Saturday, March 25: 11:18 am - Welcome to Wiz-Cahn-Sin
Ah Wisconsin, where snow flurries occur into April, and cow tipping is an art form. I used to have a girlfriend who hailed from the Door County area of Wisconsin (also known as the thumb on the mitten of the state map), and spent some time upstate nearly a decade ago, but I'd never had the chance to make it to Mad-town before in spite of great reviews from locals and national magazines alike. It turns out the stellar reviews are well-deserved.
Previously on Lost...
State Street is the hopping college bar area of town, and you can expect to find Mark Herberholz and Sam Gomersall (they of the $1100 post-Pro Tour victory bar tab) stumbling along there later tonight, regardless of whether they are in Day 2 or not. There's a good chance I will also be down there later this evening, checking out a burlesque fashion show that comes highly recommended from Madison socialite Adrian Sullivan, but I can guarantee I will be considerably more sober than Heezy and Sam. Yesterday I had a chance to partake of the area's outstanding microbrew culture, and I highly recommend Capital Brewery's Island Wheat, and "Spotted Cow" by the New Glarus Brewing Co.
If suds and spirits aren't your thing, there are plenty of other goodies to be found here. Madison sports an official population of just over 200,000 inhabitants, which is just enough to give some stellar restaurants around healthy patronage. If I can find Magicians willing to hop in a cab and pay for a good meal, I'll be dining on neo-Japanese or traditional Nepalese food later this evening, a nice change of pace from the fast food diet you frequently are forced into when on the road.
As for myself, my wife and I had a spectacular time hanging out in Kauai the week after the Pro Tour. The rains put a damper on hiking the Na Pali Coast and our ATV adventure was swept away by the flash floods they had, but we still got some great pictures from the helicopter tour of the island. We also got a chance to go out and do ziplining, spend some quality time on the beach, and enjoy all of the great food Kauai had to offer. If you get a chance to go to Hawaii and want to get out of the tourist traps, Kauai is a great place to visit.
Saturday, March 25: 1:34 pm - Round 3 - Real Close vs. Big Tymed By BillyP
Seat A - Don Huang vs. Alex Lieberman
Seat B - Alex Majlaton vs. Antonino De Rosa
Seat C - Noah Barnett vs. Josh Ravitz
The National Champ is fielding one of the strongest teams here at the event, featuring usual teammate Alex Lieberman and U.S. Nationals Top 8 member Josh Ravitz. They've chosen slightly different decks to play this time around than most teams, with Lieberman running Heartbeat, De Rosa playing Wildfire, and Ravitz running what looks to be the Beach House deck, a forgotten choice in a world of Heezy, B/W Aggro, Some Control Deck. Their opponents are a squad of players who are routinely close to making Pro Tours but can't seem to get there consistently, hence the name Real Close. They are running a more traditional setup with Heartbeat, Zoo, and Ghost Dad their three decks.
Barnett parised his first hand, but kept the second as Ravitz led off with a Vitu-Ghazi, Temple Garden, and Orzhov Signet. Across the board, Barnett immediately put his Ghost Dad engine into play, casting a turn 2 Tallowisp, and turn 3 Thief of Hope, fetching Strands of Undeath from his deck. Plagued Rusalka grabbed Pillory of the Sleepless for Barnett as Ravitz fell to 15 from the attack, but Ravitz struck back with Loxodon Hierarch, giving him a fattie to clog the board.
Barnett decided to attack the next turn anyway, clearly indicating he had a Shining Shoal to protect his men. The attack plus the Shoal wiped out Ravitz's squad, and then Ghost Dad himself hit the board (Ghost Council of the Orzhova) putting Ravitz in a world of hurt. Once the spiritcraft engine gets going, Ghost Dad becomes a real pain to beat. Barnett's chances of winning were helped immensely by the fact that Ravitz had little or no action for almost the entirety of the game, lacking both Black mana and card quality, and Barnett was quickly up a game.
Barnett 1 - Ravitz 0
Meanwhile in Seat B, De Rosa faced a terrible matchup - going down quickly in game 1 of the Wildfire vs. Zoo matchup. He was able to pump the fist briefly for game 2 though, when Pinkhat (the now permanent nickname for Alex Majlaton) parised to five on the play. Lieberman took down game 1 in his Heartbeat Combo mirror match, making it 2-1 in favor of Real Close.
Barnett played out two early Dark Confidants, only to see them Wrathed away by Ravitz at his earliest convenience. Ghost Council from Barnett kept the pressure on, but Ravitz had a Hierarch to keep the noise in check. Shizo let Barnett's Ghost Council attack unmolested, but he tapped out to cast Paladin en-Vec, opening the door for Ravitz to 187 the Ghost Council with Angel of Despair. Pacifism made sure the Angel wouldn't be able to get rowdy in the red zone, so Ravitz decided to bring his own card advantage engine online, transmuting Dimir House Guard for Bottled Cloister. Is there anything the House can't do?
Ravitz was still heavily under the gun at this point, and Barnett's next attack dropped him to 5 life, courtesy of a Shining Shoal directly at his nug. Josh tried to Faith's Fetters Barnett's Kami of the Ancient Law, but Barnett chose to sacrifice it to kill his own Pacifism rather than letting Ravitz gain the life.
"How's Alex doing?" asked Ravitz. "I don't understand that matchup at all," replied De Rosa. "There are a bunch of cards on the board, but that's all I know."
Another House Guard from Ravitz transmuted for Persecute, clearing the Shining Shoal from Barnett's hand, and evening the match at one game a piece when Ravitz swung for the win.
Barnett 1 - Ravitz 1
Big Tymed gets the win, even without BillyP
Down in the A seat Lieberman locked up his match, while De Rosa used his extra cards to win his game, putting Big Tymed up 1-0 in the race to two, with the other two matches going to a rubber game.
Barnett got out of the gates very quickly for game 3, casting Plagued Rusalka, Dark Confidant, and another Rusalka on the first three turns. Ravitz wrecked house with Persecute for White on turn 4, forcing Barnett to discard a Pillory of the Sleepless and Ghost Council, but Josh was already down to ten life at that point. Back to back Hierarchs made that 18 life, as Barnett's gas tank was now empty and facing down two power pachyderms. One Hierarch got through on Josh's next attack and suddenly it was Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni that was beating up on Barnett, snatching Ghost Council from Barnett's graveyard. The replayed Hierarch officially locked up the game at that point, giving Big Tymed the match 2-1.
Ravitz 2 - Barnett 1
Big Tymed by BillyP 2 - Real Close 1
Saturday, March 25: 2:20 pm - Do Your Duty
The people who cut my checks would like me to remind you that voting is still ongoing for the Fan Favorite ballot. Due to some Chicago-like voting irregularities, last week's results have been tossed to the wind, leaving Geoffrey Siron crying between rounds over in Cardiff this weekend.
Remember, you need to vote again, even if you voted last week. Our new motto here on the coverage side is vote early, vote often, so whether you want to see Dave Williams and Jeff Cunningham, or Neil Reeves and Star Wars Kid participate in this year's Invitational, make your vote count here.
Saturday, March 25: 5:32 pm - Round 5: Free James Beeton vs. 4815162342
Seat A - Kyle Goodman vs. Rich Hoaen
Seat B - Mark Ioli vs. Eric Froehlich
Seat C - Ben Lundquist vs. Bob Maher
Even this combined set of big minds wasn't enough to net more than a draw.
Team season always brings the dinosaurs out of the woodwork, and Bob Maher was fully expected to show up to a Grand Prix in his home town, if for no other reason than to sign some Dark Confidants and player cards. The question was, who would he end up teaming with? Rich Hoaen messaged me late last week telling me he had picked up not only The Great One for his Madison squad, but also a revived Efro, giving him a roster of three boom booms that looked ready to either succeed gloriously or fail miserably, depending on how rusty Eric and Bob are. So far (and with only one bye, I might add) they are succeeding.
Seated across from the dinosaurs and the Ho is a team of young guns still looking to make a name for themselves in Magic. Kyle Goodman has had a great deal of success in 60-card formats and he still hasn't graduated high school yet. Sitting along side of him are Grand Prix-Salt Lake City Top 8 member Mark Ioli and the youthful Ben Lundquist. They've decided to take their chances with Zoo, B/W Aggro and Izzetron, while the "Numbers" are playing Heartbeat, B/W Aggro, and Wildfire.
The first five minutes of this match featured Maher mulliganning to five before he found a hand with any lands in it. Maher's early action was stunted by counterspells, as Mana Leak and two Remands made things feel like Groundhog Day. The following turns weren't much more exciting, with a flurry of card drawing spells resolving at the expense of anything affecting the board. Minutes passed until Lundquist Blazed Maher for 19, putting him at one. Maher dug through his deck on his next turn, perhaps looking for a second Magnivore to go along with the one in his hand which would give him lethal damage, but he was left wanting, dying to a Blaze for 2 on the next turn.
Lundquist 1 - Maher 0
Efro won his match in the B seat, while Hoaen looked to be struggling in Seat A, having seen most of his win conditions put into the graveyard.
Maher got the optimal draw in game 2, with turn 2 Eye of Nowhere followed by turn 3 Stone Rain, and then beatings from Magnivore, eventually dropping Lundquist to two before Keiga, the Tide Star stabilized the board. Maher drew a ton of cards in search of a final spell to give him an opening for his fatal attack. Blood Moon finally gave Lundquist nothing but basic Mountains, and boomerang returned Keiga to Lundquist's hand, letting Maher even his match at a came apiece.
Lundquist 1 - Maher 1
Goodman and Co. are learning you have to beat the best to become the best.
Efro dispatched Ioli in a quick second game as well, while Hoaen finally lost a very tight game 1 down in seat A, putting them only into game 2 with 17 minutes left on the clock.
Both played mulliganned from game 2 with Maher coming out with the worst of the deal, getting stuck on two lands while Lundquist hit the natural Urzatron on turn 3. Annex stole one of Maher's Islands, Keiga came down a turn later, and the match was now down to Rich Hoaen and his race against the clock over in Seat A.
Lundquist 2 - Maher 1
Hoaen looked under the gun in game 2, but managed to have one of those stupid Heartbeat turns that are so common with good players of that deck, eventually casting Weird Harvest, transmuting some Drifts, and then Early Harvesting Goodman right out of the game with three minutes left on the clock. Their match ended in a draw, making the outcome for a team a draw as well.
Free James Beeton 1 - 4815162342 1
Saturday, March 25: 8:08 pm - Break It Down
Before coming into this weekend, the word on the street was that most teams would be running two aggressive decks (Heezy Street and B/W Aggro) plus some other deck in their three seats. Assuming this is true, it presents a target metagame for people to aim at, so while you can't control your pairings, you do know that the decks you play have a 2/3 chance of playing against one of the aggro decks in the field.
Testing has proven that the Heartbeat Combo deck Maximillian Bracht piloted to a Top 8 finish in Honolulu is both good and resilient, so that was one wrinkle that teams in the know started adding to their lineups. Additionally, guessing there would be a preponderance of aggressive decks on the other side of table led smart teams to shift control in their lineups, playing more controlling in their B/W seat, thus giving them a better matchup against either of the other aggressive decks.
My own recommendations to some teams were that they should run Heezy Street, Wildfire or Heartbeat, and then some sort of B/W Control-style deck, but I think De Rosa's team found perhaps the best lineup, putting the Beach House deck into their lineup in addition to Heartbeat and Wildfire, giving them control, control, combo as their three archetypes. Rumor has it that Mike Flores and Paul Jordan made the Top 4 of their PTQ already running the same configuration.
Rarely content with theorizing, however, I decided to scan the top tables and see what lineups the best teams were running through round 5 and here's what I saw.
Heartbeat, Ghost Dad, and Heezy
Gifts, Zoo, and Jushi Blue
Wildfire, Heartbeat, and Ghost Dad
Izzetron, B/W Aggro, Zoo
Heezy Street, Dampen Splice, and Izzetron Izzetron, B/W Aggro, Heezy Street
Heartbeat, B/W Aggro, and Wildfire
Zoo, Heartbeat, and B/W Aggro
B/W Aggro, Zoo, and Izzetron
B/W Aggro, GhaziGlare, and Angel Control
We won't know what the actual best configurations look like until this time tomorrow, but one thing about this format is certain - dealers are happier than pigs in slop, because unified Team Constructed means that every single one of the good cards in Standard are likely to see play, giving them a great chance to sell singles to the masses.
Saturday, March 25: 9:07 pm - Round 8: Sunshine Rainbow Bears vs. Arrogant Apathy
Seat A - Ben Danner vs. Mike Hedden
Seat B - Keith McLaughlin vs. Justin Cohen
Seat C - Doug Azzano vs. Mike Jones
One of these men is playing Dampen Thoughts…
This may seem like an odd feature match to pick, but there are two reasons behind the madness. The first reason is that this is an elimination match where the winners will probably make Day 2 and the losers will get to play in tomorrow's PTQ. The more pertinent reason, however, is that Kyle McLaughlin is a Constructed Grand Prix master whose deck deserves some notice, even if it fails miserably here. The diversity of the current Standard format deserves some hype, but McLaughlin's deck blows all the hype out of the water, essentially taking a draft archetype from a year ago and turning it into a viable Constructed deck. Practically every single one of McLaughlin's opponent's has had a look of bewilderment appear on their face as McLaughlin threw cards like Candles' Glow, Spiritual Visit, and Evermind onto the table with abandon.
McLaughlin's opponent Justin Cohen is also playing a deck against type, choosing to run Black/White/Green fatties, presumably with Greater Good somewhere in the mix.
Cohen lead off with two mulligans on the play and an Umezawa's Jitte, answered by McLaughlin's Sakura-Tribe Elder and a look of confusion at Keith's Forest, Island, Plains manabase. Cohen cast Kodama of the North Tree on turn 5, while Keith fired back with Spiritual Visit splicing Evermind. "I'm going to have to read at least one of those cards," said Cohen as McLaughlin put a 1/1 token into play and got his dirty pluck on.
Overall, Cohen was non-plussed by the goofy spells, adding to his clock with Yosei, the Morning Star. At the end of Cohen's turn, Keith cast Peer Through Depths splicing Dampen Thought, targeting himself. Cohen sent his men into the red zone only to see Yosei go down to Reach Through Mists splicing Vital Surge and Horobi's Whisper, giving Cohen the Time Walk at the expense of his White dragon. Cohen cast Watchwolf on his turn, attacking McLaughlin to four, while adding a Llanowar Elf to his squad as well.
Reach through Mists splicing Whisper and Candles' Glow let McLaughlin live another turn at a scant one life, but McLaughlin made a mistake on the next turn, letting damage hit the stack while he cast Peer splicing 2 Glows, Vital Surge, and Horobi's Whisper again, letting him stay at one, but it could have been five if he had not agreed to stack damage. Keith further compounded his error by screwing up again a turn later, preventing the wrong damage and letting Cohen put counters on his Jitte.
and Kodama of the North Tree were the follow-ups from Cohen when McLaughlin finally found a Wrath of God, forcing a frown of consternation from Keith again. Visit splicing two Glows, Vital Surge, Evermind, and Horobi's Whisper stunted another attack from Cohen, but Yosei gave Cohen enough damage to get over the damage shield hump, putting him up a game with only around ten minutes left on the clock. Mistakes proved extremely costly for the rogue champion in that game.
Cohen 1 - McLaughlin 0
Hedden slapped around Danner like a red-headed stepchild in the A seat courtesy of Descendant of Kiyomaro, while Jones went up a game in the control mirror at the end of the table.
Game 2 again started well for Cohen, but Wrath of God from McLaughlin got rid of Hokori and a pair of Elves to reset the board. Cranial Extraction for Dampen Thoughts from Cohen completely whiffed, as McLaughlin transformed his deck post-sideboard with provocative legendary men like Oyobi, Keiga, Meloku and Hikari. McLaughlin's post-Extraction turn was a brutal one, casting Meloku and Umezawa's Jitte, only to see his Blue legend answered by Yosei. Horobi's Whisper spliced onto Spiritual Visit got rid of Yosei with a quickness, and Mclaughlin's air force went all the way, giving him a draw in the match as time ran out.
Cohen 1 - McLaughlin 1
The C seat was in game 3 when time was called, so that gave Arrogant Apathy the 1-0-2 win, and ended any chances of seeing McLaughlin's splice deck in tomorrow's action.
Saturday, March 25: 9:13 pm - News and Notes
Alex Lieberman was squaring off in round 7 against the Angel Control deck Kamiel Cornelissen played in Honolulu. Apparently Alex didn't see much of this deck either at or after the Pro Tour, because he had this conversation with his teammates while shuffling up for game 2
Alex: "Does his deck really have that enchantment in it?"
De Rosa: "You mean Zur's Weirding?"
Ravitz: "They have four of them. That's his whole deck."
Alex: "What? Is that some sort of joke?"
Ravitz: "No, that's really the point of the deck."
Alex: "Huh… okay then."
Lieberman's team still managed to sweep the match 3-0.
Bob Maher finally managed to get a match win against an opponent in round 7 today. His teammates did a fair bit better than that, as they are sitting in fifth place going into tomorrow's action.
Richard Feldman and cohorts missed out on Day 2 on second tiebreakers, with Ben Goodman, Brian Lynch, and Melissa De Tora just squeaking in ahead of them.
There are a scary number of English names in the Top 16 over in Cardiff. Wasn't that a Limited event?
No, I don't know why this stupid camera can only take fuzzy pictures. I'm working on it though.