It was a busy weekend in the steel city, and a fast one at that, as hordes of vehicles descended on Pittsburgh while a barrage of snakes came out of the woodwork like they were chasing an iguana.
In this case, the iguana was the rest of the field, and while black-green variants put five copies into the Top 8, the rest of the field wasn’t as unprepared as some may have guessed. But it wasn’t just the Top 8 that featured exciting moments – it was the entire tournament. Here are some of the highlights.
5) Pargh Grows Claws
Dave Pargh is more than just a skilled Magic player – he’s also quite a character. In this case, he was one that lit up the internet as he made his way to the Feature Match area in Round 7 of the tournament. It’s a tale told in two tweets.
There are crucial Pro Points and thousands of dollars on the line at a Grand Prix, but from time to time it’s important to remember that Magic can sometimes just be unfiltered fun. Pargh definitely brought that spirit to Pittsburgh.
4) Nelson Gives Back
Speaking of special Grand Prix moments that go beyond the tournament, no one embodies the role of community ambassador more than the world’s 11th-ranked player and 2010 Player of the Year Brad Nelson. It was a small act on his part that left quite a large impression on one group of kids this weekend and demonstrated exactly why Nelson is respected for his goodwill and graciousness.
Brad Nelson made time in his tournament weekend to spend it with the kids of Yellow Breeches, a special education facility a few hours out of Pittsburgh.
As fun as it is to follow the competitive aspect of the Grand Prix, it's important to remember that these events are a lot of different things to different people. You don't have to look any further than Dan Cannaday for proof of that. Cannaday works with the Yellow Breeches Education Center, which aims to provide a "life-altering special education for secondary school-aged students with emotional support needs."
Grand Prix Pittsburgh was an extraordinary field trip for Cannaday's group, and from the Two-Headed Giant Sealed event they played to an incredible meeting with their favorite player.
Nelson — celebrating the six-year anniversary of his playoff victory over Guillaume Matignon to earn the Player of the Year — was humbled by the request, but appreciative of the opportunity. It was clear that meeting with the group meant just as much to him as it did the kids, if for different reasons.
“It’s great to be able to give back," he explained simply.
3) Khare Makes It Two In a Row
Anand Khare is on quite the streak. He’s been been jetsetting across the country and making the most of it. Two weeks ago the New Jersey native advanced to the Top 8 of Grand Prix San Jose, displaying his prowess in the Aether Revolt-Kaladesh Limited environment.
But Khare proved in Pittsburgh he’s not a one-format master. His run to the Top 8 here with Black-Green Delirium showed that he’s a force to be reckoned with, and a name that Grand Prix and Pro Tour players would do well to familiarize themselves with.
2) The Rise of the Snake God
In Fiji, there’s a creation myth about the Great Serpent Degei, who created the islands the Fijians call home. This weekend, another great snake created its own myth—Winding Constrictor. The golden 2/3 has proven no false idol as it buttressed three distinct Black-Green decks that not only claimed dominion to the top tables all weekend, but also put four copies into the Top 8.
Almost every known pro was on some variant of a Black-Green deck whose center was a coiling collection of scales. Be it Energy, Delirium, or straight-up Rock-y, players like (11) Brad Nelson, World Champion (19) Brian Braun-Duin, (3) Seth Manfield, (25) Pascal Maynard, (18) Mike Sigrist, (20) Oliver Tiu, Hall-of-Famer Ben Stark, were all down with the swamps and forests.
There’s a logical explanation, of course—after Mardu Vehicle’s domination of Pro Tour Aether Revolt, players were looking for a savior. The almighty "snek” answered their prayers.
As Grand Prix Champion Ryan Hare put it in his post-win interview, this Mardu Vehicles was the Finals match he’d dreamt of, because that was the reason to play Black-Green.
The only problem with creating a god, is that Hare now has to go home and burn a Gideon effigy as an offering to the Constrictor.
1) Hare’s Gearhulk Gets it Done
The finals of Grand Prix Pittsburgh came down to a battle of two familiar decks in Black-Green and Mardu Vehicles, but even if the deck choices weren’t surprising, no one can deny that the final match wasn’t exciting.
After a blowout first game that saw Ryan Hare’s deck do exactly what it’s capable of – namely curve a second-turn Winding Constrictor into a Rishkar, Peema Renegade and Nissa, Voice of Zendikar to go nuts with counters — and a second game that saw Bronson Gervasi narrowly pull out a win thanks to Skysovereign, Consul Flagship, the third game truly delivered.
Hare got out to a commanding early lead, but in the process played right into the Fumigate that Gervasi was holding. That saw the Texas native take the lead in a wild swing, but a perfectly timed Flaying Tendrils left Gervasi with a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar staring down Sylvan Advocate with both players at the mercy of their decks.
And did Hare’s ever deliver, with a Verdurous Gearhulk off the top that a turn later send Hare to victory at Grand Prix Pittsburgh.
Sometimes, dreams come true.