Saturday, September 3: 10:12 am - Bad Beat Hotel
I've stayed in a lot of hotels over the last two years as part of my job, and I have to commend Wizards of the Coast in that they've never chosen a dive for me. Of course, no one really chooses to stay in a dive, right? You just kind of end up there, like when the airline you flew in on, who just happens to have a hub in hurricane central, suggests this particular place as an acceptable place for you to hole up for the night while awaiting your flight in the morning…
When last anyone heard from me, Antonino De Rosa had just won Grand Prix--SLC and I was presumably getting a decent night's sleep before catching my flight out from Salt Lake City at 2:45PM the next day. Well, I did get a good night's sleep, but my flight didn't leave until around six Salt Lake time, putting us into Atlanta after eleven, or thirty minutes too late for the last flight to Charlottesville. Pay attention folks, but this is where the critical part of the story comes in. I got greedy. I could have stayed in the airport, attempting to get a few hours rest on the floor or one of Hartsfield International's incredibly uncomfortable chairs, but I'm getting old. I craved access to a bed and a remote. Delta seemed understanding - gracious even - offering me a "discount" hotel voucher at the Comfort Inn a few miles down the road. In College Park, Georgia. Mr. Ludicris has previously spoken about College Park numerous times, describing it as a place where "they live life fast and they scared a' dark." I weighed my options and decided to take the leap.
One $10 cab ride later and there I was, dragging my beleaguered buttocks into the hotel and requesting a room. The marble floors gave an air of serenity to the lobby and the deep mahogany-colored paneling… well, that was a little weird actually, but the sign clearly stated "Comfort Inn." They couldn't lie about the name of the place, could they? The nice African-American woman behind the desk checked me in, and I was on my way to room 635. My room. For the next 7 hours, anyway. The elevator was a bit creepy, dark colored and musty smelling, vaguely triggering a memory of one I was sure I'd seen in an 80's Slasher flick. The doors opened and I was greeted by one long hallway containing all 50 rooms on that floor in a stretch. Interesting design, this den of comfort.
I opened the door to my room, and a cursory glance revealed the room to be a bit dingy, but adequate. Bed? Check. TV? Check. Remote? Check. Bathroom? Check, though the toilet wouldn't stop running. I began to walk towards the bed to put my bag down and my foot gently slipped on the tile floor. Was there moisture there? There was… how strange. Where in the world did that come from? The answer to this question was located on the other side of the bed, near the air conditioner where someone had thoughtfully left crushed ice for me occupying a three foot by three foot space on the carpeting. I contacted the front desk about this problem and they apologized, while informing me the hotel was full for the night because of the Hurricane. I pondered this further and decided not to make much of a stink. After all, the next room could potentially be worse. I spent most of the night pointedly ignoring the fact that the room smelled moldy and that the carpet was damp until I fell into an uneasy sleep around 2:30AM, pointedly ignoring the high probability of rodents and cockroaches coming out to play once the lights were off. My wake up call came at 6:52, finding me bleary-eyed and in a hurry to escape. I showered, pleased to find the shower provided hot water, though moderately dismayed to discover that the soap holders (both of them) were pitched at the exact angle to make them completely unable to hold a bar of soap and that all of the heat from the water transferred directly into the hot water knob, scalding my fingers when I turned the shower off.
I re-clothed myself, dressing in the exact same articles I'd worn the day prior in now-luxurious Salt Lake City and made my escape. I checked out, but while I was waiting, I heard the desk clerk quote the rate of the hotel to someone on the phone as "$45 a night," or $6.50 less than my "discount" voucher listed the cost as. Unreal. I still had fifteen minutes left before the shuttle back to Hartsfield was scheduled to arrive, so I availed of the complementary breakfast, looking to get something back from this terrible experience. Breakfast consisted of Eggo waffles, cereal, and Jiff mini-muffins. You know, the kind your grandmother used to make? Well these were exactly the same provided she let them sit on the counter for two days before she let anyone eat them. I washed this kick in the balls down with a few sips of apple water (which, for the record, was slightly better tasting than the orange water offered), and plopped my disbelieving self into a chair by the lobby door, praying that the shuttle would come and whisk me away. This marks the first time in my life that I've been excited to go to Hartsfield. Anyway, while I was sitting down I noticed the planter on the table in front of me contained not just a fake plant, but a fake plant whose leaves had left their pipe cleaner supports and that were now bereft of the paint that made it look not fake. This was the last straw, I could not take anymore of this without an immediate descent into madness, so I hastily grabbed my bag and chose to wait outside for the 7:30 shuttle.
Sadly, the 7:30 shuttle did not arrive at 7:30. Nor at 7:35. When a cabbie in a mini-van pulled up at 7:39 and asked the three people standing outside if they needed a ride, I took it as a sign from God that I should pay the $10 and make my escape now before something further went wrong. The two gentlemen standing next to me were not so smart as I, and declined the offer, meaning I had the cab all to myself and arrived at my destination on time. Of course I got shunted into the line with mandatory personal security checks at the TSA station, but I was beyond caring. I made it to my gate on time, grabbed a bagel on the way, and caught my flight home, promising myself that I would never again leave the blissful comfort of Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport for the temptation of a bed and remote control in College Park.
Saturday, September 3: 10:50 am - Oh Mexico!
I got here a day early to check out the sights and the sounds of the city. In the last year I've been to the U.K., Japan, and Australia but I had never set foot in a Spanish speaking country, even if it was just our friendly neighbors to the South. If I had to use three words to describe what I've seen of the city thus far, they would be: Chaotic. Ugly. Fascinating.
Chaotic. Ugly. Fascinating.
Let's start with some basics about Mexico City before I explain. First of all, there are between twenty and twenty-two meeeellion people living here, making it - technically - the most populated city in the world. If you go to the top of the tallest building, you still can't see the edge of the city in any direction. It also sits at 7200 ft in elevation, meaning the air is thinner here, the smog is awful, and alcohol hits considerably harder than it does at lower elevation, something Mark Herberholz and Sam Gomersall were ecstatic to find out. Beer and food are relatively cheap here, about 20% less in most cases than you'd pay in the U.S., though beer can be had as cheaply as $.60 each from the local 7-11, and goes for between $2-3 in bars.
As for chaotic, I asked the local tournament organizer here if Mexicans drive on the right or left side of the road. "We're not really sure," answered Saul, explaining the madness of Mexican roadways in as few words as possible. I've driven through New York, Chicago, and Boston without problems, and I would be scared out of my mind to try and navigate the city in a vehicle. Also contributing to the chaos is the general design of the city. The roadways go wherever the want to and are frequently interrupted by giant roundabouts. The buildings have no coherency to them whatsoever and go from old puebla style to modern shack to giant skyscraper with no noticeable pattern. There are plenty of beautiful things to see here in the city (not least of which are the women), but when taken as a whole it's not particularly pleasant to look at.
It is however, a fascinating place. Yesterday I went down to the Zona Rosa with some of the Americans to scout for places to eat and check out some of the sites. We ended up snarfing food at Taco Inn before a torrential downpour cut our sightseeing off with only lunch. However, I was out scouting on my own on Thursday (I typically try to get lost the first day I'm in a new city), and I found things here to be oddly charming. Places like the Zocolo are brilliant to behold, and as Olivier Ruel was telling me, "It feels like a poor city, but there's just something cool about it as well that you can't put your finger on." That describes my experience as well. Half the commerce in the city seems to be driven from the sale of spare car parts, and Americans are hard-pressed to find any mall-like shopping, but in the end it all seems to work somehow.
Saturday, September 3: 11:31 am - Who's Here?
There are 305 people in the Grand Prix field this weekend, about 50 more than showed up in Salt Lake City last week. The number seemed to be a bit less than the organizers were hoping for since Mexico City regularly hosts some of the biggest prereleases in the world, especially since this is the first premiere event to ever take place in the country of Mexico. Regardless, the players seem overjoyed to have a Grand Prix and are fully prepared to get their Block Constructed on with some of the best Magic players in the world.
Speaking of whom, 19 Americans, Dutchies, and Frenchies showed up this weekend to compete. Antonino De Rosa is trying to make it three tournament wins in a row this weekend, but he'll have to get past names like Karsten, Nuijten, Szleifer, and Olivier Ruel to do it. Making a surprise trip down this weekend was Minneapolis Top 8 member Andy Stokinger, who has been hanging out in Mexico City for most of the week with friends and who also has an interesting, unrepeatable story about strippers and $30 drinks. Missing from the field this weekend are the Japanese (who can be found in BDM's coverage competing for their National title), and Adam Chambers, who bought a plane ticket, but then overslept and missed his flight.
Saturday, September 3: 1:40 pm - Can I Bend Your Ear?
Olivier Ruel loves tacos.
For lunch, Olivier Ruel, Rogier Maaten and I went to a grab some food at a local taqueria while chatting about the game. Dutch Nationals don't take place until next weekend, and Olivier was curious if Rogier had found a deck yet. Rogier said that he had not, though the Dutch pros had some ideas they were pursuing. Olivier took this as an opportunity to extol the virtues of his 5-Color Bringer deck that he played at his own Nats and has since updated. Rogier got a good chuckle out of the conversation, but later promised me that he was sticking to something Dutchy made. Also at lunch I mentioned that the Norwegian Good Form deck seemed right up Olivier's alley. "I thought so too at first," noted Olivier, "but then I realized that the deck is too good for me to choose. Just because you are a 'deckbuilder' does not mean you are a good deckbuilder."
Another frequent topic of conversation among Pros lately has been Extended tech. Everyone has some idea of what is good online (Magic Online adjusts a lot of metagames these days), but few people have fully loaded decklists yet, and even those that do are well aware that spicy new cards from Ravnica are bound to change what the best decks are. That hasn't stopped everyone from trying to mine tech from each other. There's little doubt in my mind that Pro Tour-Los Angeles will one of the most exciting Pro Tours this season - players will be jockeying for end of year points going into Worlds and the Extended rotation will give us a first look at what that format will look like for the next three years. It's made particularly interesting by the bannings of Aether Vial and Disciple of the Vault, meaning Affinity is certainly going to be weaker and control decks might actually stand a fighting chance.
15 United States
2 Czech Republic
Saturday, September 3: 2:47 pm - Round 4 Feature Match - Antonino De Rosa vs. Jose Mondragon
Antonino De Rosa has been on fire lately, winning U.S. Nationals and Grand Prix-Salt Lake City in the last two months. Who better to feature for the first match this weekend than the man who seemingly can't lose? The Italian Stallion chose to continue riding the horse that got him here this weekend, once again picking Islands as his only basic land. His opponent is 16-year-old Jose Mondragon, a youngster who started this tournament with no byes and now must slay Goliath in order to keep his record unblemished.
Mondragon started the game by ramping mana for his Gifts Ungiven deck (packing a maindeck Godo, Bandit Warlord), while De Rosa cast a Jushi Apprentice and Pithing Needle naming Sensei's Divining Top. Mondragon cast Gifts Ungiven at the end of his own turn after De Rosa tapped out to draw with his Apprentice, earning a Ghost-Lit Stalker and Hana Kami for his troubles. De Rosa's response was simply another Pithing Needle, this time naming Hana Kami. Mondragon passed the turn with no action and De Rosa went on the offensive, casting Meloku with mana up to create a token. Another Gifts gave Mondragon Sickening Shoal and Meloku in hand. A channeled Stalker swiped four cards from De Rosa's hand, but let him continue to recruit minions for his air force. Death Denied during De Rosa's upkeep met Hisoka's Defiance, but Wear Away on the Needle naming Hana Kami succeeded. Mondragon got rid of Meloku on his turn while at thirteen life, dropping to ten on De Rosa's next attack. This was a very cagey game of cat and mouse the players were running - De Rosa's Mono-Blue Control deck was clearly on the offensive and he kept allowing Mondragon to resolve spells, provided they didn't do any real damage.
Antonino De Rosa
Kagemaro hit the board and brought the beats, with Mondragon not willing to use him until absolutely necessary. De Rosa's next attack dropped Mondragon to four and then one as De Rosa ran a Meloku out to force a sacrifice while countering Soulless Revival along the way. Another Kagemaro smashed face first into Hisoka's Defiance, and De Rosa's third Meloku swept in to finish the job.
De Rosa 1 - Mondragon 0
Mondragon got out to a very fast start in game 1, casting a turn 4 Kagemaro and turn 5 Cranial Extraction, the latter of which was Hindered. De Rosa bounced Kagemaro on Mondragon's next attack, countering a Sickening Shoal on his Jushi Apprentice to boot. Figuring Antonino had to be running low on counters, Mondragon ran Meloku into the fray, frowning intensely when Hinder put it on the bottom of his deck as well. Hero's Demise got rid of De Rosa's Meloku, but the American Champ had Azami to follow that. Finding De Rosa tapped out, Mondragon ran Kagemaro out, evading any counterspells. Sadly, the suffering spirit found his activation Squelched and De Rosa moved way ahead in the game, drawing cards as if they were money growing on trees. Eventually the janitorial crew of Keiga and Meloku arrived to mop up the leftovers, but it was Azami and her wizardly posse that won De Rosa the game.
De Rosa 2 - Mondragon 0
Saturday, September 3: 3:53 pm - Hillary Duff, Burnt to a Crisp
Jelger Wiegersma is burnt worse than this looks.
It was hard not to laugh when I saw Jelger Wiegersma walk in this morning, but I tried to stifle it if only because he looked like he was in so much pain. While the rest of the Dutchies went to Gerard Fabiano's house to stay after Salt Lake City (where Maaten, Karsten, and number one fan Gerard Fabiano apparently took in a Hillary Duff concert), Wiegersma hopped a flight to Los Angeles to hang out for the week. While there, he spent some time on the beach and found the environment so tranquil that he eventually fell asleep, only to wake up hours later to find his body burned to a nice shade of lobster red. Since then he said he's mostly slept and stayed in his hotel room, since it's too painful for him to walk. In fact, it's so bad that he asked the scorekeeper if he could get special seating so that he wouldn't have to brush up against other players each round during the pairings crush, thereby avoiding excruciating contact with his skin.
Being of fair complexion myself, I've been pretty roasted before but never to the point that Jelger is today.
The side events here come complete with a pro wrestler.
While discussing fun stuff, I figure this is the spot to mention that side events this weekend are running an extremely cool promotion where eight lucky players are going to get to booster draft English Legends on Sunday evening. One spot was given away through a website promotion and one was also given away via a magazine promotion. The other six spots come via side events where the formats include Legacy, Kamigawa Sealed, Un-Standard (Unhinged and Unglued plus current Standard), Block Constructed, Standard, and Singleton Extended. In addition to getting to keep what they draft, the remaining packs in the Legends booster will be given out as prizes.
Saturday, September 3: 5:19 pm - Round 6 Feature Match - Jon Sonne vs. Eduardo Caabeiro
Old Man John Sonne
Eduardo Caabeiro is billed as one of the best young Mexican players around. This 19-year-old made the Top 8 at Mexican Nationals this year and is a rising star in this country. His opponent is old man and U.S. National Team Member Jon Sonne. Sonne is running Mono-Blue again this week, while Caabeiro is playing a mono-Red deck designed to wreck the control decks in the field.
Caabeiro started game 1 with two mulligans before casting a turn 2 Hearth Kami to match Sonne's Jushi Apprentice. Eduardo followed up with a Frostling and Ishi-Ishi only to see the second countered by Disrupting Shoal. Sonne tapped out to use his Jushi Apprentice and was bashed with Gaze of Ademaro after drawing his card, dropping him to 10, a very dangerous number against these mono-Red decks, as Sam Gomersall learned earlier today. Sonne showed no fear on his turn, tapping out to cast Meloku. Eduardo swung with his Kami on his turn and Sonne blocked with the legend, losing it to the Kami plus two Frostwielders, but getting a three-for-one in the process. Caabeiro then emptied his hand by throwing a Lava Spike at Sonne's head.
Azami was the next legend to hit the board for Sonne as Caabeiro was officially out of gas. The Lady of Scrolls and her Jushi friends drew Sonne far too many lands and counterspells for Eduardo to overcome, and the wizardlings went on the beatdown, dropping Eduardo to ten before mama Keiga showed up to help, leaving Sonne with five untapped lands. Eduardo took that as a call to action, casting two First Volleys on Azami at the end of Sonne's turn, and then casting Lava Spike, then Lava Spike plus a spliced Glacial Ray on his own turn in an attempt to erase the last of Sonne's life. Sonne had a Hisoka's Defiance and Hinder primed for the last two burn spells though, and it was on to game 2. One has to wonder how Eduardo's deck would have done with those extra two cards.
Sonne 1 - Caabeiro 0
After another mulligan, Caabeiro showed his heavy tech for game 2, laying a turn 3 Boseiju, Who Shelters All, but that was it until he tried to cast Ademaro on turn 4. Sonne had a Disrupting Shoal to end that nonsense, keeping the potentially dangerous Maro variation off the board. Sonne had tech of his own for this matchup, playing a pair of River Kaijins to gum up the board before casting Meloku on turn 5. Eduardo used Boseiju to push through a Flames of the Blood Hand at the end of Sonne's turn and then a second one during his own mainphase, dropping the American to 12. From there it was all Sonne. Meloku and the kids played offense long enough to take it home, ending Caabeiro's four-match winning streak (he only started with one bye this weekend), and pushing Sonne's record to 6-0.
Sonne 2 - Caabeiro 0
Saturday, September 3: 6:48 pm - Round 7 Roundup
Sam Gomersall tried to break Ruel's 6-1.
Here's the metagame at the top 10 tables:
1 Critical Mass vs. Gifts
2 Mono-Blue vs. Big Black
3 Mono-Blue vs. Gifts
4 Mono-Blue vs. Gifts
5 Deck X vs. Mono-Red
6 U/G vs. Gifts
7 White Weenie vs. White Weenie
8 Deck X vs. Gifts
9 Mono-Red vs. White Weenie
10 Gifts vs. Black Hand
In mini-feature match action, Sam Gomersall battled Olivier Ruel in the X-1 bracket. Ruel ran Japanese Gifts with maindeck Godo, Bandit Warlord, while Gomersall switched things up and chose to run "nutlow" - a Footsteps of Goryo control deck designed by World Champ Julien Nuijten. Sadly, Gomersall's deck failed to deliver anything reasonable . He fought long and hard in game 1, using Final Judgment and Myojin of Cleansing Fire to try and stay ahead of Ruel's beatings, but a double mulligan in game 1 meant that he was always under the gun and never quite had enough cards to deal with Ruel's equipment, though he did get Olivier down to 2.
Ruel moved on to 6-1 for day 1.
Game 2 was more of the same, with another mulligan on the play for Sam, and then a glut of lands when he really needed business spells. Ruel moves on to 6-1 on the weekend, while Gomersall falls to 5-2, though he still should make Day 2.