The_Week_That_Was

Grand Prix Geography and History Lessons

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The letter W!e are in the last leg of the 2011 Pro Tour season, with just a handful of events before we crown the Player of the Year and take a well-deserved break through the month of December.

Grand Prix Milan is this weekend, and it kicks off the sprint to the finish line with stops in Brisbane, Santiago, Amsterdam, Hiroshima, and San Diego before the year culminates in the World Championships in San Francisco. There are almost eight weeks of downtime for players to catch their collective breaths, let their bruised passports heal, and spend some time exploring their hometowns for a change. And then after recovering from their New Year's celebrations, it will be time to dive back into the 2012 Grand Prix schedule.

Let's take a look at where the GP circuit is going to be making stops, and what the formats will be in each town. With the recent increase to Planeswalker Points multipliers for all public events happening at Grand Prix (you can see more info at the bottom of this column), these are awesome opportunities to play wall-to-wall Magic for an entire weekend.

Austin, Texas – January 7-8

Innistrad Sealed Deck with Booster Draft Day Two


Austin, Texas is one of my favorite cities that Magic has brought me to over the years. There is a great vibe from the locals and the food is amazing. Memories of everything from succulent BBQ to high-end farm-to-table cuisine have my mouth watering at the prospect of going back to Texas in January.

The first Grand Prix in Austin's history was long enough ago that the Top 3 competitors from that 1998 event are all over 40 today. Self-proclaimed dinosaur Gary Krakower emerged victorious in that event over eventual Hall of Famer Darwin Kastle. There were only 200 players at that long-ago event, which is smaller than many PTQs these days and miniscule compared to the thousand-plus attendees showing up regularly for Grand Prix competition today.

It was another six years before the Grand Prix pulled back into Austin, and there were nearly double the attendees for this one (it was also my first taste of Austin BBQ). The format for the event was Champions of Kamigawa Limited, and the always-formidable Jon Sonne triumphed over Eugene Levin with a little bit of help from Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. Other luminaries in the Top 8 included local hero Neil Reeves, Gerry Thompson, and Michael Jacob in his GP Top 8 debut.

The most famous event in Austin's history is, of course, Brian Kibler winning his first Pro Tour there in just his second event back out of retirement.

Brian Kibler

Orlando, Florida – January 14-15

Standard


Orlando has a long history as a Magic town, despite only hosting one Grand Prix and zero Pro Tours. For years it was the site of US Nationals and the Junior Super Series. Florida has made quite a mark on the tournament scene this year, with Pro Tour wins by Floridians Ben Stark and David Sharfman and strong finishes by Pat Cox. You can expect a fierce local crowd for this event in one of the last Standard events before the Dark Ascension Prerelease upends the format a week later.

Looking back at the one Grand Prix in Orlando you have to go back to 2004 when Pro Tour Venice Champion Osyp Lebedowicz piloted his Vial Affinity deck past 500 other competitors.

The Grand Prix circuit will wind down for a couple of weeks as we have the Dark Ascension Prerelease and Launch Parties before the Pro Tour heads out to sunny Honolulu for Pro Tour Dark Ascension. Throughout the 2012 season each Pro Tour will be timed—and named—to the release of a new set so that we get to see the game's best players parse formats with the new cards just weeks after each set comes out.

Kobe, Japan – February 18-19

Innistrad / Dark Ascension Sealed Deck with Booster Draft Day Two


As I talk about Grand Prix cities it is hard for me to avoid talking about food. And when I do talk about great food cities it hard for me to avoid talking about Kobe Japan. I had one of the greatest meals of my life at Grand Prix Kobe across the street from the venue at Sakurai. It was a tasting menu of Kobe beef that can be seen here. If you have a chance to go to Kobe, you should definitely budget some time and money to check it out.

The first Grand Prix in Kobe was ten years ago in 2001 and featured a finals showdown between Hall of Famer elect Shuhei Nakamura (in the first of his SEVENTEEN!!! Grand Prix Top 8 appearances) and one of the most underrated players I have ever had the privilege to watch play Magic: Itaru Ishida. With 1,350 competitors it was the largest event to that point, and to my mind it was the start of an era of modern Magic in Japan that led to multiple Player of the Year titles, Pro Tour wins, and Hall of Fame inductees.

There were two Pro Tours in Kobe over the following years, with Masashiro Kuroda finally hoisting a trophy for the home country followed by Jan Moritz-Merkel two years later.

Yuuta Tatakashi took down the 2008 Grand Prix with Fae in a rare Japanese Grand Prix that was light on star power. The finals of the Extended Grand Prix in Kobe one year later was an all-star affair, with Tomoharu Saito defeating Yuuya Watanabe in a showdown of Player of the Year winners. The most recent Grand Prix Kobe saw a showdown between PT champion and Player of the year winner Shouta Yasooka and World Champion Makihito Mihara.

Shouta Yasooka

So let's see... the Grand Prix Kobe champions roster is Itaru Ishida, Yuuta Takahashi, Tomoharu Saito, and Shouta Yasooka. Who will be next?

Lincoln, Nebraska – February 18-19

Modern


I got nothing for Lincoln, as the Grand Prix circuit will be rolling through there for the first time. One of the exciting aspects of the expanded Grand Prix schedule is the ability to take the events to cities that have not had the chance to experience this type of competition before. The new Modern format will still be relatively unexplored, with only a few weeks of brewing time with Dark Ascension before the event.

Madrid, Spain – February 25-26

Innistrad / Dark Ascension Sealed with Booster Draft Day Two


Hall of Famer elect Steven O'Mahoney Swartz helped usher in the concept of the Road Warrior when he began traveling to foreign Grand Prix with Jon Finkel and Randy Buehler. Steve OMS won the event and his two travel companions both made the Top 16 in that long ago winter of 1997.

The Road Warrior phenomenon was in full effect by the time the GP came back to Madrid two years later. Both Olivier Ruel and Alex Shvartsman were in the Top 8 of that event and have worn the mantle of Road Warrior, but it was Carlos Barrado who won the trophy that time.

Kai Budde was winding down his impressive career by the middle of the 2000s, but he still had time to sweep into Madrid for a little Booster Draft action and defeat a field that was—at the time—the largest in Grand Prix history.

Kai Budde

Madrid has regularly drawn some of the biggest attendances, and in 2008 there were 1,500 players fighting for the trophy. Champion Lasse Nørgaard emerged at the top of that very impressive heap.

Add another 700 players to the mix and you get the earth-shattering attendance of GP Madrid 2010 in all its 2,200-person glory. Andreas Müller bested the field and the Top 8, which included Saito, Richard Bland, and Sven Djit—the last of whom also made the Top 8 of the first GP ever.

Two Hall of Famers in Steve OMS and Kai Budde, and three lesser known names. Who will the next Madrid Champion be?

Baltimore, Maryland – February 25-26

Standard


You can expect multiple events taking place on the same date with the new expanded schedule. The double feature of Baltimore and Madrid is just one example of this. Players can choose between Limited in Europe and Standard in the States. Baltimore is another city getting its first taste of Grand Prix competition and has been the site of US Nationals in the past. Given the earth-shattering attendance from the nearby GP Washington DC not too long ago, it should be an amazing event.

Lille, France – March 3-4

Standard


The last time the Grand Prix circuit came to Lille the format was Legacy—about as opposite as you can get from Standard. Helmut Summersberger won the whole thing with his Threshold deck over a field of close to 1,000 players.

Seattle, Washington – March 3-4

Innistrad / Dark Ascension Sealed Deck with Booster Draft Day Two


Again, players will have the choice of playing Limited or Constructed on the same weekend. Players in Seattle will have to measure up against the likes of Hall of Famer Bob Maher, who won the first Grand Prix in Seattle playing Oath of Druids in Extended.

Hall of Famer Tsuyoshi Fujita and Hall of Famer elect Shuhei Nakamura both made the Top 8 in 2005—the format was again Extended—but they could not get past the semifinals. It was the relatively unknown Ernie Marchesano and his Rock deck that took home the trophy.

On the weekend before Pro Tour Honolulu, the Pros descended upon Seattle for a Standard Grand Prix. The Top 8 was littered with names like Luis Scott-Vargas, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Ben Lundquist, Nicolai Potovin, and Ari Lax. They all fell by the wayside as Yann Massicard piloted an unconventional Doran list to the title.

Seattle was the site of the World Championships for many years and also hosted a handful of Invitationals.

Indianapolis, Indiana – March 10-11

Legacy


Legacy comes to Indy, and you can expect a huge turnout based on the format and the large turnouts in Indy for gaming events like this past US National Championship, which took place during Gen Con. It has also been the site of the Legacy Championships at Gen Con for the past several years.

There have only been two Grand Prix in Indy, and you have to go back to 1998 for the first of the pair. That event was won by Eric Jordan, who triumphed over a Top 8 that included Worth Wollpert, Randy Buehler, and Darwin Kastle. Hall of Famer Jelger Wiegersma swooped into Indy in 2008 and defeated Gaudenis Vidugiris in the finals of the 1,123-person tournament.

Nashville, Tennessee – March 17-18

Innistrad / Dark Ascension Sealed Deck with Booster Draft Day Two


The one and only time there has been a GP in Nashville, the locals made the most of the opportunity. They showed up to an event boasting 1,500 players that culminated in an all-star Top 8. Conley Woods, Conrad Kolos, Martin Juza, Gerard Fabiano, Josh Utter-Leyton, Kyle Stoll, and Ari Lax would have made for an impressive Top 8 even without winner Gerry Thompson to round out the bracket.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – March 24-25

Standard


The most famous win to ever occur in Kuala Lumpur was Jon Finkel's Pro Tour win after he was inducted into the Pro Tour Hall of Fame, but there have also been a handful of Grand Prix going all the way back to 2000, when Ryan Soh won with Necro Donate. That weekend also marked the Magic Invitational that led to the creation of Meddling Mage.

Jon Finkel

Two years later, Worlds Top 8 competitor Ding Leong won in a Top 8 that included Alex Shvartsman, then in the midst of a record-setting Asian GP Tour. Several seasons later, the trophy would be hoisted by Grand Prix master Masahiko Morita. Morita, one of a handful of best players without a Pro Tour Top 8 on their resume, has sixteen Grand Prix Top 8s on his resume, and this was the first of his four wins.

In 2006 one of the more star-studded Top 8s of all time took place in Malaysia, with Kenji Tsumura besting a Top 8 that included Shouta Yasooka, Quentin Martin, Itaru Ishida, Osamu Fujita, Terry Soh, and Ruud Warmenhoven. It was a huge event for Kenji in the wake of his Player of the Year title run in the past season. While he had performed well in Constructed that last year, he was unhappy with his Limited showings and vowed to improve them. He ended up with a trophy to show for his efforts.

Ding Leong returned to the scene of the crime in 2010 and annihilated another Malaysian Grand Prix Top 8. He used a mono-red deck to decimate a bracket that featured six Jund players—three of whom fell to Leong's fiery build.

Mexico City, Mexico – March 24-25

Innistrad / Dark Ascension Sealed Deck with Booster Draft Day Two


It is another weekend with two Grand Prix on the same weekend with two different formats. I can't imagine many people will choose one event over the other based on the format, though, given the geographic disparity between the two events. There has only been one event in Mexico City in the history of the GP circuit, but it was a good one, with former World Champion Julien Nuijten hoisting the trophy playing the skill-testing Gifts Ungiven deck.

Melbourne, Australia – March 31 - April 1

Innistrad / Dark Ascension Sealed Deck with Booster Draft Day Two


There have been Grand Prix in Melbourne going all the way back to 1998. (I am not one to drop hints in my column too often, but I have never actually been to Australia, and this coverage assignment would make a nice belated birthday gift. But I digress.)

The Top 8 from that first event in Melbourne is eight for eight on players whose names I do not recognize, with Phillip Davey taking the title. With so many more GPs in the coming year I expect that more local players will have a chance to inscribe their names in the history books alongside Davey. Not everyone can be a Hall of Famer, but anyone can win a GP—provided they give it a try.

Pro Tour Yokohama Top 8 competitor Ben Seck won a GP on his home continent in 2002. Combined with his win in Africa—a continent that has never hosted another GP—he can cross two continents off the continental Grand Slam and "merely" needs to win in Asia, Europe, North and South America along with beating Steve OMS, Dan OMS, and Jon Finkel (also known as Team Antarctica) in a team draft, because—let's face it—there will never be an event in Antarctica.

James Zhang took the trophy in 2005 playing Extended. In 2009 Melbourne saw another showdown between Tomoharu Saito and Yuuya Watanabe in the finals of a GP, with Yuuya coming out on top this time. The win was a huge part of Yuuya's Player of the Year title surge and catapulted him ahead of both Shuhei Nakamura and Luis Scott-Vargas to take a lead he would never relinquish.

Yuuya Watanabe

Salt Lake City, Utah – March 31 - April 1

Standard


The second of three events taking place this weekend on three different continents will feature Standard. There has only been one previous GP in Salt Lake City, and it was won by Antonino De Rosa in a bracket that included the likes of Kenji Tsumura, Rogier Maaten, Gabe Walls, Gadiel Szliefer, and Frank Karsten all playing Kamigawa Block Constructed.

Turin, Italy – March 31 - April 1

Modern


Three different events, three different continents, three different formats.

There has been only one previous Grand Prix in Turin, and it was back in the glory days of three-person teams. The winners were the retronymically titled Team Clegg, which featured Dan Clegg, Brock Parker, and the late Peter Szigeti.

Whew! That's a busy schedule...and it's only the first three months. Here's the full schedule for easy reference:

City Country Dates Format
Austin USA January 7-8 Sealed/Booster Draft (Innistrad)
Orlando USA January 14-15 Standard
Kobe Japan February 18-19 Sealed/Booster Draft (Innistrad-Dark Ascension)
Lincoln USA February 18-19 Modern
Madrid Spain February 25-26 Sealed/Booster Draft (Innistrad-Dark Ascension)
Baltimore USA February 25-26 Standard
Lille France March 3-4 Standard
Seattle USA March 3-4 Sealed/Booster Draft (Innistrad-Dark Ascension)
Indianapolis USA March 10-11 Legacy
Nashville USA March 17-18 Sealed/Booster Draft (Innistrad-Dark Ascension)
Kuala Lumpur Malaysia March 24-25 Standard
Mexico City Mexico March 24-25 Sealed/Booster Draft (Innistrad-Dark Ascension)
Melbourne Australia March 31-April 1 Sealed/Booster Draft (Innistrad-Dark Ascension)
Salt Lake City USA March 31-April 1 Standard
Turin Italy March 31-April 1 Modern

Public Events Multiplier

Under the new Planeswalker Points system, Grand Prix offer one of the biggest opportunities for points with their 8x multiplier. Now, all public events taking place at Grand Prix—with the exception of Grand Prix Trials—will now have a 5x multiplier when awarding Planeswalkers Points. This means every public event Booster Draft win is worth 15 Planeswalker Points. Every eight-person Standard win-a-box could also win you 45 points. The new multiplier has been added retroactively to all of the events that took place at Grand Prix in Shanghai, Montreal, and Pittsburgh this summer. Organized Play program manager Scott Larabee told me events older than that will not be changed to reflect this multiplier, but all events moving forward will offer this opportunity to amass additional Planewalker Points via public events.

Last-chance Grand Prix Trials at GPs will be the only exception, and will be run at a 3x multiplier.




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