Friday, June 16: 10:57 am - Teams to Watch
by Ted Knutson
Greetings and welcome to Charleston, South Carolina. An absurd 525 players comprising 175 teams showed up to play this weekend, making this the largest Pro Tour ever by 99 players. The traditional creeping of old players from the woodwork is in full effect here this weekend, with a number of high-profile "classics" reappearing this weekend. Hall of Famer Darwin Kastle grabbed friends Rob Dougherty and Justin Gary to form YMG Hump-Free, a reference to the fact that traditional YMG member Dave Humpherys is not here this weekend. Jon Finkel is also here, reforming the power trio Antarctica with brothers Steve and Dan O'Mahoney Schwartz on lead guitar and bass, respectively.
And this is just half the playing field!
Other oldies hoping to recapture past magic this weekend include Ben Rubin of "Shows Up With Dip Dips," the "says he's retired but keeps showing up" Jin Okamoto, Eric Froehlich of Les Plis Classier (Gabe/Gab Walls and Nassif), and Eric "The Dinosaur" Taylor, who is looking for those elusive final points to make him Hall-of-Fame eligible.
Switching from classic rock to Top 40, the following are a sampling of some of the teams to beat:
Tcgplayer.com - Olivier Ruel, Antoine Ruel, Frank Karsten
I'm not sure you could form a better squad, especially not in Constructed where these guys have accounted for six Pro Tour Top 8 appearances in the last season and a half. BDM feels that Frank Karsten is consistently the best-prepared player on the Pro Tour, and teaming him with the superstar brothers from France should produce nothing less than outstanding results.
Double SHU Desu - Ichiro Shimura, Shu Komuro, Shuhei Nakamura
I suggested this team rename themselves Ichiro's Shoes back at Grand Prix-Hamamatsu, but no one ever listens to me. Regardless, Nakamura has proven himself to be one of the most skilled players on the planet in the last two years, while Komuro and Shimura both have a Pro Tour Top 8 of their own. Provided they did the work on the format, I would expect big things from this team…
Playing the role of Masashiro Kuroda…Kenji Tsumura!
I's - Kenji Tsumura, Katsuhiro Mori, Masahiko Morita
…though perhaps not as big as the expectations riding on these guys. Two-thirds of traditional Japanese superteam P.S.2. (which already includes World Champion Mori) replaced traditional teammate Masashiro Kuroda with Player of the Year Kenji Tsumura. Morita always seems to freeze up at the Pro Tour level, but his best success has come in teams, where perhaps he is able to loosen up enough to overcome his jitters and prove just how skilled he really is.
Southern Comfort - Neil Reeves, Mark Herberholz, Sam Gomersall
Take perhaps the best all-around American player in Big Country Neil Reeves, combine with a shot of perhaps the best American Constructed player in Mark Herberholz, and fill with Herberholz's hetero-life partner Sam Gomersall and you have not only a tasty drink, but one that will leave you with a crushing hangover in the morning. No one knows what to expect from these guys except a notebook full of quotes and good times, most of which will be completely unprintable.
Average Homeboys (Jelger Wiegersma, Raphael Levy, Geoffrey Siron)/Party Boys (Kamiel Cornelissen, Bernardo Da Costa Cabral, Tiago Chan)
Two teams comprised of some of the best Europe has to offer, and led by Dutch superstars and former teammates who rarely fail to succeed in this arena. I think these are perhaps two of the dark horses for a Top 4 finish this weekend and all of the members of these teams have been playing pretty well lately.
Oh, and there was a rumor that Kai Budde was perhaps going to show up here this weekend, but like the Dave Williams-David Mills-Mike Long team, Kai failed to materialize. The fake Phoenix Foundations listed in the team rosters do not include the German Juggernaut, so accept no substitutes and don't expect to hear anymore about Mr. Budde this weekend.
Friday, June 16: 12:59 pm - Early Deck Reports
by Ted Knutson
We're through two rounds here in Charleston already, which is just long enough to see what people are playing, though hardly long enough to figure out what is good just yet. I decided to wander around the room for a bit (that's what we bloggers do, you know) to get a bead on the general shape of the metagame.
The first deck that really caught my eye was the Firemane Angel/Searing Meditation deck a number of teams seem to have discovered. Packed to the gills with the best Boros has to offer in terms of efficient lifegain spells, this deck runs Lightning Helix, Faith's Fetters, and the full set of Firemane Angels plus typically some countermagic, Compulsive Research, and the aforementioned Searing Meditation to try to destroy beatdown decks. There seem to be a couple of slightly different versions of the deck, and it will be interesting to see which ones move to the top of the standings as the day goes on.
The obvious deck that everyone seems to have found is the land destruction deck, though at the moment there are at least two different types that are seeing play. The first version is the Magic Online holdover deck that uses Rolling Spoil plus g-w-b good stuff like Angel of Despair to disrupt manabases and keep opponents off-balance with the sheer power of all of their spells.
The other deck takes the concept in a slightly different direction, running Rolling Spoil plus Wrecking Ball, and some go so far as to include *gulp* Wreak Havoc, making it a kind of multi-colored Ponza deck. The kill condition in that deck has varied from what I've seen, but many players seem to think it's a good place to put at least part of their allotment of Simic Sky Swallowers.
Another deck that is particularly sexy out there is the Pillar of the Paruns Zoo deck. Designed to take advantage of every good gold aggressive card out there, it plays as few as zero basic lands, and is probably the fastest deck in the field with a decent draw. The deck's combination of burn and mostly flying beaters puts opponents under pressure immediately and tries to keep a boot on their face the entire time. We can't tell you who is playing what just yet, but thus far Ravnica Block Constructed looks like it is living up to expectations as a wild and wooly format where your deckbuilding options are limited only by your imagination.
Friday, June 16: 1:16 pm - The Trials of Teams
by Ted Knutson
Mike Flores is known as "Bad Player" Flores for a good reason. The expert deck designer and magicthegathering.com columnist has long been known for playing just well enough so that his colossal mistakes seem to foil his plans for world domination in the most spectacular fashion possible.
Flores, Sadin, and Jordan started the day 3-0.
Of course, Flores has teammates for this Pro Tour in youthful Steve Sadin and team format stalwart Paul Jordan. The two New York natives are used to dealing with Mike and have learned to tune out his play advice over the years, which is why when Flores was telling them what idiots they were for not listening to him, I became intrigued.
Apparently Jordan was getting beat down by a Watchwolf with a Signet, Crime//Punishment, and a Temple Garden in hand, and was trying to figure out the most optimal way to get rid of it. He and Sadin put their heads together and then decided to play the dual land untapped, taking two, then cast the Signet before casting Punishment for two. They were then immediately dismayed when their newly cast Signet went to the graveyard along with the Watchwolf, leading me to wonder: Is it possible for bad play to rub off?
Regardless if this and doubtless other gaffes in the first three rounds, Flores and team Two-Headed Giant find themselves sitting pretty at 3-0.
Billy Postlethwait has changed teams for this event, and instead of the familiar surroundings of Antonino De Rosa and Alex Lieberman, BillyP now finds himself teamed with the surly-yet-entertaining twosome of Gerry Thompson and Mike Krumb. Postlethwait was deep into Game 3 and had a tough decision as to which two cards two discard after coming up blank for lands with a Compulsive Research. Then, in spite of vigorous attempts to consult his teammates for advice, they completely ignored him, leaving him all alone in making the choice.
For his part, Thompson swears that Billy never bothered to ask either he or Krumb which card to discard and then screwed it up before he could stop the error.
Friday, June 16: 2:40 pm - History Lessons
by Ted Knutson
This may only be the tenth year of the Magic Pro Tour, but photographer Craig Gibson and notable curmudgeon Aaron Forsythe discovered some evidence on a field trip yesterday that suggests something like Magic may have been played here in Charleston as far back as 1861.
This first image looks strangely like an old-time scorekeeper's table, complete with a wax mockup some old dude that looks eerily like tournament manager Scott Larabee. I haven't seen a sculpture this lifelike since I visited Madame Tussaud's in London last year.
This next image is apparently a players' lounge of some sort, though it does seem to lack the modern amenities of today's lounge like warm food, plasma TVs, ping pong, miniature golf, pool, indoor plumbing… the list is extensive.
Finally this last image is where they held competitors who ran into "issues" with any of the "magistrates" of the time. Instead of getting banned from the game for a specific period of time, back then they apparently held you in a cage where you served the entirety of your sentence. When told of what Gibson and Forsythe had found, Head Judge Sheldon Menery said that the judging committee would be looking into implementing some more harsh penalties like this in the future, so keep your eyes out for new penalty guidelines sometime in the second half of the year.
Friday, June 16: 4:15 pm - San Diego Kryptonite
by Ted Knutson
The new face of evil?
Late last year, many of the ex-Pros living in San Diego were bit by radioactive Magic bugs, and began to try and make their way back onto the Pro Tour. Justin Gary was one of the first to have notable success, making it to the finals of a PTQ before losing to some dude named Nathan Waxer. Weeks later, Ben Rubin was also the victim of Waxer's foul doings, again losing to the California player in the finals of a PTQ.
Earlier this year, the fearsome squad of PTR, Ken Ho, and Ben Rubin were well on their way to another Pro Tour berth when they were defeated by the nefarious Waxer and two of his unseemly cohorts. If rumor is to be believed, they later celebrated their PTQ victory by stealing walkers from old ladies and kicking puppies.
Not content with just keeping people from winning Pro Tour Qualifiers, Waxer and company have redoubled their efforts here in Charleston, and have stepped up their extensive acts of villainy and terror against the inhabitants of San Diego. They somehow managed to rig the pairings in one of the earlier rounds Friday to once again pit them against Diego-ites, the particular victims this time coming in the form of Antonino De Rosa, Ken Ho, and Florida native Alex Lieberman. The list of notches on Waxer's belt now includes two Pro Tour winners, the U.S. National Champion, and Ben Rubin… one of the greatest players to never win a Pro Tour.
I guess you could say Waxer and his friends have De Rosa, Ho, Rubin, and Gary's numbers.
I'm pretty sure they wish he'd stop calling.
Friday, June 16: 4:55 pm - Photojournalism
by Ted Knutson
Gaming Jim may say he's a card dealer, but one of his more popular wares down here in the South is still good, old-fashioned snake oil.
Zoltan and Gabor, coming to a comedy club near you.
Apparently Aaron Forsythe and Brian David-Marshall just cannot get enough of the shrimp and grits.
Magic players were able to watch Argentina destroy Serbia and Montenegro in World Cup action.
StanV, Belgium's favorite pimp, is also a professional at miniature golf.
Friday, June 16: 6:48 pm - Day End News and Notes
by Ted Knutson
After Round 5, Kenji Tsumura, Frank Karsten, Ruud Warmenhoven, and Rogier Maaten were milling around the standings area, looking forlorn. Confused, I asked each of them their records on the day. It turns out all four of them had posted 1-4's for their teams at that point in the day, though none were yet eliminated from competition due to the fact that their teammates were performing rather well.
Team Block is a crazy format because teams are forced to eek out utility and card advantage from every nook and cranny in order to build three decks capable of winning almost any matchup. Cards that are seeing play here this weekend include all ten split cards, Dark Heart of the Wood, Moratorium Stone, Skullmead Cauldron, Wit's End, Rakdos, the Defiler, Dimir Cutpurse, and Twisted Justice.
Good Man of the Year Jeroen Remie finally made it to a Day 2 this year on the back of a 7-0 from teammate Terry Soh. His other teammate is Ruud, and you already know how his day was going.
The team I feel should be named Ichiro's Shoes finished Day 1 as the only undefeated team in the field.
Gadiel and Wessel swapped kits after facing each other.
Last but certainly not least, you get the heartwarming story of Gadiel Szleifer (did I just say that?) and Wessel Oomens. Earlier in the day, Gadiel and Wessel played against each other with Oomens wearing the bright Orange of The Netherlands and Szleifer wearing the pale blue and white stripes of Argentina. After the match, they did just like you see players do in the World Cup - the two players rooting for battling teams in Group C traded their football jerseys.
Then later in the day, with Szleifer still playing at the end round 7, Oomens actually came back to cheer Gadiel on, as Szleifer managed to pull out a very close game 3 against Steve Sadin to win the match and give his team a 6-1 record to finish Day 1. It's interesting to see that in spite of tens of thousands of dollars on the line at every Pro Tour, sportsmanship and camaraderie are still a big part of the game, and sometimes from the most unlikely of sources.