Day 1 Coverage

Posted in Event Coverage on November 23, 2013

By Jacob Van Lunen

Jacob Van Lunen began playing Magic in 1995. He has participated in organized play at every level of competition and was a member of the winning team at Pro Tour San Diego in 2007, thanks to an innovative draft strategy. As a writer, Van Lunen has had more than three hundred Magic strategy pieces published
  • Saturday, 11:32 a.m. – Standard Operating Procedures

    by Jacob Van Lunen

It's been six weeks since Pro Tour Theros. Since then, the Standard format has experienced some major changes at varying levels of competition. Let's take a look at the evolution of Theros Standard. A timeline of the format as it shifts will give us a clear picture of where things currently stand as we enter the fray here in Albuquerque.

Pro Tour Theros gave us our first taste of high level Standard play with Theros. Most of the format's established archetypes were revealed as various professional teams brought different weapons to the table. When the dust settled on Sunday, there was one deck that had solidly established itself as a frontrunner in the new Standard format. Mono-Blue Devotion not only won Pro Tour Theros in the hands of Jérémy Dezani, but it also took second and third place. It was clear to everyone paying attention that this was the deck to beat in the coming weeks.

Jérémy Dezani's Mono-Blue Devotion

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Just one week after Pro Tour Theros had crowned a new format boogieman, over one-thousand players descended upon Louisville, Kentucky to compete in the next major Standard event with Theros. Mono-Blue Devotion was the most feared deck on Friday night, but once the tournament got underway there were some new big dogs in Standard. Mono-Blue Devotion's weakness to Supreme Verdict was apparent as Esper Control decks climbed their way to the top of the standings and the Mono-Black Devotion deck put up a dominating performance as the eventual winner in the hands of Brian Braun-Duin, and the most represented deck in the Top 8.

Brian Braun-Duin's Mono-Black Devotion

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William Jensen's Esper Control

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Grand Prix Santiago came next and the format's diversity was being fully realized. Mono-Blue Devotion had, once again, established itself as a major force in the format. Once the dust settled, an unfamiliar entity, Luis Navas's Rakdos Aggro, was victorious. This aggressive strategy was well-positioned against decks like Esper Control and Mono-Black Devotion that had tuned their deck to be strong against midrange aggression.

Luis Navas's Rakdos Aggro

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Since then, the format has undergone a number of twists and turns at varying levels of competition. Mono-Blue Devotion, Esper Control, and Mono-Black Devotion are still major forces in the metagame, but decks like Mihara's Green Devotion, White Weenie, Mono-Red Aggro, and varying spin offs of existing archetypes have established footholds in the new Standard.

Makihito Mihara's Gruul Devotion

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What archetype will rise to the top of the competition here in Albuquerque this weekend? Stay tuned to continuing coverage of Grand Prix Albuquerque to find out!

  • Saturday, 12:52 p.m. – Grand Prix Albuquerque Standard Trial Winning Decklists

    by Mike Rosenberg

The Grand Prix Trials that take place on Friday can oftentimes offer a small glimpse into current trends or new and interesting ideas. A total of four Standard Trials were held yesterday, with four players earning three byes for Day One of the main event. You can see what those players chose to bring with them in yesterday's Trials below.

Byron Calver's Mono-Blue Devotion

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Adolfo Ortiz's Esper

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Ronald Rodriguez's Boros

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Dennis Bogdanov's White Devotion

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As this Standard season has proven, the metagame is diverse and full of powerful options in virtually every one and two-color combination. Check back throughout the weekend to see what kinds of new developments come out of Albuquerque as the Standard format continues to evolve.

  • Saturday, 1:04 p.m. – Testing and Tweaking

    by Jacob Van Lunen

There are six major archetypes performing well in Theros Standard: White Weenie, often splashing Red, Mono-Red, Mono-Black Devotion, Mono-Green Devotion, often splashing Red, Mono-Blue Devotion, and Esper Control comprise the gauntlet that successful players will be testing against in preparation for Grand Prix Albuquerque.

All six strategies have been established to some degree, but small changes in a deck's composition can oftentimes make big changes in particular matchups. Let's talk about some of the tweaks that we can expect players to make in preparation for this weekend's competition.

White Weenie

Over the last few weeks, we've seen the White Weenie deck evolve into a less aggressive entity that can adapt to any gamestate and make powerful plays even as the game drags on. Adopting a White Devotion gameplan gives the White Weenie deck the ability to play a powerful late-game with cards like Heliod, God of the Sun, Angel of Serenity, and Elspeth, Sun's Champion. These lists are often splashing Black for a powerful sideboard plan that involves Thoughtseize and Blood Baron of Vizkopa, but it wouldn't be unusual to see some lists splashing Red or no second color at all.

Dennis Bogdanov's White Devotion

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Aggressive Red strategies are usually pretty straightforward, but some of the games more interesting minds have been splishing and splashing over the last few weeks to great success. The most notable tweaked aggressive Red strategy is the Rakdos Aggro deck that Luis Navas used to win Grand Prix Santiago. Still, others have had success splashing both White and Green to Red Devotion strategies.

Luis Navas's Rakdos Aggro

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Mono-Black Devotion

Mono-Black Devotion established itself as a major player in Theros Standard at Grand Prix Louisville where it comprised half of the top 8 and won the event. However, we've seen Esper Control decks adapt to beat the Mono-Black Devotion deck over the last few weeks. Cards like Doom Blade have been dropped in favor of more relevant removal while Blood Baron of Vizkopa, Ætherling, and the fourth copy of Detention Sphere have found their way into more maindecks. Many Black Devotion players have begun splashing Green for access to Abrupt Decay, a card that drastically swings the Esper matchup into Mono-Black's favor. With Abrupt Decay, it becomes extremely difficult for the Esper player to profitably interact with Underworld Connections. Sure, Detention Sphere can exile Underworld Connections, but only after it's already drawn its controller a card; Once the Underworld Connections is exiled, it can be targeted by Abrupt Decay and attached to a new land, often allowing the player that controls Underworld Connections to draw a second card off the enchantment in the same turn cycle.

Jody Keith's Mono-Black Devotion

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Mono-Blue Devotion

Blue Devotion Decks are a powerful force in Theros Standard. Over the last few weeks, we've seen a great deal of experimentation from Mono-Blue players. Some players have added Green for access to Frilled Oculus and Master Biomancer, while others have tried adding White and/or Black for some of the more powerful control elements like Detention Sphere, Supreme Verdict, Sphinx's Revelation, and Thoughtseize.

Kinny Fain's Blue Devotion Splashing Green

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Mono-Green Devotion

Green Devotion strategies have been splashing Red since Pro Tour Theros, but we've recently begun seeing versions of the deck that use Blue instead of Red as a second color. Instead of Domri Rade and Xenagos, the Reveler, the Blue Versions of the deck gain access to Prime Speaker Zegana, and, in some cases, Prophet of Kruphix. Many of the more traditional Red splash versions of the deck are now playing with Ruric Thar, the Unbowed, a card that seems like a great tool for a deck that's comprised of so many creatures.

John Nader's Green Devotion

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  • Saturday, 4:37 p.m. – A Heart for Art

    by Mike Rosenberg


The Grand Prix serves as more than one big main event. It is also a celebration of all things Magic, where players from near and far are able to meet new and old friends and play in a variety of events that are offered throughout the weekend.

However, for fans of the art of Magic, it is also a place for you to meet the professionals responsible for making Magic come to life on each cards, check out some of their prints, and even get your cards signed.


Kind of like what Adam Styborski, content manager of Gathering Magic and Magic event coverage reporter, did earlier today.

For art buffs, a Grand Prix provides an excellent opportunity to interact with some of the game's well known artists. It's an opportunity to get cards signed, pick up some prints, and even get some custom sketches done on-site. Looking for a one-of-a-kind custom sketch on a blank playmat that captures the essence of your favorite Magic card art? A Grand Prix is the place to do it, as artists are often in attendance and available to deliver just that for you.

One of the other benefits of going to a Grand Prix is some of the sweet swag you can get that is exclusive to the events. The most famous of these items is the play mat, a Grand Prix staple for those who are able to register and pick up a play mat while supplies last.

However, for Grand Prix Albuquerque, a little something extra was thrown in for players who showed up to compete in the main event this weekend.

Players who are competing in the main event at Grand Prix Albuquerque also received six cards highlighting some of the major Magic artists in attendance.

These cards, which can be a fun placeholder for token creatures or simply a fun collectible to keep with your deck, showcase not only six different Magic artists, but also their personalities and styles. It captures far more than simply their name.

The following artists all made the trek out to Albuquerque to meet with fans, but all have been immortalized in their very own cards exclusive to this event as well. You can see them all with their cards below!

Michael C. Hayes
Steve Argyle
Franz Vohwinkel
Rob Alexander
RK Post

The artist line-up at Grand Prix Albuquerque boasts a wide variety of incredible talent. If you'd like to meet one of your favorite artists and perhaps even leave with a custom sketch of your own, keep your eyes peeled on the Grand Prix event pages for info on ones taking place near you.

  • Saturday, 5:26 p.m. – Quick Hits

    by Mike Rosenberg

What is the most powerful thing you can do on turn three in Standard right now?

Christian Calcano: Chandra's Phoenix
David Ochoa: Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and some Emissaries, Garruk, Caller of Beasts, and well...
Brian Kibler: I think you can just kill someone, can't you? If you have enough Burning-Tree Emissaries and Nykthos, then you can just kill them. You could go turn one Rakdos Cackler, turn two Burning-Tree Emissary times three, then turn three you can play Nykthos, two Fanatic of Mogis, and kill them.
Albuquerque local Roberto Gonzales: If I can choose what I want to be doing on turn three, I want to be casting Nightveil Specter.
  • Saturday, 5:27 p.m. – A Family Affair

    by Jacob Van Lunen


It isn't uncommon for members of the general population to ask a Magic player why they devote so much of themselves to the game. Luckily, there are a wealth of acceptable answers to this question: Magic provides us with a safe and thought-provoking competitive outlet. It connects us with a massive community of intelligent and interesting people. It also puts us in difficult puzzle-like situations that help us improve our problem solving skills.

Most people learn how to play Magic from a friend, sibling, or classmate. It starts as an effective way to kill time between classes or at Summer camp, but it quickly becomes much more. Every game of Magic is different, every opponent, every draw, every attack. The game becomes a hunt for new experiences, a new lesson in game theory every time we shuffle and present our deck to an opponent.

Magic has been around for some time now. The game just celebrated its twentieth anniversary, and with time we're beginning to see a whole new class of Magic players being introduced to the game at home. Many Magic players have been playing for a great deal of time, so it shouldn't seem unusual that some of us have started families when we haven't been slinging spells. Our parents taught us Chess, Backgammon, and Bridge, but Magic playing parents are teaching their children lessons in wizardry. It seems fitting, we'd much rather our children learn about Magic at home, in a safe environment, than have them learn about it on the streets like we did.

There are many parent/child duos in attendance here at Grand Prix Albuquerque. We have the opportunity to sit down with a few of them and learn about Magic as a family affair.

Max Martin
Marcus Martin
Chazi Martin

Marcus Martin brought his two sons, Chazi (10) and Max, (11) to their first Grand Prix this weekend. The Martins play Magic at home most days and frequent Friday Night Magic at Active Imagination in Albuquerque. Despite playing together so frequently, all three Martins like to play different decks. Max prefers the calculated aggression of Gruul, Marcus wants to play the midrange game with Mono-Black Devotion, and Chazi brought an interesting Green/Black homebrew to the table this weekend. Mrs. Martin has also learned how to play Magic and the two parents have been using Magic as a fun activity/teaching tool with their children for the last three or four years. Magic is an excellent math exercise that's sure to equip Max and Chazi with great problem solving skills for the future. Marcus proudly beamed as he explained that Chazi and Max create imaginary cards and discuss the appropriate casting costs with their parents.

Frank Wilken was first introduced to Magic way back around the release of Legends. He stopped playing for many years, but the game found its way back into his life. A few years ago, Wilken brought his son, Lucas (12), to a local comic store and was surprised when he happened upon a Magic tournament. He dug up an old box of cards from his garage and taught Lucas how to play. Shortly thereafter, Frank won a local Legacy tournament with a thrown together Mono-Black deck. Frank decided to head over to his local store on the morning of the Innistrad Prerelease. Fortunately, Frank arrived late and was unable to play in the event. The store owner told him that they would be running a Two-Headed Giant tournament later that day. Frank drove home, picked up Lucas, got back to the shop, and registered Lucas for his first sanctioned Magic event. Most people don't win their first Magic tournament, but Frank and Lucas went undefeated that day and Lucas won his very first Magic event ever. Since then, the two have been hooked. They play at home occasionally, and frequent Friday Night Magic at The Realm in Santa Fe. Since being taught by his dad, Lucas has taught his cousin how to play Magic. Both Frank and Lucas won Grand Prix Trials for this event, an impressive feat for anyone, but especially awesome for a player Lucas's age, armed with Mono-Black Devotion (Lucas) and Kibler Golgari (Frank), this father son duo is definitely worth keeping your eye on as this event progresses.

Frank Wilken
Lucas Wilken

We're sure to see many more parent/child duos at events in the coming years. Magic players are having kids and kids love games. Magic happens to be the best game, so it's only reasonable that we can expect a Baby Boom of Magic players in the coming years.

  • Saturday, 6:37 p.m. – View from the Top - Round 7 Metagame Breakdown

    by Jacob Van Lunen


Six rounds have come and gone here at Grand Prix Albuquerque. Let's take a look at what decks have been doing well. Here's a look at what archetypes we're seeing on the top tables:


It's clear that the format is still a wide open landscape with a lot of viable decks. After six rounds of competition Mono-Red, Black Devotion, and Brian Kibler's unique Golgari Midrange strategy seem to be the best performing decks in the room.

Standard seems to be moving in a more aggressive direction this weekend. There's a lot of White Weenie and Mono-Red at the top tables. Control strategies that had garnished a great deal of popularity in recent weeks are few in number at the top tables.

Kibler's Golgari deck is putting up impressive numbers. Few players chose to pilot the deck this weekend and the professional players that decided to pick up the deck are sitting with either zero or one loss.

Players still need to play three more rounds before the end of Day 1. Some of the currently undefeated players may not even make it to the second day of competition. Will Kibler's Golgari deck, Mono-Black Devotion, and Mono-Red continue to crush this event, or will the other archetypes rally in the last few rounds? Stay tuned to coverage of Grand Prix Albuquerque to find out!

  • Sunday, 7:30 p.m. – Contemporary Albuquerque Locals

    by Mike Rosenberg

While this may be the first Grand Prix to descend upon Albuquerque, it was not the first time New Mexico has been filled with Magic. Some players in Albuquerque have a history with the game dating back to the days of Beta, and while people grow and change with time, and sometimes they depart from playing, many manage to return. And for some, they never leave. The land of enchantment just has too great of a hold on some.

One of those players is Roberto Gonzales, who has been living in Albuquerque for most of his life. The Albuquerque local has been playing the game since Beta, and Magic has been a part of his life since then.

Roberto Gonzales

Gonzales had been playing regularly in his local area, and eventually moved into Pro Tour Qualifiers in his teen years. At the time, Albuquerque did not have a thriving Magic community. The Internet was not a massive source of information about the game, and Pro Tour Qualifiers were about as far as most Albuquerque locals ever went with their journey into the game. For many, qualifying for the Pro Tour was the big accomplishment that many players hoped for.

And qualifying is exactly what he did back in 2001, when he qualified for Pro Tour Tokyo over a decade ago. His performance at the event did not quite follow the same success as his Pro Tour Qualifier win, however.

"I didn't understand the magnitude of playing on the Pro Tour," Gonzales said. "It didn't have the same importance for me to do well as it does today. It was just an accomplishment to get on the Pro Tour. But now, our local scene is full of players who have qualified for the Pro Tour and do respectfully at events, so it's less about getting to the Pro Tour now, and more about winning the Pro Tour."

The desire to win the Pro Tour was given some additional fuel when Gonzales qualified for Pro Tour Gatecrash. He remained in contention for a majority of the event, but ultimately missed out on the Top 8 at 9th place, his tiebreakers unable to propel him onto the Sunday stage. It was no longer about simply qualifying by that point. When Gonzales got so close to playing on one of Magic's biggest stages, his fire to win was at its brightest.

"Over the years I've had the same friends here in Albuquerque," Gonzales said. "We've grown up together. Some of us have moved, but many are still here. But overall, growing up and learning the social structure – getting into a team and being able to play test effectively – these are the things that I didn't do back in the day."

Gonzales worked to achieve his win by working with some of the game's best. His experiences on the Pro Tour and in Magic allowed him to develop friendships with players from around the world, which led to him joining Team Revolution to prepare for more events. While Pro Tour Dragon's Maze didn't go his way, Gonzales was still able to secure enough Professional Points to reach Silver status, giving him a Pro Tour invitation to use during this season.

"I'm still working with Team Revolution, which includes Raphael Levy, Melissa DeTora, Jeremy Dezani, Guillaume Wafo-Tapa, and those who did very well. I wasn't able to go to that event because of work, so my Silver Pro invitation got pushed to Pro Tour Born of the Gods, so I'll be going to the Grand Prix in Paris the week before that and then the Pro Tour."

And over the years, while the desire to win is certainly there, the Pro Tours and playing in them mean something more. "It's exciting," he said. "I've never been to Valencia [for Pro Tour Born of the Gods]. Magic has taken me to so many different places that now I think that's almost a bigger prize. Being able to see your friends and see the world. Being able to do well at a tournament is paramount, but I'm 33 years old now and married, so it'd be nice to have some memories of the places you get to go and the people that you get to see."

Some other Albuquerque locals have since moved on from the early days of the region's Magic scene, but the call of a Grand Prix taking place in an old stomping ground was just too much for some players to pass up on. The Grand Prix at his old home brought former local Victor Bitter back to his old home for a weekend of fun.

Victor Bitter

"I've been playing Magic since I was 14. The first pack that I ever bought was Mercadian Masques, and I've been playing ever since," said Bitter as he discussed his history with the game. Bitter was a Pro Tour Qualifier regular, and has continued to play in them throughout his history with the game, eventually winning qualification to the Pro Tour earlier this year which brought him to Pro Tour Theros last month.

At his first Pro Tour, Bitter had an incredible run, showcasing all that he learned in his years playing in the Pro Tour Qualifiers that took place around him. Unfortunately, while he finished in the Top 32 of the event, he missed out on the Top 25 and a qualification for Pro Tour Born of the Gods.

However, Bitter was a PTQ regular, and a week after the Pro Tour he found himself winning another local PTQ, earning his airfare and invitation to the Pro Tour taking place in Valencia next February.

Despite eventually moving away, Bitter has continued playing in his region. "I moved away five years ago to El Paso, Texas. Every time they have local tournaments like PTQs in the region, even in Arizona, I go to them," he said. "I've been playing a lot. I've finished in the Top 8 in about twelve or thirteen PTQs, and have been playing pretty consistently although I've taken a year break from time to time. I'll be on and off, which may happen since I just had a baby."

When asked about how he is managing his hobby with a family and work, he nodded to the difficulties of handling too much and how he's been able to keep both in his life.

"Its tough. Honestly though, Magic Online is what's getting me there. If it wasn't for that, I wouldn't be able to play test enough especially now with work and the baby. I don't get to go to the local events on weeknights anymore. Instead, whenever I have an hour or two of free time, I hope online and play a few matches, take some notes about my play, read articles, and do what I can."

Albuquerque may only be getting its first Grand Prix this year, but the city and region has plenty of players who have been fans of Magic since the beginning. Many of these players, whether they are at the height of their game or if they're on break, may continue to have <