A pair of Theros block Grand Prix, Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015 details, SCG’s fourth quarter Open Series schedule, and some exciting announcements concerning the near future of Magic from PAX East. Oh, and the matter of some tournament organizer controversy. All that and more this week in Magic Weekly!
Skarren Scares Up Another GP Win!
PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania – Frank Skarren catapulted himself onto the competitive Magic scene with a win last year at the record breaking Gatecrash limited event Grand Prix Charlotte. This past weekend, Frank added his name to the short list of two-time Grand Prix champions by taking down yet another limited GP, this time Theros and Born of the Gods limited, in the City of Brotherly Love.
The top 8 of the 1,889 player event was quite stacked, as it included a total of five previous GP winners: Frank was joined by three-time GP winner and Hall of Famer William “Huey” Jensen, two-time GP champion and current #2 ranked player Reid Duke, GP Minneapolis 2012 champ Christian Calcano, and GP Oklahoma City 2012 winner Pierre Mondon. Frank defeated the two members of the Peach Garden Oath brotherhood that he faced, taking out Huey in the quarters and Reid in the finals. In between, he took down Adam Mancuso, and Mark Evaldi rounded out the top 8.
The statistics were not with Frank heading into the top 8 once the draft panned out. Green is often looked upon as the least popular color in the format, and it was Frank’s main color. Additionally, Frank was one of the five players who decided on playing blue cards in the top 8. Despite all of that, Frank managed to put together a very aggressive base that was more than capable of racing. Theros is a format where blocking where blocking is almost certain to be immediately punished, and Frank built himself a deck that made sure he was the one leaning on the opposition rather than the other way around.
In winning Philly, Frank Skarren is now one of only five players in Magic’s history that is currently 2-for-2 in GP top 8s. He joins Ben Seck, Bill Stead, Ding Juen Leong, and James Zhang. Jim Herold, by the by, is the only player who has gone 9-0 in GP top 8s, going 3-for-3.
Old school pro and GP Richmond top 8er Mike Sigrist picked up a Pro Tour qualification with his 13-2 mark, falling just short of the top 8 via tiebreakers in ninth place. Another old school pro and GP Richmond top 8er, Jaime Parke, also finished in the top 16, coming in 12th place. Other big names had solid weekends as well: 24th ranked overall player David Ochoa came in 11th, the Babe Ruth of American Magic Jon Finkel earned himself 16th, and well-known Magic players Shaheen Soorani, Jackie Lee, Gaudenis Vidugiris, Andrew Cuneo, Nathan Holiday, and Adam Jansen all picked up a pair of Pro Points for top 32 finishes.
With their finishes, you can expect jumps up the leaderboard for Huey, who currently has the bottommost 25th spot, as well as David Ochoa, who is right in front in 24th. The unlisted 26th position might well be Christian Calcano, and a second career top 8 berth surely would go a long way to returning to the top 25. Unfortunately for Reid Duke, Jeremy Dezani’s ten point spread between first and second means he probably won’t take over the top spot.
One more highlight: Oliver Tomajko finished in the top 16, just ahead of Jon Finkel, after losing his win-and-in into the top 8 to Huey Jensen. It was an exciting match, and with additional intrigue: Huey won his first Grand Prix two years before Oliver was born. The thirteen-year-old Tomajko already has some high level tournament finishes in Magic and Yu-Gi-Oh under his belt, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we look back at this GP fondly as the good old days before Oliver dominated tournament Magic.
To read more highlights from Philadelphia, including archives of the videos like Huey vs. Oliver from round 15, check out the tournament coverage page.
Kasuga KOs Nagoya!
NAGOYA, Japan – Half a world away, 1,786 Magic players descended upon the largest city in the Chubu region of Japan for similar Theros limited battle. Ryousuke Kasuga entered the event with zero byes, but he went 9-0 on the first day and only lost once in each of his draft pods on the second day before troucing the top 8 with a red-black deck that featured some big heavy hitters like Ember Swallower, Nighthowler, Flame-Wreathed Phoenix, and Hammer of Purphoros, with the Hammer being most impressive in the top 8 for Kasuga. His win with black and red, combined with Frank Skarren’s win with blue and green, means a shut out on white (commonly accepted as the best color in the format for draft) on the last weekend of the format!
Other notables with nice finished include coverage writer Chapman Sim, who stamped his Grand Prix top 8 visa for the second time, and APAC all-stars Lee Shi Tian and Tzu-ching Kuo, both of whom earned three Pro Points for top 16ing the event.
As the limited format winds to a close, I personally find it quite interesting how opinions have changed since triple Theros. The addition of Born of the Gods has shifted opinions dramatically, specifically when it comes to Kasuga’s main colors in the top 8 draft: red and black. Once the unwanted fifth wheel of Theros, red exploded in popularity once the inclusion of Born of the Gods happened, in large part thanks to a pair of premium common removal spells in Fall of the Hammer and Bolt of Keranos. Simultaneously black, the once favorite color of Theros draft, fell all the way down the scale into fourth or fifth place thanks to a lackluster performance in the middle expansion. In any case, it is clear that this limited format is anything but solved since we’ve seen everything from the quickest aggro to the slowest grindy control decks take down Grand Prix in the last few months. How exciting it’ll be once Journey Into Nyx is released in a few weeks!
To check out the coverage from Nagoya, check out the official coverage page.
Schoolcraft Schools, Solis Steals SCG Dallas!
DALLAS, Texas – Another weekend… another win for Mono-Black Devotion.
As much as we may not want to admit it, this format has clearly been solved. The proof is in the results, and the results are nearly all in the black column for the last month or so. Nick Schoolcraft is the lastest champion to take Pack Rat to the top. His opponent in the finals, the ironically-named-for-the-matchup Jason Blackmor, did his darndest to prevent another Swampland financier from winning the trophy by getting to the finals with G/W Aggro, but alas his Voices of Resurgence and Kings of Oreskos were not enough to stop the endless tide of copper coins from Asphodel.
As the second largest Open ever and the largest ever to not be attached to an Invitational, clocking in at a staggering 778 players, you might expect there to be more recognizable names near the top. And while you might be able to identify Aaron Barich or Colin Chilbert from previous Open Series successes, this event isn’t the laundry list of big names we’ve seen in recent weeks. This means little in terms of shakeup on the Players’ Championship leaderboard.
The 16th place finisher in the Standard Open was San Antonio native Eddie Solis, who put himself fifteen spaces higher on Sunday by winning the Legacy Open in Dallas. Mr. Solis used U/W/R Delver, one of the top boogeymen of the format, to win the Open over Open Series stalwart and Invitational top 8 competitor Joe Lossett in the finals. Colin Chilbert went 2-for-2 making top 8s this weekend, getting into the semifinals with High Tide in the Legacy Open, meaning that maybe he’ll be able to break into the top 100 for the season after the dust settles.
The story is much the same for the Legacy Open in terms of leaderboard shakeup overall though. The biggest names in the building were the aforementioned Joe Lossett and Tom Ross, who had a strong start but picked up a few late losses en route to a hard-luck 33rd in the Standard portion to miss out on big points.
Check out the full coverage and top 8 decklists in the coverage archive.
BOSTON, Massachusetts – Lots of information came out of the Penny Arcade Expo East this year from the Magic: The Gathering panel, but it was the information that was left unreleased that made the biggest impression on Magic players’ minds.
The Magic panel at PAX was live-streamed on Twitch.tv and had a lot of information about upcoming expansions, particularly this summer’s Magic 2015. One of the most out-of-the-blue developments is the introduction of the so-called “designer credit,” where designers from other games helped create individual cards that will appear in M15. Over a dozen of these guest spots were allocated for the set, and the list of designers includes Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins (aka Gabe and Tycho from Penny Arcade), Justin Gary of Ascension and Solforge fame, and designers from many popular games. For example, there’s Genesis Hydra, which was revealed during the panel and was designed by George Fan of Plants Vs. Zombies fame.
Oh, right. That new card frame. I’d nearly forgotten. Oy.
Moving on, or rather moving to a more recent future, several cards from Journey Into Nyx were also spoiled, including Theros’ version of Charon, the ferryman of the river Styx: Athreos, God of Passage. He joins Thassa (and was a day later joined by Pharika) as the only three-cost Gods, which has proven to be quite the boon for the relatively cheap mono-blue God in terms of competitive play.
Additionally, turning on Athreos with cards that already see competitive play is a pretty simple task thanks to either Nightveil Specter, or Boros Reckoner in concert with Obzedat, Ghost Council. And the ability combos quite nicely with last year’s Junk Aristocrats holdovers Cartel Aristocrat and Varolz, the Scar-Striped, so keep an eye on Athreos at top tables near you. Other cards spoiled at the event include the Midas themed King Macar, the Gold-Cursed (Gild! Gild everywhere!), Forgeborn Oreads, Polymorphous Rush, and Hydra Broodmaster.
The last card spoiled was only art with an empty text box and card frame, but did include a type line not seen before: Conspiracy. This card will be coming in the box expansion of the same name, Conspiracy, which is designed for team drafting and will include several mechanics specifically for the politicality of team drafts. A completely different card name is certainly news, but since that’s all the information we have it’s going to remain a secret for now as to how the card type will act in practice.
Now the information we didn’t get: No fall block name!
Last year, we got all three set names: Theros, Born of the Gods, and Journey Into Nyx. The year before, uproarious applause met the announcement of Magic’s Return to Ravnica. But this year, there’s no such clamor. Fortunately, as I’ve mentioned on a previous Magic Weekly, we likely know that the next Magic block will include something with the title Dragons of Tarkir, and the block follow naming conventions along those lines.
Check out a video of the PAX panel on the official channel for PAX. The Magic panel begins around 3:00:00.
Open Series Complete 2014 Schedule!
ROANOKE, Virginia – StarCityGames.com announced the rest of their 2014 schedule of events, including both Grand Prix and Open Series events along with commentary teams for the events.
The pair of Grand Prix SCGis running at the end of the year are GP Orlando on October 3-5 and GP New Jersey, to be held in Edison, on November 13-15 of this year. Open stops include trips to Worcester, Minneapolis, Oakland, and Columbus before GPNJ, and Richmond, Atlanta, and Portland before the last Invitational of the year in Seattle. The #SCGPC will wind the year up in Roanoke, Virginia, on December 19-21, with two players (Brian Braun-Duin and Derrick Sheets) having already punched their tickets to the big show.
To see the end of year schedule check out the announcement, and to see the complete schedule check out the Open Series page on Star City Games.
Duels 2015 Coming Soon!
RENTON, Washington – IGN reported on Thursday that Duels of the Planeswalkers is indeed coming, and it will feature Garruk as its central character… but it’s a different, darker Garruk. Perhaps the Curse of the Veil (as in, Garruk, the Veil-Cursed) has taken hold?
Like Mono-Black needs more help!
Anyway, even without a finalized release date Duels 2015 has a few things worth noting already. Top on the list is the fact that this version of the popular computerized version of the trading card game will not be available for PlayStation this time around, but there won’t be any newly supported systems like last year’s addition of Android. Rumor has it that Draft might be involved in the new items possible in Duels 2015, but for now that’s just hearsay and hopeful jabber, since there’s no official word on that as of yet.
What we do know is that there’s a new storyline that pits the user as Garruk’s quarry, and you have to play your way out of being split by the business end of Garruk’s axe. And the new deckbuilding interface allows for even more freedom to explore archetypes, as well as more dependence on the user to evade Garruk’s capture with deckbuilding prowess. Exciting!
The tagline for Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015 is “Hunt Bigger Game” in honor of Garruk, Magic’s Big Planes Hunter, and will be coming out sometime this summer. There’s even more in the most recent announcement concerning Duels 2015 from last Friday’s Magic Arcana entitled, “Magic 2015 – Duels of the Planeswalkers,” so go ahead and check out that official announcement as well.
That’s it for The Rundown!
What is a Grand Prix worth to you?
Much of the social media discussion from this past week has to do with how the tournament organizer Pastimes is handling their upcoming GP in Chicago, and to a degree how TOs in general are handling the rising costs of tournament entry. The player base was pretty much immediately in uproar as soon as they found out that entry into Grand Prix Chicago will be $50 and not $40, while also including a side event voucher. Critics say this is thinly veiled as mandatory side event entry, but Pastimes says that the entry fee was a necessary evil and they added the free side event entry as a way of making up for the increased cost of doing business.
There were lots of opinions, and I suggest you take a look at some of the most poignant and entertaining as well as informative. Links to a few of them have been provided below.
I will say that while I understand that rising costs and economy troubles mean that it’s tougher for tournament organizers to make running Grand Prix worth it, it is by no means a hard life. Tournament organizers make hand over fist at GPs. Magic is more popular than it has ever been, Grand Prix are bigger, and more side events are firing as a result. The Sunday Super Series in particular is a humongous event that lots of folks enter. I can appreciate the impulse to raise prices, because hey, Magic players are obsessed and they’ll pay anything to play competitive Magic, it’s a dangerous road to start down.
But let’s say it is a problem. What can tournament organizers do to help alleviate costs of big Magic events rather than raise prices? Well, for starters, Wizards of the Coast should be helping more. Not that creating the game and setting up the events isn’t great and all, but handing over the keys wholesale is something that’s always kind of confused me about Grand Prix. I’ve been to Pro Tours, where WotC has their fingers in everything that the TOs do, from organizing the video coverage and dealer booths to getting players and judges set up and comfortable for the event itself. I admit that I do not know the inner workings of Grand Prix, but on the whole it seems to me like WotC treats them like old science fair projects that they are no longer interested in, and lets them live on under their own devices. Some additional administrative help would go a long way towards helping ease stress and, ultimately, cut costs as a result.
I am not going to say that this is the solution for everything, but I think another step towards helping tournament organizers help pay for their events, should they need help, is turn them into more convention-like atmospheres. Sure, GPs bring in artists. Occasionally, GPs will have Magic celebrities to have signing sessions or seminars. But this is not the end-all be-all of ideas. Other ways to branch this out even further into a Con-like atmosphere is to bring in non-pro celebrities, such as actors that play Magic, for signing sessions; non-Magic activities, particularly aimed at those who want to attend the Grand Prix without playing in it or family and friends visiting the events, like Magic-related movie screenings or game design panels; and both family-friendly and public-friendly events that could include a Duels of the Planeswalkers booth for learning Magic.
I believe Pastimes will ultimately suffer a small hit in PR from this episode, but don’t let that sour you to the experience of trying to go to GP Chicago. The Windy City doesn’t get a ton of large-scale Magic events, and this one is sure to be a great time. I hope they use this unfortunate situation leading to a bigger magnifying glass to their advantage and make it one of the best GPs of the year.
That’s it for this week, everyone. Hopefully I’ll be back on my normal schedule next week, after I’m back from visiting family for the Passover holiday. See you next time, and remember: don’t feed the trolls! Especially matzah!