There are only a couple of months to go until Gen Con So Cal and the second Vs. System Pro Circuit event! With that in mind, I thought I’d take a look at what was shaping up in the world of Vs. System.
There are three things that will affect the Pro Circuit more than anything else: the players, the cards, and the metagame. Which players will dominate? Which cards (especially from the new sets) will make a difference? Will a shift in the metagame turn the tide at the PC?
This week, I’ll start with the players. There are many variables involved in trying to predict who will do well and who won’t. The players who do well in tournaments leading up to the events may have a bad day or buckle under the pressure of the PC itself. Players with no tournament experience might leap out and surprise you. For a great example of this, let’s take a peek at our reigning PC champion, Brian Kibler.
Brian Kibler and PC Madness
—Winner, PC Indy
—Ranked seventeenth in the world in Vs. System Constructed
Magic: The Gathering invaded Vs. at Gen Con Indy. I say that without any hint of malice, sarcasm, or cynicism. The simple fact was that Brian Kibler had not played a single Vs. tournament prior to PC Indy. It didn’t seem to faze him; he took top honors without breaking a sweat!
Now let’s not kid ourselves. Brian is a great Magic player with a ton of Magic Pro Tour experience—including some very close finishes and some high-level wins under his belt. He’s no rookie when it comes to playing with the pros.
Yet every game is a different animal, and a Magic tournament master is not guaranteed to perform well in another game’s tournament. For example, Kai Budde is a Magic World Champion, and yet he didn’t even make the Top 50 at PC Indy.
The key to Brian Kibler’s victory—aside from natural skill and a little luck, which every player needs—was practice, practice, practice. He’s on a top-tier team with Gabe Walls (who took Sentinels to fourth place at Origins and has been successful at just about every game he plays), Neil Reeves (another very successful TCG player), and Nick Little. They drafted and playtested for hours on end.
You can rest assured that Brian and his cohorts will be testing feverishly for a repeat performance at So Cal. He and the other three musketeers are all forces to contend with.
World Rankings Abound!
Now let’s take a look at the Top 5 in the world, in both Constructed and Sealed Pack, and what they’ve accomplished.
Top 5 Constructed Players
1. Jason Green
—Finished 14th at PC Indy (undefeated Day 1)
—Finished 5th at Dragon Con $10K
—Finished 15th at Chicago $10K
—Winner, comic-book tournament, Chicago
—Finished 31st at Origins $10K
—Finished 10th at Wizard World East
There’s a reason that Jason Green is ranked first in the world: consistency. One can argue that his only win (the Chicago comic-book tournament that garnered him a copy of Hulk #181 featuring the first appearance of Wolverine) wasn’t huge. It certainly didn’t have as many players or as high a level of competition as a $10K, especially since Chicago was the smallest $10K in terms of raw attendance.
If you wish to make this argument, please point out another player who has finished in the money in every major tournament he or she has entered. Jason has gone Top 15 in all but one.
At Gen Con Indy, the 21-year-old Jason Green told metagame.com that “The fact that you couldn’t lose due to a lack of resources [in a game of Vs. System] was very attractive.” Apparently, the fact that he couldn’t lose at all seemed even more attractive. Jason is definitely a top seed for So Cal.
2. Wess Victory
—Finished 101st at PC Indy
—Won Dragon Con $10K
—Finished 11th at Origins $10K
After an impressive finish at Origins, Wess was all but forgotten at Indy. Though finishing in the top half of the attendees is certainly not horrible, his finish was far from remarkable.
Still, what a comeback! Two weeks after the PC he smashed at Dragon Con, taking the tourney with a vicious Arsenal Abuse deck. His win solidified the Titans’ well-deserved spot in the metagame and cemented [Twin Firearms]’s status as a power card. Although I wouldn’t put Wess in the Top 8, he’s definitely a threat at So Cal.
3. Patrick Yapjoco
—Finished 23rd at PC Indy
—Finished 20th at San Diego Comic Con $10K
—Finished 68th at Origins $10K
Known as Majestic on VsRealms.com, Patrick is one of the most vibrant players on the Circuit. Always smiling and always performing well, he started winning PCQs early on and then just exploded.
He told me at Origins that his performance was a huge disappointment to him (he just missed Top 64), and he made up for it at San Diego with a Top 20 finish. He then proceeded to storm the PC, leading Team Realmworx to a great Day 2 performance and a Top 25 finish. Look for him to keep improving—he’s a good bet for a Top 10 on his home turf, So Cal.
4. Anthony Justice
—Finished 39th at PC Indy
—Finished 2nd at Dragon Con $10K
—Finished 7th at Origins $10K
Russ Pippin’s arch-nemesis, Anthony Justice, was one Wess Victory away from taking the Dragon Con $10K. He and Pippin have an uncanny habit of meeting in the Top 8. Pippin took him out at Origins, and Anthony returned the favor in Atlanta.
Justice finished a respectable 39th at PC Indy. Like Jason Green, he performs well in every major tournament he enters. He seems to like Common Enemy, so we’ll see if he takes Boris and pals to So Cal. If Russ Pippin is there as well, look for them to play in the quarterfinals.
5. J-F Grondin
—Finished 168th at PC Indy
—Finished 7th at Gen Con Indy $10K
J-F hails from the South Shore of Montreal, Quebec, and we often play at the same store. Although I’ve only played him casually, I’ve seen him pull off some major coups with his trusty Fantastic Four deck (including his superb Top 8 performance at the Indy $10K.) He did as well as I did at his first major tournament, finishing 3-4 on Day 1 and missing Day 2 by a single victory.
Unlike yours truly, however, he rebounded the next day. While I was putting in a sub-par performance, he was moving onto a 7-1 record and a spot in the Top 8 of the $10K. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy!
J-F will probably not make the trip to So Cal, but rest assured that if he does make the trip, he will likely nab at least a Top 20 finish.
Top 5 Sealed Pack Players
1. Scott Smith
—Finished 27th at Sydney $10K Constructed
Scott is the only non–North American in the Top 5 of either format. Hailing from Australia (Sydney, if my research is correct), he has not yet hit the North American scene. However, he has won one PCQ and placed second in two others, and he seems to specialize in the Booster Draft format.
If he makes the trip to So Cal, he’ll be a strong wildcard. Most players won’t know what to expect, and he has certainly proven that he is a force to be reckoned with on the Australian scene. Only time will tell if he can be equally strong in North America.
2. Andrew Yip (also 19th in Constructed)
—Finished 10th at PC Indy
—Finished 104th at San Diego Comic Con $10K
—Finished 6th at X-Men #1 Tournament
—Finished 40th at Origins $10K
—Finished 90th at Wizard World East $10K
Also known on the boards as liquidroyl, Andrew Yip is a member of Team VSUniverse.com, where he is a staff writer and a frequent poster. He’s also a good friend of the entire So Cal Vs. System gang, including Patrick Yapjoco, Billy “Foilball” Zonos, and Cap’n Carl Perlas.
Andrew has had his ups and downs on the convention circuit, with a high of 6th place in the X-Men #1 tournament at Origins and an uncharacteristic low of 104th place at his home-turf event, the San Diego Comic Con $10K. His biggest achievement to date, however, was a spectacular 10th place at PC Indy, where he just barely missed the Top 8 on tiebreakers.
He has the distinction of being the only player to rank in the Top 20 in both Sealed Pack and Constructed, and is bound to be a powerhouse at So Cal.
3. Michael Walewski
—Finished 219th at PC Indy
—Finished 138th at Gen Con Indy $10K
Michael is an interesting case, because much like J-F Grondin, he has only been to one convention. The majority of his strength is derived from local tournaments and PCQs. In fact, his showing at Indy is representative of someone who is solid in terms of local game play but can’t hit the high notes when it comes to high-level competition.
He has won quite a few events, though most of the events have gone no more than three rounds and the largest only had 28 players in it. Still, he did qualify for PC Indy, and I’m sure he can do it again for So Cal. Although he’s a long shot to place, here’s hoping that his luck will change, and he’ll turn it all around.
4. Donald A. Grant
—Finished 16th at PC Indy
If Michael Majewski is an example of a Sealed Pack specialist who had a bad turn of luck at PC Indy, Donald A. Grant is the exact opposite. He had played in only two PCQs before PC Indy, one of which he won and another of which he placed second. And when he hit the PC, he steamrolled across the board, finishing in 16th place.
This is the perfect example of someone who doesn’t need to play repeatedly in order to perform. It’s also proof that even with little tournament experience, you can preserve on the Circuit with solid preparation and game knowledge. Expect him to perform equally well come December.
5. Robert Dougherty
—Finished 13th at PC Indy
—Finished 71st at Origins $10K
The owner of Boston’s famous Your Move Games and teammate of PC Indy runner-up Craig Edwards (who played the now famous [Rigged Elections] deck), Rob Dougherty knows his TCGs and is definitely a force to be reckoned with.
Rob is a master at Sealed Pack, going 7-1 and 6-2 at the two PCQs he’s played in, finishing second in both. His 13th place at PC Indy is no coincidence, as he followed a mediocre 4-3 performance in Day 1 with a perfect 6-0 sweep in the day two DC drafts—proving him to be as good at drafting DC as Marvel.
His 71st place finish at Origins and his 4-3 record at PC Indy show that his Constructed game needs a little work, but I have no doubt that he will be back on top at So Cal. If he can get his Constructed game on, he’s an easy pick for Top 8.
An interesting fact about the rankings is that there are so few non–North Americans in the Top 50. Perhaps the expense of travel has limited overseas participation in major events. This would explain why so few non–North Americans have played in, let alone placed well in, the $10K Convention Championships and the PC.
“The” Ben Seck is the only Australian who has really made a name for himself, and that is more for his pre-Vs. reputation and his article writing. Ben Kreis won the Sydney $10K Championship with a nasty KnightLight deck, and we’re still not sure how he pulled it off!
Europe’s only true claim to fame is Tim Willoughby, who took the Indy $10K Championship using a [Home Surgery]/Arsenal Abuse deck. We’ll see if Europe can make more of an impact in the rankings and the metagame after Gen Con UK.
I can’t put every top player into an article of such limited size, so here are just a few of the names you’re likely to see on the leader board at PC So Cal.
Ranked 7th in Constructed
—Finished 82nd at PC Indy
—Finished 6th at Dragon Con $10K
—Finished 3rd at Origins $10K
—Finished 33rd at Wizard World East $10K
It was disappointing to see Russ Pippin finish so low at Indy, as I thoroughly enjoyed watching him plow his way to 3rd place at Origins a couple of months earlier. Russ Pippin is known for his strategy articles on VsUniverse.com and his always-pleasant posts on my Yahoo! list and other boards. He’s a great guy and a great Vs. player. He also seemed to have created an intense Top 8 rivalry with Anthony Justice that will, with any luck, repeat at So Cal. His record speaks for itself and his ranking is well deserved. He’s definitely worth watching at So Cal.
Ranked 35th in Constructed, 24th in Sealed Pack
—Finished 27th at PC Indy
—Finished 9th at Wizard World East $10K
If you’ve spent any time online in the Vs. community, you’ll know David Leader. He seems to be everywhere at once, always making intelligent and well-reasoned comments on every major issue that comes up in the Vs. world.
He’s not too shabby as a player, either!
A Top 10 performance at WWE—missing Top 8 by inches—and a Top 30 performance at PC Indy make for a strong showing by just about any standard. David knows his stuff, and you can be sure he’ll prove it at So Cal.
Ranked 59th in Constructed, 31st in Sealed Pack
—Finished 11th at PC Indy
—Finished 15th at SD Comic Con $10K
—Finished 8th at SD Comic Con Original Art Tournament
—Finished 90th at Origins $10K
She will likely be forever known as the woman who took down Kai Budde, beating him 2-0 at Indy, but she should be known as a good player, period. In a game where women are few and far between, her strong showings in just about every tournament she’s played in prove that gender means nothing. Humble to the last—I’ve yet to see even a hint of a boast from her in any interview—she barely missed the Top10 at Indy, and took home a nice big check in the process.
In a TCG world where women tend to be ignored as lesser players, she will put anyone stupid enough to underestimate her skill in his or her place. I’m willing to bet she’ll repeat her Top 20 performance at So Cal, and I have confidence that she’ll break the Top 10.
Ranked 45th in constructed
—Finished 217th at PC Indy
—Finished 17th at Gen Con Indy $10K
—Finished 23rd at Origins $10K
—Finished 2nd at Wizard World East $10K
Another French Canadian, and another player who plays at one of the local game stores that I sometimes play at, Dominic is one of the sharpest players in the game. Hitting his stride early, he qualified for the PC by finishing second at Wizard World East. He followed with a rather impressive performance at Origins, and seemed to be on the road to a great day at Indy until his strong early performance took a turn for the worse. He, like J-F Grondin, made up for it the next day with a sweet 17th place finish in the $10K, and will likely follow that up with an equally nice performance at So Cal.
A Team is a Wish Your Cards Make
The last section of this article deals with the two major teams who will be competing at So Cal. A friendly rivalry, Team Realmworx and Team VSU each test like crazy and break out tech that defines the game. Each team has had strong performances and each team has managed some nice payouts.
Team Realmworx consists of an East Coast and a West Coast contingent. Headed by Realmworx co-owner Anthony Burian, this team includes fan favorites Rian “stubarnes” Fike and David “En-Kur” Spears. It also features such players as Patrick “Majestic” Yapjoco, Billy “Foilball” Zonos, “Cap’n” Carl Perlas, Robert “VS_Master” Leander, Matt “WarMachine” MacLachlan, and—fresh from the Waco PCQ—their newest So Cal qualifier, Shane “Fatalsync” Wendel.
Ranked 6th in Constructed, 40th in Sealed Pack
—Finished 25th at PC Indy
—Finished 56th at Origins $10K
—Finished 13th at X-Men #1 Tournament
—Finished 19th at Wizard World East $10K
He’s known on VSRealms as “VS_Master” for good reason! He’s ranked just a few steps behind teammate Patrick Yapjoco, and Rob was one of the three Team Realmworx players who silenced his critics with a Top 35 performance and a four-figure check. (The others, for the record, were Patrick and Rian Fike). One of the friendliest, most dedicated Vs. players out there, expect him to play hard at every tournament he enters, be it a Hobby League or PC event.
Team Realmworx broke out at Indy. Expect them to explode at So Cal, with Rob and Patrick leading the way.
Ranked 15th in Constructed
—Finished 114th at PC Indy
—Finished 10th at Dragon Con $10K
—Finished 6th at San Diego Comic Con $10K
—Finished 92nd at Origins $10K
If his bright red hair is hard to miss, his confident grin is even harder to overlook. This is the man who took a self-proclaimed “X-Men Jank Deck” to Dragon Con just to prove that the X-Men were viable, and then piloted it to 10th place! Just imagine the damage he could have done had Web of Spider-Man been out!
A strong player, Matt is a testing-partner of Dave Spears and Mickey “Rollyted” Ashford. He is also constantly finding effective new combos and decks. He’s one to watch at So Cal.
Ranked 18th in constructed
—Finished 165th at PC Indy
—Finished 4th at Dragon Con $10K
—Finished 27th at Gen Con Indy $10K
—Finished 19th at San Diego Comic Con $10K
—Finished 29th at Origins $10K
—Finished 154th at Wizard World East $10K
Nobody is harder on Dave Spears than Dave Spears. When he went 3-4 on Day 1 at Indy, he spent the rest of the Con apologizing to everyone on the team and lamenting his performance. Believe me when I say that it wasn’t that bad a performance! But that’s just the kind of guy Dave is. He always works his hardest and gives his best, and when he falls short, he strives to work even harder until he succeeds.
This is why he finished fourth at Dragon Con, and why he’s a surefire threat to finish on the leader board at Gen Con So Cal.
Ranked 24th in Constructed
—Finished 91st at PC Indy
—Finished 32nd at San Diego Comic Con $10K
—Finished 2nd at Origins $10K
It may have seemed like a bad-luck performance at PC Indy, especially given his runner-up status at Origins, but you wouldn’t know it by talking to Carl after the PC. He’s a player who is truly passionate about the game, win or lose. He just happens to be damn good at it and keeps winning all the time.
So Cal is Carl’s back yard, as it is for several other players, including his partners in crime (Billy Zonos and Patrick Yapjoco, not to mention friend and VSU rival Andrew Yip). At the PC, win or lose, he’ll be having fun!
Ranked 48th in Constructed
—Finished 35th at PC Indy
—Finished 86th at Origins $10K
—Finished 41st at X-Men #1 Tournament
—Finished 39th at Wizard World East $10K
If Carl Perlas will be having the most fun, Rian will be the one creating it. There is no player more vibrant, more willing to learn and teach, and more dedicated to the game (or the Sentinels) than Rian. Also known as stubarnes on the boards, Rian is a fan favorite (if not the fan favorite) and has stuck with his precious Sentinels from day one. He received a lot of hate and pity for his insistent use of the Purple Vomit Machine, but he returned those negative waves with a thousand dollar thank-you note at Indy. It’s nothing less than ironic that Rian’s best showing was at Indy, and I have no doubt—especially with the additions to Sentinels in Web of Spider-Man—that Rian will keep improving right through So Cal. With his stunning wife Nina cheering him on, he can’t help but add to his success. And there is no one more deserving of that success.
The VSU Crew
Team VSU is the other major force in the Vs. team zone. Led by site owner Chedy Hampson, Team VSU includes Jason Dawson, Bill Hodack, Andrew Yip, Chris Price, and Eric Wood.
Ranked 18th in Constructed
—Finished 113th at PC Indy
—Finished 22nd at SD Comic Con $10K
—Finished 27th at Origins $10K
—Finished 2nd at X-Men #1 Tournament
—Finished 4th at Wizard World East $10K
A solid and consistent player, Jason leads the way for Team VSU. He was an early favorite in the game, finishing 4th at Wizard World East and Top 30 at Origins. His runner-up status at the X-Men #1 tournament at Origins cemented his status as a leading contender at the PC. A couple of bad matches were the difference between a strong finish and a near-miss, but believe me when I say that Jason Dawson won’t make the same mistakes twice. I’m confident that he will bounce back and place high at So Cal. He’s probably testing Web of Spider-Man as I write this—he’s that kind of player.
Ranked 57th in Constructed
—Finished 107th at PC Indy
—Finished 127th at San Diego Comic Con $10K
—Finished 3rd at San Diego Comic Con Original Art Tournament
—Finished 41st at Origins $10K
—Finished 18th at X-Men #1 Tournament
—Finished 38th at Wizard World East $10K
Not good enough yet to hit the leader board in the Convention Championships, Chris is still somewhat of an unknown on the Circuit. That may play to his advantage; expect him to catch people by surprise. He may not place as high as his teammates, but his rating is pretty solid and his final position will reflect that.
Ranked 212th in Constructed
—Finished Last at PC Indy
—Finished 101st at San Diego Comic Con $10K
Winner, Origins $10K
Whatever happened to Bill Hodack?
Okay, perhaps it’s a little early to be saying that, but the vaunted winner of the Battle of the Brotherhood final at Origins pretty much fell off the map at Indy. An 0-3 start meant a drop and a last place finish, though he probably should have played out the fourth match. Heck, a four-match win streak would have been the talk of the tournament!
Was it nerves? A bad streak? The wrong deck choice? Who knows? But one thing is for certain: do not count Bill Hodack out! One does not win a Convention Championship if one is not an excellent player. Team VSU has had the jump on the competition once already, and it would not surprise me to see them do it again with Bill at the head of the pack. They, and especially he, are due for a strong performance at So Cal.
Ranked 65th in Constructed
—Finished 96th at PC Indy
—Finished 34th at San Diego Comic Con $10K
—Finished 9th at San Diego Comic Con Original Art Tournament
—Finished 6th at Origins $10K
—Finished 30th at X-Men #1 Tournament
—Finished 7th at Wizard World East $10K
I saved Eric for last because he’s the perennial underdog. I’ve heard some people badmouth him and I always make sure to correct them, both because he’s a really nice guy, and because few people know more about this game than he does. He always has his head on straight, and he rarely makes technical errors. In fact, it is his tough play that brought him two Top 8 Convention Championship showings—a feat that only Anthony Justice has equaled, and Eric did it first (not that it’s a competition or anything).
Eric is fiercely competitive, but he treats every opponent with respect if that opponent returns it in kind. His performance at Indy wasn’t half bad, but it was uncharacteristic. I had him pegged to make the semifinals. I think we’ll see a return to form for So Cal, so players beware! He’ll be the underdog to begin with—as always—but when the dust clears, he may just be the Top Dog instead.
Next Week: Voices from the field discuss the competitive/casual debate.
In Two Weeks: Another look at So Cal. This time we’ll explore the cards and the metagame and how they might affect the PC.