Nearly 1,300 players arrived in Orlando to battle it out in the final (individual) event for Aether Revolt-Kaladesh Sealed Deck, and the format didn't disappoint, with gremlins and whales as far as the eye could see. Of those, about 400 will return on Sunday to tackle the Draft side of things.
Thanks to the team event at San Antonio looming next week, Grand Prix Orlando also hosted a litany of pros, many of whom had traveled from across the world to play in Florida before heading to the Lonestar State.
Here are the five things that most stood out to us from Day One.
At the Speed of Aether
No one has ever accused Aether Revolt as being a slow set. With giant vehicles just a crew away, games tended to end quickly as players rushed to get in with fast attacks. Conversely, falling behind on board makes it difficult to crew vehicles, so the more aggressive player tended to pull ahead quickly in games. It was a recipe for an aggressive Day One, and many players took full advantage of the opportunity.
Or at least that's how it was supposed to be. While the aggressive tilt of many games carried a lot of matches, there were those who found success going a different way. In the continuing evolution of the format, we learned a few new tricks.
Enter Cowl Prowler.
While it and smaller dinosaur Lathnu Sailback routinely go very late in draft, their lack of abilities making them a liability at times, it turns out the pair excelled in Orlando, finally finding their time in the sun.
It may come as a shock that the oft-forgotten pair are making any waves in Orlando, but in a format that often leads to trading creatures early, being able to simply go over the top is important, and nothing fills that role better than the pair of big creatures.
"You just play it, and it's just always the biggest thing on the board," explained Kenji "NumotTheNummy" Egashira. "It isn't exciting, but it gets it done."
Speaking of Shock, it's another card that's had a strong Saturday. Seen as less powerful in the context of Aether Revolt compared to previous formats, the staple has nonetheless been a strong performer, as evidenced by a wild sequence between Ross Merriam and Joel Larsson in round six.
Sitting behind a wall of blockers, Larsson was working to figure out how to best take care of an attacking Irontread Crusher. After much deliberation and emboldened by a previous block made with four creatures, Larsson opted to put a full team in front of the Crusher – five of his creatures. With the previous gang-block working out, he undoubtedly felt confident in the play. But Merriam had the surprise. Not just one, but two Shock to take down a pair of two-toughness creatures, allowing his Crusher to dispatch two more and survive.
A Family Reunion
Who doesn't love a good family get together, especially one for a family so often apart?
The Nalaars may have fallen on hard times in Kaladesh, but they're back together in Orlando! Christine Sprankle, Vanessa Martin, and Justin Rix formed the trio for the event, and they wowed visitors with their slick cosplay all weekend. Cosplaying is a growing trend in Magic, and the enthusiastic response to the trio shows exactly why.
A Cathartic Reunion, indeed.
A Return 13 Years in the Making
This is the first picture we have available of Charlie Manter.
It's from Grand Prix Tampa in 2002, and today all Manter can do is laugh at his younger self and that outrageous bleach-blonde hair.
A regular when he was a kid, Manter slowly fell out of the tournament scene. He went to college, his friends stopped playing, and eventually work and a fiancée meant that Manter simply had no time to play the game as an adult. The last major event he played in was in this very city, Grand Prix Orlando 2004.
But despite the "break," one thing never changed: a truly unique twist on a familiar story. It's said regularly that nobody ever really quits Magic – they simply take a break. Manter took that one step further.
"I wasn't playing, but I never stopped following the game," he said. "I read article, watch videos and streams, listen to all the podcasts. I always had a Magic Online account even though I never played. In a way, I never really quit."
He may have never quit the game, but Manter's lengthy absence from tournament play ("I think I've done maybe three drafts in the past decade," he mused), definitely counts as quite the break.
Not that it dulled his expectation as he played his way through Day One in Orlando. Manter is all grown up and ready to compete.
"Of course, my goal is to win the whole thing – you have to come in with that attitude," he explained. "Queueing for the Pro Tour is on the bucket list, and that's the goal."
Entering the final round on Saturday, that dream was still alive and well – Manter sat at 6-1-1.
Noah Bradley Takes on All Comers
It's no secret that Magic is filled with beautiful art, but it may come as a surprise that not all Magic artists actively play the game.
Fan favorite Noah Bradley is the exception. After years of not partaking in the game he creates a breathtaking part of, Bradley decided last year to dive in headfirst, even competing in his first Grand Prix in December. It was enough to hook him, and he's been working to improve ever since, even though the demands on his time as a featured artist make it hard to find time at Grand Prix.
In Orlando, he's found a way to do both.
Bradley worked with Tournament staff to devise quite the solution. He played the entire day – including Round 9 with a shot to advance to Day Two – from the artist booth. An innovative solution to a unique problem, it delighted opponents to meet Bradley at his booth to play. That included Hall of Famer Willy Edel, whom Bradley defeated in a friendly but meaningful match.
Will the Noah Bradley Feature Match become a staple of future events? We can only hope.
Pikula Leads the Undefeated
It's been 12 years since Chris Pikula last made the Top 8 of a Grand Prix. But after his perfect run on Day One of Grand Prix Orlando, it's undoubtedly the biggest story of the event entering Sunday. The Meddling Mage locked up his 9-0 record with a tense, three-game victory over Bastian Von Beschwitz that he won on the back of a Quicksmith Rebel paired with a Pacification Array.
Joining Pikula at the top is Stephen Neal, Patrick Tierney, Jorge Mantilla, and Luis Salvatto. Together, the five players sit atop the standings, with a leg up on the 400 or so players who will return to compete on Day Two for a possible shot at the Top 8.