Day 1 Summary of Grand Prix Bologna 2017

Posted in Event Coverage on May 6, 2017

By Tobi Henke

The weekend featured three Grand Prix events across three continents, giving players all over the world a chance to test their Amonkhet Limited prowess in a large, high-stakes tournament. Their first chance, one should say, as this was the first trio of premier events to feature Magic's latest release.

At the same time, for some, this was the final chance to test the format in a real tournament setting before next week's Pro Tour Amonkhet. Specifically pro players were expected to make good use of the opportunity, as usual, although not necessarily in Bologna ...

FAR // AWAY

In the run-up to the tournament I contacted just about every Platinum and Gold pro this side of the Atlantic/the Urals to check who would even be attending the event. Not entirely unexpected, many of them had already departed for the United States, choosing Grand Prix Richmond over Grand Prix Bologna. This for the supremely simple and purely practical reason of being closer to Nashville, the site of next week's Pro Tour.

Among the absent were some seventy percent of Europe's Platinum and about sixty percent of Gold pros. Even a fair number of Silver players had deserted the continent early, especially those with commitments in the Pro Tour Team Series, meeting with the rest of their international band of brothers to test for the big show.

Of course, gamers being gamers, one could rely on finding people trying to game the system, to metagame it even. Said Pro Tour Aether Revolt quarterfinalist Jan Ksandr: "I expected Bologna to be an easier tournament than Richmond, on account of fewer pros being here."

PREPARE // FIGHT

All in all, 1,669 players came to Italy prepared to fight for fame and fortune, points and prizes, hoping for a great Amonkhet Sealed Deck and a Day 1 result of 7-2 or better.

This number included eleven players with three byes: Platinum pros (1) Márcio Carvalho, Andrea Mengucci, and Niels Noorlander; Gold pros Michael Bonde, Marco Cammilluzzi, Javier Dominguez, (22) Martin Jůza, Simon Nielsen, Mattia Rizzi, and Aleksa Telarov; as well as one member of the Magic Hall of Fame in Frank Karsten. Meanwhile, Grand Prix Richmond featured close to fifty players with three byes.

The results of everybody's fight was public information of course. But I also managed to talk to most of this-side-of-the-ocean's eleven about their preparation ...

ALIVE // WELL

With many of the current top players off to the States, the focus shifted to other people, both new and old. But especially old. Indeed, quite a number of famous names from seasons past could be found on the player list this weekend. Thomas Preyer, finalist of Pro Tour London 1999, wasn't seen at events for a while now, for example.


Left to right: Helmut Summersberger, David Brucker, Sebastian Thaler, Nico Bohny

The people in the above photo could boast a combined fifteen Grand Prix Top 8s going into the weekend, as well as five Pro Tour Top 8s. Their most notable results included things like winning the first ever Legacy Grand Prix on the continent as well as the European Championship in 2002 and reaching the quarterfinals of the World Championship in 2000.

After looking through their résumés I was somewhat tempted to call this the reunion of the graduating class of 2006. In that year, eight Grand Prix events were held in Europe, and these people won half of them, one each.


Same people in 2006. Not aged one bit, right?

While most of their high profile finishes dated from the previous decade, David Brucker had returned to form earlier this year with a Top 8 at Grand Prix Utrecht and Nico Bohny had come out of retirement once before in 2014 to make the finals of Grand Prix Milan. All of this proving that no one ever really leaves Magic and that the Magic (skill) never left them.

Another set of former pros was also in Bologna this weekend, and playing, for a change. Say hi to the European coverage team!


Left to right: Matej Zatlkaj, Simon Görtzen, Frank Karsten

HIDE // SEEK

With the Pro Tour looming as close on the horizon as Amonkhet's second sun, pros being far and away didn't remain the only hurdle to take. While I was seeking information on the ins and outs of the new Limited format, to divulge to the world via the weekend's coverage, pro players had every incentive to hide their findings.

(22) Martin Jůza, for instance, had always been tight-lipped when questioned prior to a Pro Tour. Now he was working together with fellow Czech mate and fellow Pro Tour Aether Revolt quarterfinalist Jan Ksandr and the team's gag order extended accordingly.


(22) Martin Jůza and Jan Ksandr

2014 World Magic Cup champion Simon Nielsen, usually a wellspring of information and a treasure to coverage reporters everywhere, found himself in a similar position. When I asked a couple of questions about the results of his Amonkhet Limited testing, he told me, "It would be fun to answer these, because we've got some crazy takes on the format, but I promised my team—I'm an unofficial member of MTG Mint Card—to keep our strategy under wraps."

READY // WILLING

Not to worry though, I found enough people who were ready and willing to go on record about the format. So what was folks' general outlook on Amonkhet Limited? What makes a good deck? How fast is the environment? How many lands and colors should one aim for? Which colors and color combinations specifically? Power/synergy or curve/consistency?

First on my list was of course Limited master and current No. 1 Márcio Carvalho who told me: "This is a format where curve and consistency trumps the rest, a format for sixteen lands or less. If you play too many lands you will flood out a lot, while cycling helps mitigate screw.


(1) Márcio Carvalho

"My favorite color combination is white-red. They're the most aggressive colors in the set and I like to be as aggressive as I can," said Carvalho. "Blue is my least favorite color. Doesn't pair well with a lot of colors and is kinda slow."

Hall of Famer Frank Karsten echoed these sentiments, listing red-white as his favorite color combination too, and blue-black as his least favorite. The reason for both picks: "I like to attack."

2016 World Magic Cup finalist Peter Vieren called the format "surprisingly fast. Exert in particular makes blocking hard. It's more about curve/consistency I'd say. There are a few synergy-based decks, but most decksdon't have a strong theme. There aren't many commons that require or reward synergy."


Peter Vieren

Vieren listed cycling as the main reason to deviate from the established base line for lands in Limited. "Sixteen seems to be the most usual, again because of cycling reducing the number of lands. And many of the decks without cyclers are low-curve decks that want sixteen lands anyway."

Two-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Matej Zalkaj added: "The best decks are really fast, but you can be slow with the right decks as long as you have enough quality interaction. In Sealed power is more important than curve. It's easier to draft a good curve even out of commons, whereas Sealed can be a bit all over the place. That said, I would rather have a good aggro/tempo deck than a very good but slow pool." Zatlkaj was another player who didn't like blue calling its focus "a bit scattered."

A few players admitted that they hadn't tested Sealed Deck properly, focusing on Booster Draft instead. Meanwhile, David Brucker and Nico Bohny argued that Sealed was considerably slower. "I'm playing Oracle's Vault in my deck today," said Bohny, "which I'd try to avoid in Draft."

Brucker also recommended avoiding blue, "unless you have one of the flying rares." He favored two-color decks and mentioned that the correct number of lands for a deck could vary wildly. "Fifteen is just as possible as eighteen. But that depends on many things."

Andrea Mengucci's opinions on the format were among the biggest outliers. "You can easily go tricolor in Sealed, whereas you almost never do in draft. This happens because almost every gold card is great, and therefore you have more bombs to splash out of six packs," the Platinum pro said. "The format can be either about synergy like cycling and −1/−1 counters or about a good curve and tricks. Either way, you can't just durdle around.


Andrea Mengucci

"I like the Esper colors and dislike red and green. I prefer to be more controlling with a strategy like Blue-Black Cycling or White-Black Zombies," Mengucci added. "I found green to have a lot of bad cards and red is just too aggressive for me, simply not my business."

Arne Huschenbeth, who had won the previous Grand Prix in Italy, last year's event in Rimini, agreed: "Blue-Black Cycling is the best, and it's not close."


Arne Huschenbeth

Huschenbeth argued for at least sixteen, rather seventeen lands. "Cycling allows you to play fewer lands, but you still want to be able to cast your cycle cards. There are also a lot of mana sinks, so you still want a high land count even with a lot of cyclers in your deck. I often play sixteen plus one Cradle of the Accursed/Grasping Dunes."

Platinum pro Niels Noorlander and Gold pro Mattia Rizzi had worked together in testing and found the format to accommodate lots of different play styles. "For example you can have a four-color green deck against a blue control deck and it's really grindy, but if you play versus aggro you need enough early game to survive until you can stabilize. Overall, it's slower than Kaladesh, but still pretty fast. There really is no typical Amonkhet Limited deck. You can have an aggresive deck with fifteen lands or a more midrange deck with seventeen. Cycling, however, pushes decks to have fewer lands. On average, the land count is close to sixteen."


Niels Noorlander and Mattia Rizzi

They liked green decks "because you can play every single bomb, and the abundance of ramp in green enables it really well." Blue-Black continued to remain a topic of controversy, with Noorlander and Rizzi falling in with the haters. "It's really easy to end up with a deck that just cycles and doesn't do much else. If you don't play the cycling cards it's hard to get a coherent deck in these colors and when you do end up with a decent looking cycling deck it's still not great."

Two-time Grand Prix champion Javier Dominguez echoed some of Noorlander's statements. "I think it really depends on the decks. The format can be really fast thanks to exert, or very slow thanks to cycling. It's slower than Kaladesh where vehicles were all about attacking. Overall power is key, especially cards that are good no matter what matchup you're playing.


Javier Dominguez

"I prefer staying at two colors, but three is an option if you have enough powerful cards," Dominguez told me. His favorite two-color pair was white-black. "Many synergies, removal, and curve. All you need! I don't like blue-green, it's the combination with the least removal."

Aleksa Telarov, champion of Grand Prix Madrid last season and Gold-level pro this season, was, in any case, very fond of Amonkhet. "I think this format is a bit slower than previous because of abilities like embalm, which give you a lot of time and ability to maneuver around and therefore the games don't close out super fast. Exert seems like a super agressive mechanic because most of the time it gives you +X/+Y. But actually it's just a great mechanic, difficult to utilize properly, opening up chances to win games that in previous formats you couldn't because of their 'bluntness.' Also I cannot even begin to fathom how good cycling is, but I know that the player who uses his cycling spells more effectively will have a bigger win rate."


Aleksa Telarov

Telarov described himself as a big fan of formats in which snyergy played a large role rather than an aggressive curve. "Again, embalm comes into the argument where even if my curve isn't amazing by itself, having an embalm creature that can block or attack two times is a major deal!"

The praise continued: "A format is essentially healthy when there are common removal spells in all or most colors that can take care of bombs, which this one seems to be. A friend mentioned he thinks Glorybringer is like Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief all over again. Drana made that great format super boring whenever the card hit the battlefield because you had something like two options to kill it. That's not even close to the level of removal we have now! White has Fan Bearer and Compulsory Rest, blue has counterspells and Illusory Wrappings, black Final Reward, red Electrify and Fling, and green, well, green is always terrible for removal, but let's say Spidery Grasp and Cartouche of Strength. Not to mention additional options to deal with bombs at uncommon and rare.

"I definitely think this format is super healthy and has a wide variety of great commons the likes of which I haven't seen in a while and make for a good format. It's also very consistent in that the cards are mostly asking for just one colored mana, so everyone can play some spells most of the games and the mana is almost never an issue whatsoever."

SPRING // MIND

When I talked to the players I asked about the top common and uncommon in each color too. Here's what sprung to mind; the following answers might be good to commit to memory ...

Most agreed on Compulsory Rest and Cast Out. As Niels Noorlander put it: "This time Pacifism effects are pretty decent because there aren't a lot of bounce or Disenchant spells."

However, Noorlander himself mentioned that Gust Walker wasn't far behind. And indeed, Aleksa Telarov, Peter Vieren, and (1) Márcio Carvalho chose a common creature in Unwavering Initiate or Gust Walker. Said Carvalho: "At the beggining I thought Compulsory Rest would be the best common, but it fell a lot in my ranking and Gust Walker is the best 2-drop you can get at common. It's just absurd the amount of damage it does."

Telarov acknowledged that Cast Out should be the best in theory, but wanted "to give the uncommon award to Trial of Solidarity which is just busted!"

Praise for the uncommon Angler Drake was universal, with not a single detractor. The blue commons, on the other hand, got more of a lukewarm reception.

Frank Karsten: "Shimmerscale Drake isn't particularly exciting. It's possible that Seeker of Insight might actually be the best blue common—that card has overperformed. It's hard to find good 2-drops, and Seeker of Insight has an ability which excels in blue-black discard decks and blue-red graveyard decks."

Aleksa Telarov: "Blue is pretty weak, in all departments. The best common in blue would be Aven Initiate."

Arne Huschenbeth: "Blue has no standout common. I think Shimmerscale Drake and Aven Initiate are the best."

Andrea Mengucci: "River Serpent has a very cheap cycling cost and good body later."

Márcio Carvalho: "Aven Iniate—I guess that's how shallow blue is."

Peter Vieren: "Seeker of Insight, because Looters are good."

Niels Noorlander/Mattia Rizzi: "Seeker of Insight—early on it blocks pretty well and it can easily win the late game."

Almost everyone agreed on black's top common being Final Regard. Márcio Carvalho namechecked the obvious choice, but ultimately disagreed: "I can tell you this. I prefer Cartouche of Ambition. The card is just unfair in a format that's all about the damage race. This even kills a lot of creatures and completely changes a race in your favor."

The best black uncommon, according to Arne Huschenbeth, was much more debatable. "Really depends on the deck. Cards like Lord of the Accursed and Ruthless Sniper can be bombs in the right deck. But my pick for best uncommon in a vacuum is Gravedigger."

Others favored Bone Picker or Stir the Sands outside of a special context, or even Baleful Ammit, which Frank Karsten only wanted to give top honors within the context of Black-Green Counters.

,
,
,

Almost everyone had Magma Spray topping the list of red commons, although many had initially held Electrify in higher regard. Reasons for the change of opinion were tempo, specifically the option to cast two spells in one turn, and embalm. Aleksa Telarov remained the only holdout in the Electrify camp, and even he noted Magma Spray as an option.

Similarly, lots of people mentioned they had originally thought Deem Worthy to be more valuable than Trial of Zeal and reconsidered since then. But Deem Worthy still had a lot of friends anyway.

A number of players also called out the exceptional depth of red at both rarities. In addition to Electrify and Magma Spray, Aleksa Telarov pointed out: "Emberhorn Minotaur followed by Nef-Crop Entangler. As for the uncommons, there are sooo many good red ones, like Deem Worthy, Ahn-Crop Crasher, Trial of Zeal, and then a bit lower-tier Trueheart Twins, Bloodrage Brawler, and Battlefield Scavenger."

Cartouche of Strength won the popular vote, although Niels Noorlander, Mattia, Rizzi, and Peter Vieren all favored Naga Vitalist. Wiriting the minority dissent for the court of public opinion, Vieren stated: "Green is all about big creatures and the 2-drop accelerator is essential."

Regarding the best uncommon, there was almost an even split between Crocodile of the Crossing, Exemplar of Strength, and Scaled Behemoth. Multiple people didn't want to commit to one Crocodile or the other. Not exactly casting the deciding vote, Márcio Carvalho said, "I would name Crocodile of the Crossing or Scaled Behemoth. The Behemoth is way better in Sealed Deck as it is virtually unkillable!"

DESTINED // LEAD

After nine rounds, six of the original 1,669 competitors still sported an undefeated record of 9-0. They were obviously destined to lead the field, cut down to 539, into the second day. Learn more about them, their decks, and their day below!

Name: Martin Jůza

Age: 29

Hometown: Plzen, Czech Republic

Occupation: Professional tourist

Byes: 3

Sealed Deck colors: Blue-black, to begin with ...

Previous Magic accomplishments:

Three Pto Tour Top 8s, some [24] Grand Prix Top 8s.

Which card(s) in your Sealed Deck performed the best?

Rags // Riches.

Which card(s) in your Sealed Deck performed the worst?

Drake Haven. I only had six cyclers that I didn't really wanto cycle anyway.

Which was the most exciting/close/cool game you played today? What happened?

All of them were pretty cool, especially the look on my opponents' faces when I surprised them with Green-White Aggro in game two.


Name: Francesco Giorgio

Age: 29

Hometown: Napoli, Italy

Occupation: Circuit design engineer

Byes: 2

Sealed Deck colors: Blue-black

Previous Magic accomplishments:

Third place at the 2014 World Magic Cup, second place at Grand Prix Madrid 2015.

Which card(s) in your Sealed Deck performed the best?

Aside from all the rares, Wander in Death was the card which held everything together.

Which card(s) in your Sealed Deck performed the worst?

Shadowstorm Vizier basically did nothing.

Which was the most exciting/close/cool game you played today? What happened?

Round 7, I had to play around Angel of Sanctions for two games after losing the first to it. Had to hold Final Reward in hand the entire time while finding ways to deal with my opponent's other creatures,


Name: Fabien Li

Age: 30

Hometown: Singapore

Occupation: Student (in Germany)

Byes: 2

Sealed Deck colors: Green-white

Previous Magic accomplishments:

Winner of Grand Prix Kuala Lumpur 2014

Which card(s) in your Sealed Deck performed the best?

Rhonas the Indomitable. And turn two Channeler Initiate into turn three Crocodile of the Crossing.

Which card(s) in your Sealed Deck performed the worst?

Pouncing Cheetah.

Which was the most exciting/close/cool game you played today? What happened?

In Round 9, my opponent had Oketra the True with eight lands. I had some creatures including Scaled Behemoth and a Mighty Leap in hand. I couldn't kill him. Drew Rhonas the Indomitable for 2 extra power and hit for lethal.


Name: Michael Meier

Age: 26

Hometown: Zürich, Switzerland

Occupation: Marketing sales representative

Byes: 2

Sealed Deck colors: Blue-black splashing red

Previous Magic accomplishments:

None.

Which card(s) in your Sealed Deck performed the best?

Wander in Death and Glyph Keeper.

Which card(s) in your Sealed Deck performed the worst?

Floodwaters.

Which was the most exciting/close/cool game you played today? What happened?

My opponent played Glorybringer, Archfiend of Ifnir, and Rhonas the Indomitable all in one game. I got lucky and won.


Name: Claudio Biscione

Age: 25

Hometown: Rome, Italy

Occupation: Unemployed

Byes: 2

Sealed Deck colors: White-black

Previous Magic accomplishments:

None except for some PPTQ wins and Grand Prix Day 2s.

Which card(s) in your Sealed Deck performed the best?

Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons.

Which card(s) in your Sealed Deck performed the worst?

Mouth // Feed.

Which was the most exciting/close/cool game you played today? What happened?

I think in Round 6 when my opponent didn't block a 3/4 creature because this way he would have won on the backswing. Luckily, he was at 4 and I had Shed Weakness.


Name: Patrizio Golia

Age: 26

Hometown: Bologna, Italy

Occupation: Entrepreneur

Byes: 0

Sealed Deck colors: Red-white

Previous Magic accomplishments:

One Grand Prix Top 8 [Stuttgart 2007], 18th at the 2009 World Championship in Rome, and many Pro Tour and Grand Prix money finishes.

Which card(s) in your Sealed Deck performed the best?

Deem Worthy.

Which card(s) in your Sealed Deck performed the worst?

Hyena Pack.

ONWARD // VICTORY

And that's a wrap! Tomorrow would be the first day of Amonkhet drafting at the premier level. Check back then for more insight into the format, for decklists, and for the epic conclusion of Grand Prix Bologna 2017.

Until then, good night!

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