nationals in Magic‘s history. Here’s what he had to say.

    Head Judge and Level 3 Chris Richter.
    “We don’t want the last opportunity to manipulate the deck to go to the potential cheater,” Richter explained when asked about a new rules change debuting for one of the first times in North America this weekend. The change? The owner of a deck is no longer allowed to cut it once after it is returned to them from shuffling by their opponent. That means each player shuffles his or her own deck, then their opponent shuffles it, then they must draw their hands and make mulligan decisions. Previously they were allowed the opportunity to cut the deck once; the policy was changed to prevent players from cutting to marked cards in their deck, a trick that was too easy to abuse.

    Head judge Richter seemed elated that he had not had to issue any disqualifications on the weekend, nor overturn many rulings on appeal. “We had two decklist registration errors during the Standard portion of Friday play, which was good,” Chris opined, before continuing “but we had 18 errors during the first Draft, which was bad.” No matter how many tournaments they have under their belts, it seems players are always at risk of making the same deck registration errors over and over again.

    With a new set seeing its first few weeks of tournament-level play in Magic 2010, one of the big questions were which cards were having the most rules impact on players at the event. “An old school problem has generated the most warnings,” Chris explained. “We’ve handed out more warnings for players forgetting to draw from their opponent’s Howling Mine than anything else.” The two-casting cost artifact was seeing play at the hands of a number of Turbo Fog players.

    More than the cards from Magic 2010, how were the new rules changes brought about by the set affecting things? “The rules and policy changes caused a lot of commotion when they were announced, but the real world impact here has been beyond minimal.” In closing, Richter explained the difference between judging a large, high level event like Nationals compared to a local Pro Tour Qualifier. “Here I control a squad of 20 or so judges; it’s their responsibility to control the players instead of me.” And how was the event going over all? “Smoothly; we learned a few things on Day 1 to ensure Day 2 runs even more efficiently than Day 1.”

    Worthy words from a worthy judge. Thanks for taking the time to fill us in Chris!

     

  • Round 11 Feature Match: “I thought my last draft deck was really good...” - Melissa De Tora vs. Jacob Van Lunen
    by Brian David-Marshall
  • Jacob Van Lunen and Melissa De Tora sat down for what would be the first of -- hopefully -- four potential elimination rounds for Top 8 contention. Melissa has been here before after sweeping through Limited at last year’s Nationals but she stumbled down the stretch to finish just outside of the Pro Points cutoff. Limited was not as kind to her this time and it was going to require a Standard sweep if she wanted to build on her performance from last season.

    Jacob seemed stunned to be fighting for his tournament life. He felt like he had a 3-0 draft deck at the first draft table but narrowly escaped with a 1-2 record. The two East Coast veterans commiserated about drafts gone awry. “I really though my last draft deck was better than 1-2,” said Jacob with a sad shake of the head. The sadness could have in part been due to the match-up he faced this round. Jacob was playing a deck that had amazing match-ups against Faeries, 5Color, and Elves but had a pretty terrible match-up against Kithkin -- Melissa’s weapon of choice for Standard.

    Jacob Van Lunen

    Game 1

    A pair of mulligans started the last leg of Constructed off. Melissa found a hand with two lands and little white men that was an auto keep but Jacob had to go back to the well for five. She led off with Windbrisk Heights and followed with Knight of Meadowgrain while Jacob played lands. He was holding Volcanic Fallout but Honor of the Pure meant he took three and likely could not kill anything with his Fallout. Stalwart, revealing Wizened Cenn, was up next and Jacob tried to hide behind a Woolly Thoctar.

    Melissa played the Wizened Cenn and attacked with her 4-power first striker. “I go to nine,” groaned Jacob who untapped and played Great Sable Stag. “This is getting sided out.”

    Melissa played Path to Exile to dispatch the Woolly Thoctar. That was enough to make Jacob reach for his sideboard in search of four cards to replace his Sable Stags with, for what he hoped would be two more games.

    “That was close,” he said with a roll of the eyes.

    Melissa De Tora

    Game 2

    This match kicked off with a total of fourteen cards for the two players and they each led off with Figure of Destiny. Jacob attacked for two but the crack back was only one from Melissa who needed her mana to summon Knight of Meadowgrain. Jacob attacked into the first striker -- representing Harm’s Way -- and Melissa let it come through. He played a sideboarded Stillmoon Cavalier after combat. Melissa, who had not really seen much of Jacob’s deck, had not brought hers in this game. She played another Figure but had no third land and passed. Jacob attacked with his Figure and the two players traded one mana spells. Jacob attempted to put one of Melissa’s Figures in Harm’s Way and she exiled Jacob’s attacker with Path to Exile. Jacob played another Figure of his own.

    Melissa’s third mana allowed her to unleash a Spectral Procession while Jacob played Ranger of Eos for two more Figures. The players were hunkering down for a long game. Melissa also had Ranger of Eos which she cashed in for Forge-Tender and Figure. Both players deployed their troops and stared across an empty red zone. Jake ultimated one of his Figures only to have it exiled by Unmake. Melissa decided it was time to bring some pressure and attacked with everyone but Forge-Tender. Jake blocked Ranger on Ranger and Stillmoon on Knight. She played another Figure and dropped the Heights.

    Jacob drew into a second Stillmoon and played his last Figure. Melissa pumped a Figure to 4/4 at the end of Jake’s turn and again swarmed with three Figure and three tokens. Jacob double blocked a Figure with two Stillmoons and traded another. He fell to five. Melissa played Mutavualt from under her heights. Woolly Thoctar came down for the Building on a Budget author. Melissa was done with the alpha strikes for the time being and reinforced with Figure and Wizened Cenn.

    Jacob ultimated his remaining Figure and attacked. Melissa took it and went to 8. She made one of her two Figures a 4/4 and prepared for an alpha strike with Path to Exile waiting in her hand for Woolly Thoctar. Jacob had two mana available and Harm’s Way in hand. He needed to give one of his Stillmoons first strike and preemptively take out the Wizened Cenn but he misclicked and gave it flying instead. Jacob appeared dead to Melissa’s attack but desperately searched for a way to undo his mistake. There was not anything he could do and he extended the hand.

    “This match-up is impossible for me,” said Jacob who admitted to being a little thrown by his bad match-up.

    “Nothing is impossible,” said Melissa, no doubt thinking about her next three matches.

    “We played a 20 game set with this deck against Kithkin,” said Jacob. “And I went 3-17.”

    Final result: Melissa De Tora - 2 Jacob Van Lunen - 0

     

  • Saturday, July 25, 3:38 p.m. – Road Trip!
    by Kelly Digges
  • The tournament road trip is a venerable part of the Magic tradition, but for sheer complexity, few people can match the journey currently being undertaken by Gerry Thompson and Steve Sadin.

    Gerry Thompson and Steve Sadin
    To kick things off, Steve flew to St. Louis to meet Gerry (878 miles). The two of them then drove 5 hours to get to the Standard Kentucky Open on July 18 (260 miles). From there, they drove straight here to Kansas City last Monday (509 miles). Before the trip, Gerry called up a friend to see if he had any leads on a place to stay before U.S. Nationals. Half an hour later, the friend called him back with good news: a friend of his who used to play Magic owns a mansion nearby and would be happy to host them.

    When they arrived at the “party mansion,” they found that other gamers had already taken up temporary residence. There were over a dozen of them, out in a common room playing Settlers of Cataan, hunched over in a corner on a Nintendo DS, hanging out in the Jacuzzi, or, in Patrick Chapin’s case, lounging around in a bathrobe, the benefactor of their host’s extraordinary hospitality.

    They asked Patrick how long he had been there. “Week and a half,” he replied.

    Steve and Gerry stayed at the mansion from Monday until Thursday, during which time the house was host to Michael Jacob, Luis Scott-Vargas, and a rotating cast of other Magic players biding their time before Nationals.

    When I asked them for road trip stories, they demurred. “Nothing printable,” they explained—echoing BDM on his recent road trip—and then there was a conversation with Patrick Chapin and Michael Jacob about Michael wearing a pirate hat that I didn’t quite follow.

    Now they’re here, competing at U.S. Nationals, and Steve, with 3 losses, still has an outside shot at the Top 8. No matter what happens, though, they’ve got plans. The trip’s not over.

    From here, they’ll drive to Providence, RI (1,372 miles), to stay in an apartment owned by a friend of Steve’s where, according to him, the best way to get from one part of the apartment to another is by skateboard. After a brief stay there, they’re on to Grand Prix–Boston (a mere hop of 49 miles), putting their total mileage for this first leg of the trip at 2,191 miles.

    First leg? Oh yes. From Boston, they’re flying to Brighton in the U.K. (3,289 miles). Steve is on the coverage team (represent!) for U.K. Nationals on Thursday and Friday of that week, then both of them will playing on Saturday (and hopefully Sunday) at GP–Brighton.

    After that, it’s back to Providence (call it another 3,289 miles), and on from there to Gen Con in Indianapolis (943 miles or so, depending on how you go).

    That puts their total mileage this trip just shy of 10,000 miles, almost 4,000 of those by car, making them true Magic road warriors.

     

  • Round 12 Feature Match: Drew Dumanski (Five Color Control) VS Paul Rietzl (Kithkin)
    by Bill Stark
  • “Did you try out for American Idol?” Drew Dumanski asked his opponent as they sat down for their Round 12 Feature Match. Rietzl, iPod in his ears, was singing loudly while shuffling to a song no one but the Pro Tour Top 8er could hear.

    “Yeah, but I didn’t make it past the first round,” Rietzl replied, leaving it ambiguous as to whether he was being serious or not.

    Paul won the die roll and kept his hand. Drew, who hails from Dallas, Texas, followed suit and watched as Paul kicked things off with Goldmeadow Stalwart revealing a Figure of Destiny to pay a reduced cost for his 2/2. Dumanski built up his manabase with Vivid lands, playing a Vivid Marsh, then a Vivid Meadow but was unable to interact on the board just yet.

    Texan Drew Dumanski is silent but his Broodmate Dragons are deadly.
    “Go for the blowout, or no?” Rietzl asked no one in particular as he took his third turn. He was no doubt referring to whether he should cast a third creature, bringing his total on the battlefield to three but opening up the possibility his opponent had Volcanic Fallout and could use it to wipe Paul’s board clear. Rietzl went for it, adding Knight of Meadowgrain to the battlefield and Drew quickly cast Fallout on his turn. After that it was Esper Charm to force Paul to discard two cards, leaving Rietzl with an Ajani Goldmane slowly accruing counters on his side of the table, but no attackers.

    From there he ripped back-to-back lands while Dumanski evoked Mulldrifter to make sure he didn’t run out of action. The game slipping out of his grasp, Paul Rietzl worked Ajani up to seven loyalty counters, then made an Avatar. Dumanski nodded, using Doom Blade to kill the Avatar and a Volcanic Fallout to hit the Ajani, now with just one loyalty counter. When he had a second Esper Charm on Paul’s next draw step, forcing Rietzl to discard a Plains he had been sandbagging as well as a Goldmeadow Stalwart he had just drawn, the game looked all but finished for the East Coast star.

    The quiet Dumanski went about his turns evoking card draw in the form of Mulldrifters and dropping lands. He wasn’t going to concern himself with winning the game until he absolutely needed to, and his full grip ensured he’d have plenty of board control measures until it came to that. Cruel Ultimatum was cast by Dumanski, and Paul revealed he was still drawing mostly lands, discarding the ones he had been holding. The life totals following the powerful sorcery stood at 19-16 in Paul’s favor, but it didn’t look very good for him. Drew landed a creature of his own, casting a Mulldrifter in full instead of evoking it. The next turn he plopped Broodmate Dragon onto the battlefield, and two attacks later the players were on to the second game.

    Drew Dumanski 1, Paul Rietzl 0

    “Did you know none of my opponents have mulliganed against me this tournament?” Paul Rietzl joked with his opponent as they shuffled for the second game of their Feature Match. “I think my opponents’ average hand size in Honolulu was 5.8, 5.9,” he concluded, describing the fact that many more of his opponents had mulliganed against him at Pro Tour-Honolulu than this weekend in Kansas City.

    Figure of Destiny was first to the battlefield for the second game, rumbling in for 2 damage on the second turn. While sideboarding, Paul had lamented the fact he felt he would have won the first game had he simply cast Figure first turn, then pumped it repeatedly forcing his opponent to deal with the threat card-for-card instead of wiping out his entire board with a single Volcanic Fallout. Burrenton Forge-Tender came down to protect the Figure, then Honor of the Pure followed suit. In response to the enchantment, Dumanski cast Agony Warp to kill the Figure and blank an attack from Forge-Tender.

    Rietzl’s parade of creatures continued through the removal as he cast Spectral Procession the following turn. Drew was ready with Esper Charm to ace his opponent’s Honor of the Pure, but took 4 the following turn on an attack from Paul’s team. Hallowed Burial came to the rescue for Dumanski, but Rietzl sacrificed his Burrenton Forge-Tender in response; apparently he had shuffle effects, and didn’t want to run the possibility of drawing the 1/1 creature again.

    The two players try to navigate a complicated battefield.
    Sure enough, the following turn the Kithkin player cast Ranger of Eos hunting up a second Burrenton Forge-Tender and a Figure of Destiny, shuffling his library in the process. Dumanski gave no inclination as to whether he was concerned about the play, instead dropping another land (his sixth) and passing the turn back to his opponent. Rietzl tried to land a Cloudgoat Ranger, but Drew Dismissed it with Cryptic Command. He followed up with a turn that saw him attempt two Burrenton Forge-Tenders, but the second ate the wrong side of a Broken Ambitions and was countered. Rietzl landed his Figure, while continuing to attack with Ranger of Eos.

    Dumanski used a combination of Deathmark and Volcanic Fallout to blow up his opponent’s board, the ‘Mark on Forge-Tender to allow the Fallout to take care of the rest. A Cloudgoat Ranger from Rietzl the following turn with Drew at 6 life meant bad things if Dumanski didn’t have a solution. That seemed improbable with the number of cards in his hand, but he untapped and surveyed the board briefly before scooping up his cards and sending the match to the third game.

    Drew Dumanski 1, Paul Rietzl 1

    “Whoever wins this game is almost certainly going to make Top 8.” Paul Rietzl said in his usual frenetic manner. The match was a case study in different personalities, with the soft-spoken Drew Dumanski remaining silent unless it was absolutely necessary he speak while Rietzl chattered a mile a minute, seemingly afraid that if his lips stopped moving he’d somehow cease to exist. The Californian cast Wizened Cenn to kick the final game of the match off, and Dumanski allowed the 2/2 to hit the battlefield. When his opponent followed it up with a second copy the following turn, Dumanski allowed that to resolve as well. Paul opted not to attack with his 3/3, summoning sickless Cenn for fear of Plumeveil.

    Dumanski plodded on with land drops, but when Paul attempted an Ajani Goldmane, his hand was forced and he used Broken Ambitions to counter. The clash revealed an Agony Warp waiting on the top of his library, but when Paul cast a third copy of Wizened Cenn, Dumanski didn’t respond with the Shards of Alara instant. Surprised by that turn of events, Paul charged his previous copies of the 2/2 into the red zone, pumped all the way up to 4/4 thanks to having a trio of them on the battlefield.

    Dumanski pulled the trigger, casting Plumeveil. He put the 4/4 in front of one of the Cenns, then cast Agony Warp to reduce the power of the blocked Cenn and the toughness of the freshly cast Cenn. Using reinforce, Rietzl countered the play with a Rustic Clachan saving his team, but they were still not long for the world. Dumanski untapped and cast Hallowed Burial, sending all four creatures on the battlefield to the bottom of their respective owners’ decks.

    Rietzl was ready with a second wave, casting Cloudgoat Ranger. The Soldiers were killed the following turn by a Volcanic Fallout, then an Agony Warp finished off the Cloudgoat itself. Dumanski was down to just one card in his hand, and Paul cast a post-combat Figure of Destiny which quickly became a 4/4. He pumped it to 8/8 the following turn, but Drew was ready with Cryptic Command to bounce it and draw.

    “Man, come on,” Rietzl lamented with a wince. He was so close to taking the match with Drew at 8, but the plucky Texan wasn’t going down without a fight. Trying to rebuild, Dumanski cast an Esper Charm to draw into more solutions using Essence Scatter on Figure as Paul re-cast it. Rietzl built a mini army with two copies of Burrenton Forge-Tender, and when Dumanski used Hallowed Burial to clear the board again, Paul sacrificed both in response.

    “Come on deck, I’ve never asked you for ANYTHING in this match!” Rietzl shouted at his library, before drawing a card and passing the turn. He did the same thing a turn later, before finally drawing a Cloudgoat Ranger. Dumanski had no response to the 3/3 entering the battlefield, then used Esper Charm to draw two more cards on his turn. That bought him a Broodmate Dragon, but Rietzl had a Windbrisk Heights that was about to go active. If the card was powerful enough, the twin 4/4s might not matter.

    Paul attacked with his team, losing his Cloudgoat and a Kithkin Soldier in the process. He activated his Windbrisk Heights to put an Ajani Goldmane onto the battlefield, cast Spectral Procession, then activated his Ajani to turn his team into 2/2s. Dumanski was at 5 life when he untapped. He turned seven of his lands sideways and revealed Cruel Ultimatum, moving to 10 life, emptying Pauls hand of a Plains, and forcing his opponent to sacrifice a Kithkin Soldier. When he attacked with his Dragon token to kill Ajani, Rietzl blocked the 4/4 with two of his 2/2 Spirit tokens. Dumanski would not give the match up no matter how much Paul lamented his fate.

    Paul Rietzl tries to hold on with Kithkin.
    Rietzl untapped and cast Goldmeadow Stalwart, paying a full four mana, then pumped his team for the second time with Ajani Goldmane. He couldn’t attack, passing the turn, and Dumanski quickly sent his Broodmate Dragon into the red zone to kill Ajani. Threatening near-lethal, Paul begrudgingly opted not to block, losing his planeswalker. Mulldrifter hardcast provided a chump blocker for Dumanski and helped continue keeping his hand full of action. When he used Cryptic Command to tap his opponent’s team during combat and draw a card, the game looked decidedly bad for Paul Rietzl.

    “I almost won.” Paul complained, again lamenting the turn of events that seemed to likely be culminating in his demise from the Top 8 runnings. A second Cryptic Command from Dumanski to tap his opponent’s team opened up the possibility of a lethal counter attack from the Texan, but Paul cast a second Spectral Procession to chump block his opponent’s flyers. Dumanski attacked his opponent to 3 on his turn, then used Hallowed Burial to keep things safe, clearing the board of creatures.

    Rietzl countered back with an Ajani Goldmane, only to see its reign on the battlefield come to an end thanks to a Drew Dumanski Pithing Needle. The two players then moved into draw-go territory with both dropping lands and passing for multiple turns, the battlefield remaining empty throughout. “This is like a topdeck war, huh?” Rietzl said, receiving only a “Yup...” from his opponent.

    As if on cue, the karma gods blessed Drew Dumanski with a Broodmate Dragon and he mercifully cast it immediately rather than taking his time before revealing his opponent’s fate. Paul untapped and tried to use Unmake on the 4/4, but Dumanski was ready with Cryptic Command to counter. Rietzl’s chatter came to an end, and with grace and professionalism he extended his hand in defeat.

    Drew Dumanski 2, Paul Rietzl 1

     

  • Round 13 Feature Match: Brian Robinson (Jund Aggro) vs. Ray Tautic (MonoRed)
    by Brian David-Marshall
  • Rookie of the Year hopeful was sitting on three losses as he stepped into the Feature match and would need to get past a familiar frienemy from the Northeast PTQ circuit. There were as many as 10 Pro Points on the table for Brian and a win here would get him one step closer to catapulting into the RoY lead.

    “If I win this tournament Disney is going to make a movie about me with Dennis Quaid,” Brian had joked a round earlier. “Or maybe Randy Quaid.”

    “Me and Brian go waaaay back,” said Ray Tautic as they prepared for a fiery elimination match between Ray’s monored deck and Brian’s JundBlood.

    Game 1

    Reflecting Pool and Vivid land for Brian allowed him to Lightning Bolt Ray’s Stigma Lasher. Brian untapped and sent in the Ram-Gang. ray untapped and Lightning Bolted the Ram-Gang and played the long lost Stigma Lasher. Brian had a Bloodbraid Elf into Kitchen Finks. Robinson blocked the Stigma Lasher and lost his Finks to wither but was undeterred. He played another Ram-Gang and attacked for 6. Ray used Volcanic Fallout and ended up taking 5 instead but killed the Bloodbraid Elf as a result. He played Figure of Destiny but Brian had Maelstrom Pulse.

    Ray shrugged and fired off a Flame Javelin at the Ram-Gang. Ray -- who’s deck featured four Ball Lightning and two Hell’s Thunder -- attacked with a flying 4/4 and played yet another Stigma Lasher which quickly died in a fire. Ray unearthed the flier and the score was 12 - 9 in favor of Robinson. He fell to 10 after targeting himself Sign in Blood.

    Ray played Flamekin Harbinger for Hell’s Thunder. Brian played another Bloodbraid, flipping into Putrid Leech and attacked into a chumpblocking Flamekin. The score was 6 to 4 in favor of Brian after he took four from the Thunder. Ray did not unearth the flier on the next turn but played Figure and pumped it twice to a 4/4. Brian attacked with both his guys and flashed Fallout for the win.

    Game 2

    Ray opened on Figure of Destiny but it was Bolted after he pumped it a turn later. Ray followed up with Hell’s Thunder but that damage was minimized by Brian’s Kitchen Finks back up to 18. Stigma Lasher showed up a turn late for the party and holding a lightning rod. Brian followed up his Bolt with a Blightning and Ray dumped two cards and took down the Finks with Magma Spray. Ray topdecked a Figure but lost what little remained of his hand to another Blightning. The Figure fell a turn later to Bituminous Blast into Putrid Leech.

    “Not as bad as I thought it would be,” said Ray who untapped to play Flamekin for Hell’s Thunder -- refusing to give an old favorite to tip its hat to the crowd. “Once again I am not topdecking Ball Lighnting.”

    Brian had another Bloodbraid into Finks and that was enough for Ray who wished Brian luck with the pairings in the remaining round.

    Final result: Brian Robinson - 2 Ray Tautic - 0

     

  • Saturday, July 25, 4:56 p.m. – Artist Interview: rk post
    by Kelly Digges
  • I travel to a lot of Magic events, and I’ve gotten good at packing for them—coverage shirts, EDH decks, packs for drafting, even lands in my carryon in case of a spontaneous layover Winston draft.

    But there is one thing I can never seem to remember to bring: cards for artists to sign. Every major event I’ve ever been to (and at least one not-so-major one) has featured one of Magic‘s awesome illustrators signing, sketching, and chatting with fans, and I never, ever remember to bring any cards they’ve done.

    Here at Magic Weekend, our two illustrious illustrators are rk post and Rob Alexander. Fortunately, they’re both prolific artists who’ve been with the game a long time, so I’ll still be able to pull some cards out of my EDH decks for them to sign.

    I first discovered the art of rk post through his work on Alternity, a now-discontinued Wizards RPG. I quickly recognized his distinct style on Magic cards like Acridian and Dawnstrider, and it was my pleasure to sit down and chat with him today.

    Mr. post and his wife Marcy got in on a red-eye flight Thursday night, and he’s been either signing or sleeping pretty close to nonstop since then. But even with all that, he looks far from exhausted—on the contrary, he’s energetic, approachable, and visibly excited to be here. He illustrated a playmat for someone while I spoke with him.

    He’s been working on Magic for 12 years, having made his debut more or less simultaneously in Exodus, Portal II, and the oversized Sliver Queen card for Vanguard. He got started with the game by bringing his portfolio to Gen Con one year and getting noticed by an art director for TSR, Inc. (makers of Dungeons & Dragons), who would be bought by Wizards of the Coast shortly thereafter.

    He said his favorite pieces he’s done for Magic are Unmask and Tenth EditionKnight of Dusk (the latter of which adorns his business cards, and bears a certain resemblance to his wife). The cards he’s signed most frequently this weekend include Standard workhorses Fulminator Mage and Tidehollow Sculler, casual favorites Torchling and Mind Funeral, as well as, Marcy chimes in to remind him, classics Lightning Angel and Morphling, which have been enduringly popular.

    The line had started to build up behind me, so I asked one last question before moving on: What’s the best thing about being a Magic illustrator?

    “They fly me places to sign stuff,” he said, looking around and grinning. “That’s pretty cool.”

     

  • Saturday, July 25, 5:54 p.m. – Metagame Breakdown
    by Bill Stark
  • Here’s your 2009 U.S. Nationals metagame breakdown.

    Cruel Control: 61
    Faeries: 34
    Kithkin: 24
    Elves! 24
    Sygg Jund: 17
    Jund: 13
    Blightning Aggro: 9
    Merfolk: 5
    Time Sieve: 4
    Black-Red Aggro: 3
    Doran: 3
    Mannequin Control: 3
    BRGW Good Stuff: 3
    White-Black Tokens: 2
    Black-Green Elves: 2
    5cElementals: 1
    Baneslayer Jund: 1
    Bant Aggro: 1
    Bant Control: 1
    Hellkite/Archangel Control: 1
    Hendrickson Control: 1
    Black-Red-green Aggro: 1
    Cascade Control: 1
    Cascade Jund: 1
    Countryside Dreamcrusher: 1
    Monoblack Control: 1
    Naya Solution: 1
    Polymorph: 1
    Red Deck Wins: 1
    Red-Green Aggro: 1
    Red-White Kithkin: 1
    Swans Control: 1
    Turbo Fog: 1
    URB Faeries: 1
    Blue-White Solution: 1
    Blue-White Tokens: 1

     

  • Round 14 Round Up: Win and In
    by Brian David-Marshall
  • Robinson Vs. Lachman
    Four players at the top of the standings were able to catch an early end to the day with a draw. Mark Hendrickson and Drew Dumanski had 33 points apiece as did Brett Piazza who was paired with Adam Yurchick at 30. All four of them shook hands and headed off to an early dinner. By virtue of their tiebreakers, Charles Gindy and Brad Nelson felt confident enough to also draw with 30 points each but the remaining two pairings were not as confident and were compelled to fight for the remaining two berths in the Top 8. Had Gindy and Nelson decided to play then it would have opened up the possibility of a player with four losses -- such as last year’s team member Sam Black -- sneaking into the Top 8 but it was looking unlikely. It would be the first time in the last several year’s that the current team was not made up of at least one previous year’s team member.

    Brian Robinson (JundBlood) vs. Chris Lachman (Blightning BurnDown)

    Lachman came roaring out of the gate with a domed Tarfire, Hellspark Elemental and Anathemancer in Game 1. Brian tried to level the playing field with Putrid Leech, Boggart Ram-Gang, Sign in Blood, and Bituminous Blast but a lethal Banefire from Lachman closed the deal. In the second game, Brian Kitchen Finks went all the way as Lachman threw all of his burn at Robinson in anticipation of finishing off with an Earthquake. Robinson’s precision strike Blightning stripped it from his hand and took down the second game. In the third game Lachman had to Earthquake twice just to stay alive but he fell to below 10 to do it. Robinson just kept coming with Ram-Gang. Lachman tried to hide for a turn behind Anathemancer and possibly unearth a win but Bituminous Blast into Bloodbraid Elf into Kitchen Finks secured Brian Robinson his second high level Top 8 berth this season.

    Todd Anderson (5Color Control) vs. John Rolf (Faeries)

    Anderson Vs. Rolf
    Game 1 was a blowout for Todd as John stalled on two lands after a Bitterblossom while Anderson played Plumeveil and Ajani Vengeant. Rolf was able to Agony Warp away the first wall but another soon replaced it. Todd had more than enough time, thanks to Firespout, to get to Ajani’s ultimate but Rold conceded before that happened. The second game was equally ugly, albeit in a different fashion for Rolf, after opening on Thoughtseize for Cryptic Command and countering a Plumeveil with Broken Ambitions that would have ambushed his Mutavault. Rolf managed to to resolve Jace when Todd tapped out to Cryptic Command a Puppeteer Clique back to his opponent’s hand during Todd’s own mainphase. Jace yielded a Bitterblossom and it was looking like there might be a Game 3. Everything went to heck for Rolf when he tried a Mistbind Clique during Todd’s upkeep. Todd played Broken Ambitions for 5 and Rolf played Spellstutter Sprite with two tokens and Bitterblossom in play. Todd passed priority and allowed the Sprite to hit play. John pointed it at the Broken Ambitions but Todd adamantly pointed out that he could not target it and that the only legal spell was the Mistbind Clique itself. Rolf tried to activate Mutavault but it was ruled that he could only target a spell with a converted mana cost of four or less when it came into play. He had to counter his own Clique. Rolf appealed to a higher power but all the judges were clear that while he could not respond to the trigger but it would not change anything since he needed to have chosen a legal target already. Todd compounded John’s misery by playing Volcanic Fallout and pointing to Rolf’s Mutavault as well as his tokens. John picked up the land and put it in his yard and then wanted to protest that he had actually not animated it once the ruling became clear on the Sprite play but since he had put the land in his yard already there was nothing compelling he could say to change it. He scooped a turn later.

    Final results: Brian Robinson and Todd Anderson advance to the Top 8 of the 2009 US National Championship

     

  • Saturday, July 25, 6:59 p.m. – Artist Interview: Rob Alexander
    by Kelly Digges
  • Having already stopped by rk post’s signing booth here at Magic Weekend, I was itching for a chance to chat another of Magic‘s great illustrators,
    Rob Alexander. Coverage writing is a lot of work, but it comes with lots of hidden perks—among them, the chance to meet Magic celebrities and ask them questions for twenty minutes without being that guy at the front of the line who meets Magic celebrities and asks them questions for twenty minutes.

    Rob Alexander
    Rob was dressed in a dark, formal shirt, and every time I walked by, he had his head down, focused on signing and sketching, long hair covering his face. I was a little nervous about approaching him at first, but as soon as I did, he lit up, sat me down behind the booth with him, and asked me what I wanted to know. As more people came to talk to him, I saw that “intense Rob” does the drawing, but “friendly Rob” does all the talking.

    As I sat down, someone walked up to his booth and asked him to sketch something on a playmat. “Did you have anything in mind?” Rob asked. “Is there a theme going on, or should I just draw whatever comes into my head?”

    The fellow with the playmat gave Rob free reign, and as he walked away, I asked Rob whether he prefers the starting point of drawing a request or the freedom of “whatever.”

    “‘Whatever’ is much easier,” he said, saying that it leaves him free to sketch things as they come to mind, stick to things he’s good at (especially at the end of a long day when he’s not at his best), and let the drawing go where it goes.

    Mr. Alexander is here from Eugene, OR, and says that he’s always willing—”I love doing the shows”—but his event itinerary is hit or miss. “Sometimes a year’ll go by with nothing, and then suddenly I’ll get five or six offers for one weekend.”

    Rob’s start with Wizards goes back to the very start. No, not the start of Magic—before that. He did the cover the early Wizards RPG Primal Order, back before the words trading card game meant anything. When Magic started up, the company needed a lot of art, so they called “everybody they knew.” The Primal Order cover hadn’t really been a good fit, and Rob initially said no to working on Magic, but a friend of his in Calgary, BC knew original Magic art director (and illustrator) Jesper Myrfors and encouraged Rob to take the job. Happily, Rob said, he had a great experience working on Magic, which gave him plenty of leeway to experiment, and found Mr. Myrfors very easy to work for. Thus started an illustrating career that’s spanned all of Magic‘s 15-year history.

    The table was covered with large-scale prints of his art (and some originals as well), and I was astonished at the level of detail in the landscapes, especially the Ravnica lands, and I asked Rob if it pained him that most people who encountered those pieces saw them in such a tiny format that some of the detail is lost.

    “Oh, a little,” he said, smiling. “I realized early on that I could make the card look good or make the painting look good, and I decided that I wanted the painting itself to be good.” He said that he still selects compositions with an eye toward how they’ll look at card size, but really likes it that people who see his prints catch things they’ve never noticed before. “They’ll say ‘Oh, Watery Grave actually has bodies floating in it’—of course it does, it’s a watery grave, but they never saw it at card size.”

    In addition to prints, Rob had two books for sale, one a collection of prints, and the other a how-to guide on illustrating fantasy landscapes—”What I wish I could have read when I was in high school and college,” he said.

    His favorite pieces are Exalted Angel, Temple Garden, Underground Sea (the first card he ever illustrated), and Spectral Cloak, and obscure Legends card with a story behind it. Rob had several pieces to do for the set and not a lot of time to do them, and his wife suggested painting a figure wrapped in a cloak—so he’d have to paint less of the figure! What could have been a clumsy hack became, in Rob’s hands, a really lovely piece of art.

    Rob’s done a lot of lands over the years, and he said that if he had to pick landscapes or figures, he’d pick landscapes, which were what he started out drawing as good. “But there was a long stage where all I got was land, and I had to ask them to give me some figures so I could keep my skills up.”

    He’d been a model interviewee thus far, so I told him I was going to ask the big question: “Twiddle. What the heck is going on in the art?”

    Rob laughed. “That’s the number-one question I get,” he said. When he illustrated Twiddle for Alpha, the designers were still writing the rules and figuring out the flavor, and they weren’t quite sure yet what “tapping” or “untapping” would really mean in terms of art concept. They’d talked about wizards tapping into skeins of mana “like leylines,” and communicated that the game was color-based. Rob got this image in his head of colored leylines twisting together to perform a magical feat—in this case, levitating a rock. Later, Rob got the finished version of the rules and flavor and was able to pursue better directions for representing it.

    Would he do it differently, then, if he had to do over? “I would,” he said, saying that he’d try to mimic the game mechanics a little better.

    So knowing the game mechanics is a plus. Does he play Magic himself? “Badly,” he said, laughing, “but I really enjoy it.”

    As I did with rk post, before I departed and let him get back to his signing, I asked Rob what the best thing about being a Magic illustrator is. He thought for a long time before answering, and when he did, he echoed Mr. post’s sentiments.

    “The best part,” he said, “is coming to shows. It’s a chance to come out, see the players, and keep that connection with the audience.”

     

  • Saturday, July 25, 7:15 p.m. – The Spanish Inquisition (Deck Tech With Mark Hendrickson)
    by Brian David-Marshall
  • Rob Alexander
    “I don’t think I want to call this deck Red-White Control anymore,” said Texas-transplant, by way of Los Angeles, Mark Hendrickson as we sat down to break down his metagame wrecking ball. “I want to call it The Spanish Inquisition. No one expects the Spanish Inquisition.”

    None of the metagame pundits were expecting this deck to be sure. “Lightning Bolt and Sword to Plowshares are pretty good,” laughed the long-standing Pro Tour veteran who’s career dates back to the first Pro Tour Los Angeles. His deck is the most recent iteration of his old school take on red-white control that he had built for his friend Eric Jones to play with in Kyoto. That list had eight Icy Manipulators and was dubbed XCIV, which is Roman for ‘94, but with the rotation of Icy Manipulator Scepter of Dominance was not going to cut it in a world full of Kithkin -- Maelstrom Pulse did not help matters either. Mark went back to the drawing board qualified for the tournament in the Grinders on Thursday with the following build:

    He changed the list as he moved from the single elimination, amateur filled grinders to the Swiss, shark infested Nationals field.

    “I took out the Runded Halossince I knew more people would play Faeries and 5 Color over the aggressive decks in the Grinders,” he explained. “The Goblin Assaults went into the main deck since they have been so good against Faeries and Control.”

    Mark began to run through his card choices and showed off his main win conditions; a pair of Obelisk of Alara and one Call the Skybreaker.

    “Double Obelisk is really good but the Call the Skybreaker is just nuts,” said Mark, who says he normally avoids decks with one and two-ofs. “It is just so good late. It takes over the game. Late game Armillary Spheres are two dragons and even when I late game clash I will often just leave a land there and say ‘leave the dragon on top.’ Earthquake also is a card that puts the deck over the top.

    According to Mark the Kithkin and Elves matchups were virtual byes and he has a 60/40 edge in the Faerie matchup.

    “I thought I was giving up the match-up to 5-Color but I was 3-0 against it,” said Mark with a fond sidelong glance at his sideboard. “I played against one guy and I played Hindering Light when he Cruel Ultimatum’d me. He just kept looking around trying to figure out what happened.”

    While the deck is creatureless it did have Goblin Assault, Elspeth, and Call of Skybreaker. He also had something else not available to control decks with more colored mana intensive builds -- Mutavault. He also cautioned that while it might look like a control deck it was capable of burning an opponent out over the first 5 or 6 turns. Like he said, Lighting Bolt is pretty good.

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