Saturday, Sept 2: 12:02 p.m. - What's My Line?
I found out 9 Japanese players and a host of Europeans would be attending Phoenix a couple of weeks ago, and it got me wondering - if the best of the Japanese and many of the best Euros were in attendance, how many non-Americans (this includes Canadians like Rich Hoaen) could you expect to make the Top 8? I originally figured a solid estimate to be 3, meaning you could expect to see 3 non-Americans in the Top 8, and for fun, you could ask players to pick over or under the number. Eventually after talking to some more people, the estimate moved to 3.5 this week, and could have been as high as 4 this morning during a walk around the room. Setting it at a fair 3.5 however, and looking at the following list of non-American names, the question is simple: would you pick the over or the under?
Paulo Vitor Da Rosa
J Evan Dean
American players seemed to be pretty split on the number, with strong Americans like Jon Sonne and Antonino De Rosa quickly taking the under, while certain individuals who wished to remain nameless chose the over. Expect us to revisit this tomorrow afternoon as the Top 8 approaches.
Saturday, Sept 2: 2:44 p.m. - Deckbuilding with Jelger Wiegersma
Jelger Wiegersma is one of the world's top pros, a metronome of consistency and excellence. Though he hasn't had a Pro Tour Top 8 in two years, he's consistently in the Top 32 almost every time he plays. He's also one of the opponents most players least want to face, whether that's in digital form on Magic Online or live and in color. I sat down with him today to see what gifts Ravnica Sealed would bring him after he flew across the Atlantic to battle here in Phoenix.
Wiegersma attempts to make lemonade.
Few builds in this sealed format can be considered easy. While many decks feature strong cards, they are often in disparate colors, and building your deck with mana consistency and raw power in mind has never been more difficult. It's true that players will occasionally get an easy, powerful 3 color build, it doesn't happen nearly as often as it did in pure Ravnica or Ravnica-Guildpact. Occasionally, however, even the best players get a card pool that completely stumps them.
Jelger may have opened one of the weakest RGD sealed decks that I've seen. He got one of those pools that are long on mana fixing but short on actual card quality, and what quality exists was all over the map.
His first build was blue-red-white with splashes for Stinkweed Imp, Agent of Masks, and Disembowel, and Rakdos Ickspitter. The white was really just there to hopefully take advantage of Azorius Guildmage, the one real bomb in his entire pile. Eventually white and blue were both jettisoned as Jelger picked up his black and green cards to see if he could find a playable combination that did not look terrible. This gave him access to Plague Boiler and Golgari Rotwurm, but pushed the Guildmage to the side.
Next the bulk of the black left again, with blue coming back and an ironic chuckle from Wiegersma as he tossed Agent of Masks back into the mix. "My mana is going to be nice…"
Laying his lands out, he ended up with 15 lands, 3 bouncelands, and 4 Signets plus a pile of scruffy cards that definitely separates the boys from the pros. Jelger's skill still makes him a favorite to make a Day 2 appearance, but with the deck below (which will be revealed at the end of Day 1), he'll have an extremely tough row to hoe if he's to participate in some Coldsnap drafting tomorrow.
GP Phoenix 06 Draft 1
Saturday, Sept 2: 5:21 p.m. - Round 4 - Ben Rubin vs. Rich Hoaen
The feature match area currently hosts Masashi Oiso, Gadiel Szleifer, Ben Rubin, and Rich Hoaen. I asked the guy with the most Pro Tour Top 8s in the area (Oiso, who has one more than Rubin's 4) which match I should cover, and he pointed to the Rubin v. Hoaen match, so that's what you get.
Future Hall of Fame member Ben Rubin.
Both Hoaen and Rubin came into this match with a full set of byes, and also came to the event with in the same caravan as part of the Southern California contingent of pros. How ironic that they should square off at the start of the day as well.
Rubin cast a second turn Dimir Infiltrator, which Hoaen answered with a Simic Guildmage. Steamcore Weird killed the Guildmage, but Hoaen reloaded with Dimir Guildmage and Farseek, fetching an Island from his deck.
"Hmm, didn't see that guy in playtesting," observed Rubin, as Hoaen threw a Drooling Groodion onto the board. Peel from Reality at the end of Hoaen's turn put the Groodion and Rubin's Weird back into their hands, triggering Circu, Dimir Lobomist twice, the second time coming from Steamcore's repeat appearance. In spite of all Rubin's action, Hoaen was doing just fine courtesy of Seal of Fire on Rubin's Dimir Guildmage and having both Groodion and now Cytospawn Shambler in play.
"Gugh," or something like it was the sound Hoaen made when Rubin cast Izzet Chronarch to return his Peel from Reality. With a host of creatures on the board and a very problematic recurring advantage in the Chronarch-Peel combo, Rubin was able to put away game 1 without too much of a problem.
Rubin 1 - Hoaen 0
The intense Rich Hoaen.
Hoaen had the first action of game 2, and quickly ran Rubin over with Roofstalker Wight, Giant Solifuge, and Seal of Fire to remove any blockers and a Char to finish things off. Rubin's slow draw was as much a cause of that loss as Hoaen's fast one.
Rubin 1 - Hoaen 1
Rubin mulliganned for game 3, and Hoaen again had the first business, this time in the form of Compulsive Research, discarding two creatures. Indentured Oaf and Seal of Fire followed, though the Oaf died immediately to Cackling Flames. Scatter the Seeds restocked Hoaen's Army, with Simic Guildmage close behind, while Rubin tried to stabilize with Pyrotechnics and Galvanic Arc, though he was clearly having mana issues. Wrecking Ball on Hoaen's Barbarian Riftcutter and another concluding Char gave Hoaen the match.
Hoaen 2 - Rubin 1
Saturday, Sept 2: 6:13 p.m. - Round 5 - Antonino De Rosa vs. Jelger Wiegersma
Jelger has seen better days… and better decks.
"Out of all the foreigners, he is the one I didn't want to play," said Antonino De Rosa, sitting down across from opponent Jelger Wiegersma. "Why him?" asked feature match seatmate Julien Nuijten. Ant replied with, "Because he's the only foreigner I like."
An awkward silence followed soon after as both players shuffled and cut...
Jelger made the first play with a Tin Street Hooligan, which was met with a Terraformer from Ant. Jelger drew first blood, putting Ant to 18, choosing not to block. A savvy Scab-Clan Mauler came out for Jelger and Ant was left scratching his head. Ant used Terraformer to make his Selensya Sanctuary a Swamp to Last Gasp the Mauler, but was stuck on 2 lands. Scrapper continued the beats from Jelger and Ant remained mana screwed on his fifth turn. Ant attacked with Terraformer putting the life totals at 13-16 in Jelger's favor, and then cast a Ghost Warden. Jelger thought a while before sending in the troops and trading the Hooligan for the Warden, but, Elvish Skysweeper was all he had to follow up with and passed the turn. Ant whined about his bad luck and shuffled his cards around rapidly in frustration. Still stuck on 2 lands, Ant began flirting with the judge, asking silly questions about Terraformer and Selensya Sanctuary before passing the turn.
Jelger played his sixth consecutive land and cast a freshly drawn Golgari Rotwurm. Ant drew into his fourth land, a Plains, and thought for a few minutes before casting a Faith's Fetters on the Rotwurm, catching Jelger off guard. A Pyromantics sent the Terraformer packing and an attack put Ant's life at 9. Aurora Eidolon was all he could muster, still short a fourth land. Jelger drew, sighed, and passed then turn. At this point Ant was far ahead, sitting with 6 cards in hand to Jelger's 3. Upkeep brought a forecasted Pride of the Clouds for Ant and the tables started to turn. Jelger used his Elivsh Sky Sweeper and end of turn to take out the token and cast and followed up with a Azorious Guildmage and Indentured Oaf. Ant decided not to forecast Pride of the Clouds this turn, still missing a Swamp or Mountain to get his Stinkweed Imp and Galvanic Arc online. He drew into a much needed Repeal for Jelger's Azorious Guildmage and passed the turn. Indentured Oaf attacked and Ant blocked with Eidolon while Jelger re-cast his Guildmage and passed the turn. A Compulsive Research provided no answers and Ant scooped his cards.
Wiegersma 1 - De Rosa 0
While sideboarding, Mark Herberholz walked over boasting about his mana screwed opponent. Jelger boarded in a full 5 cards and laughed about how badly he had built his deck.
"Imagine how rich we would be if we didn't drink," said Herberholz. Jelger responded with a "Wow!" while shuffling Ant's deck.
De Rosa is always smiling when he's winning.
Jelger started the beats early with a turn 1 Scorched Rusalka and turn 2 Elvish Skysweeper, but Ant had the perfect answer in Courier Hawk. Jelger thought for a minute before sending in both 1/1's. Jelger lost his Skysweeper and cast a Scab-Clan Mauler. Ant had the Last Gasp for the Mauler and attacked for 1 with the Hawk. Jelger, stuck on three mana, passed the turn without a play. A Moroii came out for Ant and all Jelger could do was pass again. Pride of the Clouds on turn 5 for Ant forced Jelger to concede in frustration.
Wiegersma 1 - De Rosa 1
Ant started the action and both players played land for the first 2 turns until a Terraformer came down on De Rosa's side of the board. Jelger cast a Azorius Guildmage, burning for 1 with his Boros Garrison and Island. Ant attacked for 2, cast Moroii and shipped it back. Jelger played a Forest, which led to a Gruul Signet and passed the turn with 3 mana up to tap down Ant's Moroii via the Guildmage. Ant forecasted Sky Hussar, tapping down his Terraformer and Moroii before casting the Sky Hussar. Jelger responded by tapping the Moroii and took another 2 from Terraformer. Jelger cast Tattered Drake on his next turn hoping to staunch the growing air force on Ant's side. Ant thought for a whole 2 minutes before deciding on a Centaur Safeguard and Peel from Reality on Jelger's Tattered Drake. He then attacked for 10, which left him scratching his head. Jelger blocked the Terraformer with the Guildmage to prevent damage and Ant passed the turn. Aquastrand Spider along with a grafted Ordruun Commando came down for Jelger. Ant topdecked a Repeal and used it on Jelger's Ordruun Commando to take game 3.
Antonio De Rosa wins 2-1 over Jelger Wiegersma.
Saturday, Sept 2: 8:08 p.m. - News and Notes
For some players, Magic is all about camaraderie. Players will fly thousands of miles to hang out with their friends and enjoy the times, while others will pick up strange hobbies or mannerisms that mimic those of their friends. Take Kenji Tsumura for example. Not only is he one of Japan's road warriors, but like so many members of the Rat Pack before him, the tiny master has taken up smoking so that he can hang out with friends like Tomoharu Saito and Rich Hoaen. Smoking is actually quite commonplace in Japan, but more than a few Americans were shocked to see Kenji light up outside the venue.
U.S. National Champion Paul Cheon is here this weekend, but he's not playing due to the fact that his impressive run in Limited a month ago gave him enough ratings points to likely qualify him for Kobe. He did not want to jeopardize attending the last two Pro Tours of the season by taking his chances here, but the Grand Prix was close enough that he drove here with friends to railbird for the weekend.
In round 6, Chris "Star Wars Kid" McDaniel was sitting at 7 life to his opponent's 20, and his opponent had 7 unblockable damage on the board next turn, while all Chris had were 3 saprolings, Verdant Eidolon, and a Selesnya Evangel. McDaniel thought about it for a minute before casting Rally the Righteous on his Evangel, then Recollect on the Rally, and then Rally again, reducing his shocked opponent from 20 to 0 just like that. He went on to win that match and stretch his record to 6-0 on the day.
Rumors of Masashi Oiso's retirement have been greatly exaggerated. His schoolwork has forced him to focus less on Magic over the last year, but I had a chance to chat with him today and he assured me that he plans to continue playing as long as he is able.
He wasn't joking.
Jelger Wiegersma (he of the miserable sealed deck pool) dropped into the "drinking" bracket somewhere after round 6.
Two weeks ago at a PTQ, Patrick Sullivan lost to an opponent who cast turn 3 Burning-Tree Shaman followed by turn 5 enhanced Ribbons of Night. Today he played that exact same opponent and watched in horror as the exact same sequence of plays once again occurred. "I'm normally pretty tight-lipped during matched, but I couldn't help the 'Are you ****ing kidding me?!?' that escaped my lips this time."
Saturday, Sept 2: 9:22 p.m. - Round 6 - Gadiel Szleifer vs. Geoffrey Siron
Geoffrey Siron has devil-eyes!
Siron played first and led out with a turn 2 Selesnya Signet; Gadiel followed with a Simic Guildmage. A Shambling Shell and Voyager Staff came out for Siron. Gadiel was stuck on two mana and passed the turn. An attack from Shambling Shell and Mausoleum Turnkey while Gadiel was still stuck at two land. Next turn Siron attacked with Turnkey and Shell and Gadiel blocked Turnkey and cast Peel from Reality with damage on the stack. Shambling Shell sacrificed to save the Turnkey and Siron passed the turn. The judge interjected at this time because Gadiel had accidently put his Guildmage in the graveyard. He received a warning. Gadiel re-cast Simic Guildmage and passed. Siron then cast a Supply//Demand for 5 Saprolings.
Gadiel drew his fourth land and cast a Loxodon Hierarch and passed the turn. Siron dredged Shambling Shell, cast it, and passed back. Gadiel drew his 3rd consecutive land and cast a Patagia Viper clogging the board with 1/1 Snakes. On Siron's turn he thought awhile before sending in his 5/4 Turnkey with 1 card in hand. Gadiel blocked with Hierarch and his 2 snakes, Siron responded by putting another counter on the Turnkey and used his Voyager Staff to save his Turnkey. Civic Wayfinder found Siron another land before Turnkey brought back a Shambling Shell at the end of his turn. Sporeback Troll provided a glimmer of hope and a grafted Selensya Guildmage came out for Gadiel. Siron replayed Shambling Shell on his turn and attacked with his 3 Saprolings, Turnkey, and Wayfinder with Gadiel at 8 life. Gadiel took 4 from this attack blocking the Turnkey with his Viper and a Saproling with his Selensya Guildmage.
A Douse in Gloom finished the Guildmage off and Shambling Shell saved Siron's turnkey. All Gadiel had was a 1/1 Sporeback Troll, but a Ogre Savant targeting a Saproling came to join him. The judge pointed out that Siron forgot to put a +1/+1 counter on his Turnkey and another warning was handed out. Siron attacked with his team and Gadiel blocked a Saproling with his Savant and Turnkey with his Troll; the Savant died to the token and the Troll regenerated. Gadiel summoned a Golgari Guildmage with 5 mana up in hopes of stabilizing, but Siron still using his Shambling Shell engine, dredged and replayed it. Siron attacked out and Gadiel blocked Turnkey with Troll and Wayfinder with Guildmage. Siron put a counter on the Wayfinder with Shambling Shell, and Gadiel used his Guildmage to put a counter on it to finish off Siron's Wayfinder. A dead draw from Gadiel and the game was Siron's.
Siron 1 - Szleifer 0
Gadiel chose to draw and had the first play with an Aquastrand Spider. Siron answered with a Trophy Hunter. Gadiel followed up with a Civic Wayfinder fetching a Plains. Keening Banshee from Siron took care of the Spider and the Hunter attacked. A Golgari Thug came out for Siron a turn later and Gadiel cast Scatter the Seeds at end of turn. On his next turn, he attacked Siron for 5 damage and played a Bloodthirsted Ghor-Clan Savage. Siron continued to attack in the air putting Gadiel to 12. The Savage attacked and lowered Siron to 10. Siege Wurm came out with the help out the Scatter tokens, but Siron cast an end of turn Douse in Gloom to kill the Civic Wayfinder. Siron used Recollect to return his Douse, then passed the turn with four mana up. Gadiel attacked for 10 with his Siege Wurm and Savage and Siron triple blocked Gadiel's Siege Wurm. Gadiel assigned damage to Trophy Hunter and Keening Banshee and dropped Siron to 7 in the process. Siron then used Douse in Gloom to kill a saproling, going to 9. Strands of Undeath on Golgari Thug made Gadiel discard 2 excess Islands and Gadiel attacked with his 2 saprolings and the Savage after playing a Golgari Guildmage. Gadiel pumped a token, Siron got back Banshee, Siron cast Banshee to kill the 2/2. On Gadiel's turn Siron chumped the Savage and Gadiel cast an un-necessary Experiment Kraj to seal the game.
Siron 1 - Gadiel 1
Both were silent in preparation for the upcoming game. I believe the judge has said more in this match than Gadiel and Geoffrey combined.
Gadiel Szleifer shuffles em up.
Both players kept their hands and Siron started the action with a saucy turn 2 Golgari Thug. Game 1 MVP Shambling Shell came down for Siron on his next turn and Gadiel used Wayfinder to fetch a Forest. Siron missed his 4th land drop and passed the turn. Patagia Viper came down for Gadiel and Siron used his 2 creatures to Convoke out a Scatter the Seeds. A topdecked Civic Wayfinder provided Siron with a second Swamp to go along with his 2 Forests and passed the turn. Gadiel cast Minister of the Impediments and Convoked out a Siege Wurm. Siron used Keening Banshee to take out the Minister and passed the turn. Gadiel played his 6th land and slammed a Pollenbright Wings on his Siege Wurm and attacked for 5 in the air. Siron merely shrugged and used his Pillory of the Sleepless on the flying Wurm. The board was cluttered with tokens and dinky creatures everywhere. Gadiel's Faith's Fetters jumped onto Keening Banshee, clearing the air for Patagia Viper. He then attacked with his seven Saprolings, Wayfinder, and Patagia Viper. Siron blocked a token with Shell, and 3 Saprolings traded. Siron's Wayfinder took out Gadiel's with the help of Shambles, but fell to 10 in the process.
Siron played Turnkey, getting back his Shambling Shell. Patagia Viper came in putting Siron to 8 and Gadiel played Experiment Kraj with the help of Terraformer. Siron used his 8 mana to cast Bramble Elemental and Shambing Shell. Gadiel thought for awhile before attacking for 2 with Viper and casting Fist of the Ironwood on Kraj. A top-decked Skyknight Legionnaire provided a way to deal with Gadiel's Viper and Gadiel used Kraj to make Patagia Viper a 3/2. Siron drew, passed and Gadiel used Kraj to pump Viper, Geoffrey responded with Douse in Gloom. The next two turns both players played lightning fast, only stopping to write down the life totals. Gadiel played Sporeback Troll. Siron cast Strands on Bramble Elemental, making Gadiel discard a Forest. Siron attacked with the Legionnaire again. Gadiel used the Kraj to pump itself and then attacks with it the next turn. Geoffrey blocks with Shell and Bramble Elemental putting a counter on Legionnaire. Siron dredged and attacked. Gadiel drew into Repeal and used it on Siron's Pillory. Gadiel attacked for 5 in the air with Siege Wurm and Gadiel put a counter on the Wurm before damage, putting Siron at 2. Gadiel then played a Galvanic Arc, targeting Geoffrey for the win.
Szleifer wins 2-1
Saturday, Sept 2: 9:30 p.m. - Round 7 - Chris McDaniel vs. John Fiorillo
John Fiorillo is all smiles.
"Is your deck good?" asked Chris McDaniel, as Fiorillo entered the feature match area. "This is Limited - not sure I can beat you in this format. I beat your brother though," McDaniel preened. "Yeah, I know," said Fiorillo. The former New Jersey native was clearly out for revenge. Okay, perhaps not really, but Fiorillo is such a nice guy, you sometimes need to generate fictitious conflict for him just to give John an edge. Being composed entirely of jelly and goofiness, Star Wars Kid has no edges whatsoever.
McDaniel cast turn 2 Farseek, causing Paul Rietzl to say, "Ahh, Star Wars Kid - nothing he loves more than a Rampant Growth," a reference to Chris's habit of playing mana-hungry combo decks in Constructed. Fiorillo played a bounceland and then discarded Plumes of Peace, giving a tell as to the quality of his hand. Indrik Stomphowler and Thundersong Trumpeter for McDaniel, Moroii plus Shambling Shell for Fiorillo quickly filled the board. Stompy plus Hypervolt Grasp took down the Shell during Fiorillo's, but not before it made Moroii 5/5. Stratozeppelid joined Moroii on the board, giving Fiorillo a second busty flier. Just when McDaniel looked like he might be able to deal with things, Consult the Necrosages forced him to discard Faith's Fetters, and Fiorillo's air force forced a concession two turns later.
Fiorillo 1 - McDaniel 0
Chris McDaniel shuffles with his eyes closed, just to be extra-fair.
"Sideboarding in some spicy ones," Chris noted. "Is that just because you misbuilt your deck?" I asked. "Oh no, I kept it misbuilt!" retorted Chris. "I just misbuilt it a little more."
McDaniel mulliganned his first hand, and Fiorillo kicked into full blow-out mode by casting Coiling Oracle into a Golgari Rot Farm on turn 2. The board filled quickly with mostly small men and a Watchwolf on McDaniel's side to small men and Golgari Rotwurm for Fiorillo. Leap of Flame let McDaniel's Watchwolf kill Rotwurm, but Fiorillo's hand was loaded so it looked like he'd recover without a problem. Indrik Stomhowler killing Fiorillo's Glass Golem looked like a great play, but Fiorillo's deck delivered some removal and then the same pair of 4/4 fliers that killed McDaniel last game. McDaniel had a chance to possibly kill Fiorillo if he drew Recollect for Leap of Flame. Recollect was not on the top of his deck, and Fiorillo finished McDaniel off next turn, making Chris 1-1 against Fiorillos on the day.
Fiorillo 2 - McDaniel 0