Removed From Game – Pro Update (Grand Prix: Oakland)

StarCityGames.com Open Series: Indianapolis on March 13-14
Monday, March 1st – With four formats in just three weekends, the 2010 season got underway with a bang. Rich takes you through event number one, the Grand Prix in Oakland that saw Extended take center stage. Featuring the best decklists from the event, including the Petr Brozek tech that took the tournament by storm.

The Pro season has begun, and as I write this, my first stretch is coming to an end with Grand Prix: Madrid, an event that unquestionably will rank as the largest Magic tournament ever to date, and potentially, ever. More on that particular prophecy another time. Meanwhile, the year began several thousand miles away in Oakland, California, which, for the record, is not a city/town/shack that should ever be topping your Places To See list.

769 players turned up for the opening salvo in the 2010 Player of the Year Race, and the makeup of the field seemed to utterly vindicate the policy of placing a Grand Prix immediately preceding the Pro Tour. A veritable festival of big names had arrived in North America a week early. All four Japanese Level 8s this year were in attendance — Player of the Year Yuuya Watanabe, 2008 incarnation Shuhei Nakamura, 2007 winner Tomoharu Saito, and Pro Tour: Honolulu 2009 Champion Kazuya Mitamura.

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa of Brazil had traveled to test extensively for the Pro Tour with local legend Luis Scott-Vargas, while Martin Juza headed a huge Czech contingent that also featured Lucas Blohon, Adam Koska, and Michal Hebky, with near-neighbor Matej Zatlkaj also in attendance.

Gabriel Nassif hasn’t always been a feature of Grand Prix action in recent years, so it was interesting to see him take advantage of the scheduling. While Antoine Ruel, who is scaling back his Magic commitments this year, skipped the event, brother Olivier was very much there, looking to narrow the gap between himself and all-time Pro Point leader Kai Budde of Germany, who began the season with a four point lead, 481-477. Grand Prix: Seattle-Tacoma winner Yann Massicard also took his place, while the German squad was headlined by Jan Ruess, Sebastian Thaler, and Rookie of the Year Lino Burgold.

It’s been a while since the heady days of Dutch Magic, but there are starting to be signs of a new generation coming to the fore. That said, it’s the grand old man of the Dutchies, Bram Snepvangers, who headlines the national challenge, heading for the Pro Tour just eight matches short of reaching a staggering milestone of six hundred Pro Tour matchups. Only Raphael Levy, also playing in Oakland, has more. For the rest of the Dutch, the entire Team from Worlds was in attendance, featuring Kevin Grove, Niels Noorlander, and Tom van Lamoen.

Inevitably, the bulk of the field was from the home team, and there was plenty of buzz surrounding players like Brad Nelson and Conley Woods as they began their first full year as Pros. Conley in particular is targeting Player of the Year, and has plenty of things going for him, including (critically) a clear-sighted desire to do what it takes to make that dream a reality.

As for the Format, this was Extended, the same Format as a string of Pro Tour Qualifiers on Magic Online. Nine rounds of play on Day One reduced the field to 96. Of the three players on a perfect record, only Adam Yurchick had previous form, having made multiple Grand Prix Top 8s and entering the 2010 season as a Level 4 Pro. Joining him were Joby Parrish and one Matt Nass, an eighteen year old from California who was coming into the event one week ahead of his Pro Tour debut. While it’s next to impossible to work out how newcomers will do, Nass certainly had one edge many of his rivals did not, since he was part of the Luis Scott-Vargas squad.

18 players had picked up just one loss on the opening day, and they included plenty of the big names — Juza, Zatlkaj, Mitamura, Gerry Thompson, Saito, Cedric Phillips, Blohon, van Medevoort, Gabe Walls, and Petr Brozek. The last player, a Czech with a relatively minor career to date, was undoubtedly piloting the most entertaining deck of the tournament, which looked something like this:

4 Arid Mesa
4 Flagstones of Trokair
4 Ghost Quarter
3 Mountain
1 Plains
3 Sacred Foundry
4 Scalding Tarn
4 Goblin Guide
1 Jotun Grunt
4 Plated Geopede
4 Steppe Lynx
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Lightning Helix
2 Magma Jet
3 Path to Exile
4 Searing Blaze
3 Shard Volley
4 Zektar Shrine Expedition

3 Damping Matrix
2 Jotun Grunt
1 Oblivion Ring
3 Refraction Trap
3 Smash to Smithereens
3 Volcanic Fallout

It’s very hard to overstate how cool this deck is. Fetchlands and Steppe Lynx/Plated Geopede have always been a combo, but Flagstones Of Trokair simply takes things to a different level of awesome. Brozek spent much of the weekend simply bamboozling opponents, but even when it became clear just how neat his deck was, and players began to understand what it was doing, it remained super-powerful.

Seventy or so players got into Day 2 on the minimum requirement of 7-2. This shift away from a cut to the Top 64 no matter what has been widely welcomed, but the tradeoff is that Day 2 becomes a much harder affair, with a third of the remaining field still destined for zero Pro Points. That meant that LSV, Jan Ruess, Marijn Lybaert, Shuhei Nakamura, Conley Woods, Yuuya Watanabe, Brian Kowal, Antti Malin, Olivier Ruel, Worlds runner-up David Reitbauer, and Blaine Rybacki, sneaking in as the last player on tiebreaks.

The 96 players represented a seriously diverse field. That said, two deck archetypes dominated, with not a pin to put between them. Both Zoo and Depths/Foundry took roughly 20% of the field, leaving the rest spread thin across more than twenty archetypes. Of these, Faeries, Bant, Mystical Teachings Control, and Dredge were the most popular, while the capacity for fun in such a big Metagame was encapsulated by players being successful with such decks as Hypergenesis, Living End, Elves, Tezzerator, All-In Red, and even Hive Mind.

To be fair, we often see a diverse Metagame at that point in the event, and then the Top 8 turns out to be fairly predictable. That wasn’t the case in Oakland. Travis Woo played Living End, a deck that quickly filled his graveyard before returning everything to play, to devastating effect. His quarter final opponent was Patrick Cox, who was running Zoo. Woo had no trouble in winning this match 2-0.

In the same half of the Top 8 bracket, two Combo decks faced off. Adam Yurchick had continued his rich vein of form, dominating Day Two much as he had Day One. Frankly, the marriage of the Thopter Foundry/Sword Of The Meek combo with the equally-devastating Vampire Hexmage/Dark Depths meant that this was a truly filthy deck. That said, he was facing Tomoharu Saito, who had been having bunches of fun with Hypergenesis, a deck that many Pros had considered out of contention.

Part of the fun for Saito was the way he was able to use Terastodon, the gigantic 9/9 out of Worldwake. When Hypergenesis did its thing, Saito was able to combine Terastodon with Oblivion Ring to essentially get the massive man twice, allowing him in one memorable game to donate four 3/3s to Yurchick, and in the process guarantee himself victory. This is almost certainly the only time in Magic history where you get given twelve power of monsters and know you can’t possibly ever win! Thankfully for Yurchick, that was the only game Saito was able to manage. Still, as Saito himself said, he’s targeting Player of the Year once again, and reaching the quarter finals here was a very good start.

In the bottom half of the bracket, Matt Nass had held his nerve, and taken Elves to another Top 8 appearance. Despite the fact that he faced the breakout deck of Petr Brozek in the quarters, the Elves held together in the decider, advancing the 18 year old to the semi finals. That left Joby Parris
as a second Zoo player in the Top 8, facing the innovative Conley Woods with his “Charmed, I’m Sure” which featured the kind of cards that only a Conley could love, like Aven Mindcensor, and, I kid you not, Samurai of the Pale Curtain, last seen in a booster draft about five years ago. Make no mistake, it’s this kind of attention to detail and a vast understanding of the potential environment that makes someone like Conley such a threat at any Constructed event. In the end, Parrish ran out of steam, and lost the decider.

Both semi-finals went the distance, with Yurchick and his Thopter/Depths, or ‘Thepths’ if you’re typing a deckth lithsth, beating Travis Woo and his Living End. Matt Nass continued to advance on the other side of the bracket, finally ending Conley Woods‘ participation. So it would be Elves against Thopter/Depths in the final. Experience clearly favored Yurchick, and arguably so did his list:

1 Academy Ruins
4 Dark Depths
1 Dimir Aqueduct
2 Island
4 River of Tears
4 Sunken Ruins
2 Swamp
3 Tolaria West
3 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
4 Dark Confidant
4 Vampire Hexmage
4 Chrome Mox
1 Compulsive Research
1 Duress
1 Engineered Explosives
1 Into the Roil
4 Muddle the Mixture
1 Repeal
1 Slaughter Pact
1 Smother
2 Sword of the Meek
4 Thirst for Knowledge
3 Thopter Foundry
4 Thoughtseize

1 Chalice of the Void
1 Darkblast
3 Deathmark
4 Leyline of the Void
1 Oona, Queen of the Fae
2 Phyrexian Arena
1 Sphinx of Jwar Isle
2 Threads of Disloyalty

Meanwhile, Nass was busy proving that Elves still had a place in Extended, almost 18 months after Luis Scott-Vargas won Pro Tour: Berlin.

4 Forest
3 Horizon Canopy
4 Misty Rainforest
1 Pendelhaven
1 Temple Garden
4 Verdant Catacombs
2 Arbor Elf
4 Boreal Druid
4 Elvish Archdruid
4 Elvish Visionary
1 Essence Warden
1 Eternal Witness
4 Heritage Druid
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Nettle Sentinel
1 Ranger of Eos
1 Regal Force
4 Cloudstone Curio
4 Glimpse of Nature
1 Primal Command
4 Summoner’s Pact


1 Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender
1 Gaddock Teeg
4 Ghost Quarter
1 Loaming Shaman
3 Ranger of Eos
4 Umezawa’s Jitte
1 Viridian Shaman

High-level Magic is littered with tales of the Last Man Standing, who dominates the Swiss and then falls at the first hurdle. Coming into the Top 8, that man was Matt Nass, and one of the most striking things about his win over Yurchick, and indeed throughout the elimination rounds, was how cool and unfazed he seemed under pressure. I say ‘seemed’, because talking to him afterwards revealed that he had in fact been a bag of nerves. To my way of thinking, that’s even more impressive than actually being nerveless. Controlling the panic is a massive skill under pressure, and bodes well for his future in the game.

So Nass became the first leader in the 2010 Player of the Year Race. Despite the fact that most Pros were busy concentrating on Standard for San Diego, there was plenty of juicy stuff in the format, highlighted by the Flagstones Of Trokair tomfoolery of Petr Brozek. With four formats across three weekends, next up would be both Standard and Draft, before the travelling circus moved to Europe for Grand Prix: Madrid, which threatened to be truly gigantic.

Until next week, when we start to unpick the results from the first Pro Tour of 2010, as ever, thanks for reading.