Sunday, July 17: 10:03 am - Stoking the fire
Andy Stokinger returns.
Our first round feature match was Ken Bearl vs. Andy Stokinger. Bearl's feats have gone well-documented throughout coverage, but Stokinger may not be as familiar to our younger readers. 'Andystok', a long time gamer, retired a few years ago after running a controversial Magic-based website. Now, he's got the fever again.
"I drove from Worchester, Mass., 22 hours straight, like a champ" said the always outspoken Stokinger. Making his living as a wholesaler of hobby supplies, Andy quit Magic in favor of real life a few years ago, but as we all know, the game never truly leaves the system.
Stokinger's presence at the top tables today is notable by his deck choice: mono blue. "I haven't been able to counter a spell in years. I like doing stuff on my opponent's turn and Onslaught Block ruined that…Mirrodin wasn't too good for it either." Andy found the original draft for his deck on magicthegathering.com, coming from the top 8 of an Arkansas PTQ. He changed 10-15 cards, tested it out in the GP trial last night (which he won) and now he's sitting at 7-1-1 after drawing with Bearl.
Sunday, July 17: 11:01 am - Crème de la crème
The Gup judges another candidate
Here's a breakdown of the decks playing on day 2:
29 Mono White
5 Mono Black
3 BG Heartbeat
9 BG Gifts Ungiven
1 Mono Blue
White's really asserted itself as the most consistent deck, but Gifts Ungiven seems to be the card of the tournament. It's the difference maker in a lot of the control match ups for those Black-green decks full of weenie hate.
Just a note: I've been seated next to Mike Guptil for the majority of the last 30 hours. The man is a master: Both of trivia and dorkdom.
Sunday, July 17: 11:43 am - A Limited Master in Constructed Play
Rich Hoaen, Traitor to Mortals
Everyone knows Richie Hoaen is amongst the top limited players in the world. He makes top 32 at every limited PT, he drafts constantly…he's a machine. I asked Richie why he was finding success here in a constructed tournament, not really his element. Hoaen and his mate in mischief, Gabe Walls, "decided to play a fun deck in order to get knocked out quickly so we could do some drafting. Turns out the deck is really good."
Hoaen's sitting in the feature match pit as I write this, with a sterling 8-1 record. His deck, featuring the otherwise outmoded Heartbeat of Spring, uses the mana acceleration to get out Myojin of Seeing Winds, whose ludicrous card advantage capabilities allows the controller to draw into multiple Time Stops, which hold the opponents off until the deck's single Maga, Traitor to Mortals rears its ugly head. When it works out, it's pretty ugly for Hoaen's opponents. Thus far, there's been a whole lot of ugly.
Sunday, July 17: 1:27 pm - Big Ant
Antonio De Rosa: the best
Antonino De Rosa is a PT mainstay. The big Italian's smile and personality have made him one of the best liked players on tour for the last decade. He's seen a lot in five years on tour, attending every PT stop since he first qualified. I forced him into the coverage area so I could ask him about the recent changes to the Pro Tour. Antonino is a pretty enthusiastic guy but he'd obviously put a lot of thought into the subject matter:
Hawaii's awesome! I've been a big advocate. They've always picked great locations, but I've never loved the times of year. Like, Chicago's a great town, but no one wants to go there in January. Hawaii in winter is incredible. If you're a pro, you should have the money to go, and the new rule about PTQ payouts takes care of the amateurs. I think it's perfect.
PTQ payout structure changes
I think that's so good. It enables a lot of really good players to go to PTs they couldn't otherwise go to. I think the percentage of players who have no interest in going to the PT is so small…actually, the change is awesome. You're going to see a lot of players going to US PTs when before they couldn't afford the trip. It really helps overseas players.
Like with everything else, there are pros and cons: the good - we have less travel for the same money. The bad- now every tournament is a lot more important. One scrub out is huge. If you're trying to make a living from the game, one scrub out and you don't get money for 3-4 months. That can hurt a lot.
I think it's really good from every viewpoint - Wizards, marketing, players etc. Some players could get lazy because they're getting paid regardless. I felt that way in London. I didn't practice much because I knew I was getting $1,000 regardless and had other stuff going on.
Hall of Fame
It's awesome. It's pretty much showing that our game means something. It's not just a game…it's got history, its closer to a sport. I love that the greats can go to every PT, they earned those invites in the past. It'll also provide incentive to play a little longer and if I were to get in, it would allow me to go to the PTs I want and I could stay in the game forever.
I'd have voted for:
Jon Finkel - Obviously
Mike Pustilnik - A great player and a great guy
Hacker - He changed the way limited is played, 18-22 and that kind of stuff. He also had the personality that everyone loved. I never really met him, but he was obviously a great character.
As for Mike Long, if it were up to me, I think we should induct only saints, but we don't really know who the saints are. We have no way to prove who was shady and who wasn't. He has the credentials and fame. When I used to read about M:tG before I made the Tour, I loved the hero vs. villain storylines. Mike Long was that for the game.
Sunday, July 17: 2:33 pm - Round 13: Gadiel Szleifer vs. Alex Lieberman
Lieberman vs. Szleifer.
The face of the Pro Tour is changing. The live-play old guard is gone, replaced by the newer, better, online model. Amongst the new breed of American players, Gadiel Szleifer is king: A quiet kid, his play does the talking and after a slow start yesterday, he's coming on gangbusters, 4-0 with a bullet. Now he's sitting at table three, and the top 8 is within his sights.
His opponent, Alex Lieberman, is no stranger to the pressure. Years ago, he forsook the JSS to play in US Nationals, and an undefeated day one qualified him for the US Booster Challenge, the predecessor to the now-defunct Masters series. Now, a little older, a little wiser, Alex is a member of Seven Kings, the Team TOGIT splinter that includes such luminaries as Osyp Lebedowicz and Antonio De Rosa.
Two young players. Two strong teams. Two similar decks. Both brought the green-black based-Gifts Ungiven deck that's been so successful here to the table for what seemed destined to be a long match. Things started as expected, trading Elders and Reaches as both built their mana up. Alex found an early advantage in Sensei's Divining Top, debatably the best card in the format, using it with the Elder and Reach to improve the quality of his draw. With apologies to White Weenie players everywhere, this may be the defining combination of the format.
The Top found Alex Cranial Extraction, which removed Gifts Ungiven from Gadiel's deck. Gifts is the nuts in this match up: control on control has always been decided by the ability to draw more quality spells than one's opponent. Alex then played Kagemaro virtually unopposed, but Gadiel wasn't done yet. This is Sunday, the day he took back, and Myojin of Night's Reach, excusing the Top and infinite land, set the game back to square one: no creatures in play, no cards in hand. The Myojin trades with Alex's legend, the Gadiel slammed a 1/1 Kagemaro of his own into play.
Back and forth.
The Top was doing its job, leaving dead land on Alex's library as it dug for the good stuff. It found Hana Kami, which found Death Denied. Threats and threats and more threats. Gadiel looked like he was in trouble: he was. Kagemaro came back and a few turns of smashing later, it was all over but the crying. Well, that and game 2.
After reminiscing about Alex's younger years, Gadiel started things where he left off, with a mulligan to start Game 2 with a deficit. Two Ice Bridges helped him play Sakura-Tribe Elder, with Lieberman doing the same, and both players Reaching on turn three.
Gadiel's fourth turn Meloku left him three cards in hand, but that went to four when Sickening Shoal forced a response in activation. Alex then untapped and played a Meloku of his own to go with Ink-Eyes. The token chumped the rat. Paul Rietzl came over to talk about his match: when he was shushed, Gadiel admitted "It doesn't matter: it's pretty much over". Gifts was nice but inevitably too late.
Lieberman 2, Szleifer 0
Sunday, July 17: 3:30 pm - My Eye!
Top of the Swiss, Celso Zampere.
The Pro Tour life offers many opportunities, but its seldom one takes advantage so thoroughly as Celso Zampere. The 19-year old Brazilian has been playing brilliantly all weekend, so much so that he's managed to fly over the feature match tables. That he's here seems a little strange though, doesn't it?
"I only came because of London" he told me through broken English. I figured I'd come here because I would already be flying. Celso went a solid 8-6 at the PT before arriving in Minny. He brought a blue-green deck his friend Paulo Victor built and promptly started 11-1.
Aside from the winning, I asked what he liked about Minneapolis, and he relied "the shopping! I've been to the shopping center three times." He then informed me he'd be staying here until Thursday. I asked what he's do with the time: "More shopping." Looks like he'll have a little more to spend.
Sunday, July 17: 3:39 pm - Round Twelve: Paul Rietzl vs. Philip Leggate
Phillip Leggate flexes his brain.
After some innuendos about lost flowers from Philip and his posse, Paul and Philip get down to business. Phil shows off his skills in luck with a twenty on the die. "Yoiks!" responds Paul. Paul has been getting introduced to some of the Midwestern locals and locales, puzzled by the location of places like Ames, IA. At least Philip is from Madison, which is more renowned for its Magic-playing community.
It is the White Weenie mirror, with Paul taking to the air first with a Lantern Kami while Phil blocks the ground with a Samurai of the Pale Curtain. Paul equips his Samurai with a new tech against Umezawa's Jitte - Manriki-Gusari. With a little extra defense and the ability to destroy Jitte at will, Phil appears to be in good shape to defend against Paul's threats.
Both Paul and Philip play cautiously. It almost seems like they are both playing control decks, with each player laying a two-drop and passing the turn. Only the measly Lantern Kami is on the aggressive, nibbling away at Philip's life total one point at a time.
Paul's hordes are getting much larger than Philip's and a major attack from Paul backed up with a Shining Shoal and Hokori, Dust Drinker leaves Philip weakened with only a single creature. Philip miraculously holds on as he plops down a Jitte and then an Eight-and-a-Half Tails. Paul topdecks his own Eight-and-a-Half, but facing a two-counter Jitte with twelve life, it doesn't look like Paul will be able to get the last four damage in.
Philip continues swinging, removing Jitte counters to pump up his creatures as fast as he gains them. This becomes his undoing, as it leaves him no counters to survive a four-point Shining Shoal aimed at his head.
Paul 1, Philip 0
The rare silent moment for Paul Rietzl.
It's been twelve rounds, and Paul is still distraught over his ability to figure out how to sideboard against the mirror - even the most seasoned players still don't get enough practice time for these tournaments.
White players everywhere must be rejoicing over the addition of removal thanks to the new Legend rule. There was no shortage of things hitting the graveyard in this game, with Eight-and-a-Halfs and Umezawa's Jittes appearing and disappearing. Philip threatens quickly as his Celestial Kirin, an addition since Philly, makes its first appearance. Paul makes the threat temporarily disappear with an end-of-turn Otherworldly Journey and reveals his own White Weenie modification: Charge Across the Araba. Philip sits stunned as Paul's three unblocked creatures are suddenly pumped +6/+6 to end the game
Paul 2, Philip 0
Sunday, July 17: 3:44 pm - Notes from the Grand Prix weekend
Antonino's drafting the fun stuff
Don't do this at home - In his excitement of playing in the Grand Prix, Arthur Morris from Dallas, TX left his almost complete foiled deck on a table that was just starting a Mirage Sealed tournament. Complete foil sets of Sickening Shoals, Tendo Ice Bridges, Cranial Extractions, Kagemaros, and even signed foil Sensei's Diving Top. After a struggle with the person next to me who insisted on finder's keepers, I brought it up to the Judge's station for Arthur to collect it later that evening. Just a showing of Minnesota Nice, but don't expect all Magic players to be that considerate.
A REALLY mixed-up draft - the side event buzz for the weekend is the crazy, mixed-up-draft, with players drafting random boosters from all sets since Ice Age. It turned out to be even more crazy and mixed up than that as Antonio De Rosa opened his Visions pack to see a bunch of German cards staring him in the face. Those who know their cards will have a leg up on the competition in this draft.
Sunday, July 17: 3:54 pm - Round 14: Gary Cornwall vs. Joshua Ravitz
Even in victory, smiling can be painful.
Josh has been playing next to Gary all day, but this is the first time he has been formally introduced to the quiet guy from Cincinnati who is about to lose his amateur status at PT:LA. They both get ready to square off for a match that will put one of them in the top 8.
Josh reveals his deck with a perfect White Weenie draw - turn one Isamaru followed up by a turn two Umezawa's Jitte. Gary is playing a Black/Green control deck, putting up some early Orochi Sustainers for mana acceleration and defense. He plays his own Jitte to slow the beats down, but a second one from Josh keeps the pressure. Gary uses Time of Need to fetch Kagemaro, First to Suffer. There are two counters on Josh's Umezawa Jitte, and Gary is left with the decision whether or not to cast a 3/3 Kagemaro with no available mana to blow it. He does, and, thanks to Jitte, it becomes merely a chump blocker to Josh's attack. A Charge Across the Araba next turn finishes the job.
Josh 1, Gary 0
Gary is pleased to see a Sakura-Tribe Elder on turn two, noticeably missing from Game 1. Getting a second swamp from the Elder allows Gary to put up a much needed defense against the white attack with Hand of Cruelty. Josh, however, is still able to get Hand of Honor to attack through the defense. Gary plays the same game by attacking with his Hand of Cruelty, which Ninjitsus into Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni. Unfortunately, Gary hasn't been able to remove any of Josh's attackers and can't make use of Ink-Eyes' resurrection ability. Josh goes down to 13 life. Gary sits at 12, staring at three attackers and two counters on the Jitte. He hesitates but finally decides to play the damage race and uses Shizo, Death's Storehouse to send Ink-Eyes through for another five. Josh keeps attacking, removing Ink-Eyes with four Jitte counters. Despite a desperate Hero's Demise from Gary on Isamaru, Hound of Konda, the Jitte is too much for Josh. Once again, Umezawa's Jitte proves to be the MVP of the format.
Josh 2, Gary 0
Sunday, July 17: 4:45 pm - Old school Hall of Fame thoughts
With two experienced students of Magic history like Eric Taylor and Adrian Sullivan in attendance, it seemed appropriate to re- (and re- and re-) visit the topic of the pro Tour Hall of Fame. I put the two old timers to task, asking for their thoughts on how the ballot should work itself out:
"I think the greatest players in the game are people who have started playing most recently, probably in the last couple of years. If you induct people who played ten years ago, I don't know that they even deserve to be in the same room as the new guys. Look at Jeroen Remie, for example: I think if you put Jeroen now against the Hall of Famers back then, he'd take them apart. The game has advanced a lot, and the players have with it.
"I think there may be two players from ten years ago who should make it. One should be Finkel, and the second…there should just be one. The others just weren't in the same class. Five years ago, I think there were twenty players at that level.
"As for Long, every time I played against him, he did something to cheat against me."
"He stole donuts from me" called Sullivan
"I just think the ballot is too broad. Like, if I get a few more points, I'll be on it, and I just don't belong up there with those guys. They should tighten up the qualifications."
"Finkel is Finkel, obviously. Olle Rade was the first player PTQ types talked about and he got them thinking about what makes a deck special. Spiders may have been the first rogue deck ever. He really thought outside the box. Justice was the first true legend. Story after story of him mind-playing people in brilliant ways. Dave Humpherys has quietly been one of the best players on tour for a decade. In Rome he was really innovative with 'Free Whaley' and that really got Flores talking about him as the best player people didn't talk about. Finally, I'd like to say MikeyP because of character (both because he had character and was a character), but Kastle deserves a nod for all those PT appearances. He's been up, he's been down, but he's always been there."