Leading the undefeated records is Seth Manfield, who has been on a major tear this year. The two-time Grand Prix champion earned his second Top 8 finish of the year at Grand Prix Toronto last weekend after ending Day One with an undefeated record, and he's started off this weekend the same, this time with Blue-White Control. Joining him in the undefeated circle is Haibing Hu and Christopher Burris, who both earned their 9-0 records with Mono-Black Devotion.
Standard has begun to show signs of major development. While many have begun to ally themselves with Mono-Blue and Mono-Black Devotion decks, there are still big players who are looking to tackle the format by correctly predicting the metagame and countering it with decks that have good matchups against either one devotion deck or the other. Will one of these decks steal a victory from those that are devoting themselves to a single color, or would Thassa, God of the Sea or Gray Merchant of Asphodel stand tall at the end of the weekend?
Tune in tomorrow to find out!
Saturday, 1:00 p.m. – Picking Up Where We Left Off
In Magic: the Gathering, things are constantly in flux, as decks vie for the top slot week in and week out. In order to keep on top of this ever-shifting metagame, it can be useful to take things one week at a time. Last week's Grand Prix Vienna set the stage for Grand Prix Dallas/Fort Worth this week, giving us the most up-to-date vision of the metagame yet, and one that harkens back to the days of Pro Tour Theros.
Mono-blue Devotion has never strayed far from the top of the format, and, after taking a back seat to Mono-black Devotion for a few weeks, it has yet again emerged on top of a massive Grand Prix field. Three Mono-blue decks made Top 8 in Vienna, including decks piloted by Pro Tour Jeremy Dezani and eventual Grand Prix winner Marcin Staciwa. Four more Mono-blue decks populated the Top 16, giving devoted followers of Thassa, God of the Sea, just under half of the top slots in the tournament.
Coming in just behind that were variants on Blue/White Control, either straight Blue/White or Esper. While not as initially impressive as the Devotion decks, these Sphinx's Revelation-based decks have been gaining popularity steadily throughout the season. Three Esper decks and one Blue/White deck made the Top 16 in Vienna, including finalist Robin Dollar's Esper Control deck. As long as Devotion strategies are a major force in standard, Supreme Verdict will be a powerful card, giving these control strategies a place for the foreseeable future. One of the most interesting things to watch in this deck is how the removal suite changes for the Esper deck. Doom Blade, Far//Away, Devour Flesh, and Ultimate Price (my favorite) all play important, yet different, roles in Standard right now. The threats these decks are going to be facing are quite varied, so it can be difficult to find the perfect mix for any given tournament. Watch the suites that are winning and what they had to play against to figure out what the best mix for you is.
One surprising thing from Vienna was the drop off in Mono-black Devotion. Since the Pro Tour, Mono-black has done nothing but concentrate its power, culminating with the impressive showing of the Roanoke crew at Grand Prix Louisville. Brad Nelson, Todd Anderson, and winner Brian Braun-Duin were running roughly the same 75 cards, and all put up a tremendous showing on the weekend. Anderson did himself one better, making the semifinals of Grand Prix Albequerque with Mono-black, the same archetype that Owen Turtenwald used to win the event. Andreas Ganz made Top 16 with a deck similar to traditional Mono-black Devotion, yet lacking some of the key cards. Beyond him, there was no Mono-black presence at the top of Vienna.
One of the reasons for this decline is likely found in the other decks in the Top 8. Two Mono-red Devotion decks made Top 8, and with incredibly aggressive builds nonetheless. These aggressive red decks are the bane of Mono-black decks, so fields filled with them are particularly weak spots for the deck to flourish. The Mono-red decks also have a reasonable amount of game against the Mono-blue and Esper decks, essential right now if they're going to thrive. They tend to be weaker in mindrange-dominated formats, which were prevalent at the Pro Tour, but much less so in the time since. Mono-red has seemed to be a fringe competitor at best during the early weeks of the format, but it has certainly come on strong in the last weeks and will be a force to be reckoned with in this and future events.
The last decks to mention are some of the other would-be top players in the format: Mono-green Devotion and the myriad of Mono-white strategies, although these names are a bit of a misnomer. The first, including both Makihito Mihara's Colossal Gruul deck and the variants splashing for cards like Cyclonic Rift, looked poised to make a big splash following the Pro Tour, but the numbers never materialized the way that they were expected to. The Mono-white decks have put up better numbers over the past few weeks, but they have always seemed to fall short of breaking through for that top finish. Vienna proved that these strategies are certainly still viable and relevant, with Mono-white making Top 8 and Mono-green finishing just outside in 10th place. I believe that both decks are very well-positioned to make a run at things this weekend, so we'll be keeping an eye on them as this event unfolds.
Quick Questions #1: How was the trip out here to the Grand Prix?
Quick Questions #2: What is the best removal spell in Standard right now?
Saturday, 6:45 p.m. – 2013's Magical Moments
Grand Prix Dallas/Fort Worth marks the final Grand Prix that is taking place in 2013. While the 2013-2014 season is in progress, the end of a year represents a good time for reflection on previous accomplishments, big wins, or exciting moments over the last twelve months.
I got a chance to talk to a few players on the tournament floor early in the event. For many, where 2013 represented a big year in their Magic careers, the answer was easy. For others, the answer proved a little more challenging. Regardless, it a was a momentous year for the players that managed to arrive in time for the event.
No. 4 Ranked Player Shahar Shenhar
It was not surprising to hear from Shahar Shenhar what his favorite personal moment from Magic in 2013 was. When asked the question, he quickly answered. "When I won the 2013 Magic World Championship," he said with a smile.
Indeed, the 2013 Magic World Championship was a big moment for Shenhar. While the Platinum level pro and renowned globetrotter won his third Grand Prix title in Houston earlier in the year, the third trophy couldn't compare to winning the highly coveted title of Magic World Champion. The journey to his win was not an easy one either. The 2013 Magic World Championship highlighted sixteen of the best players in the game all competing over three days in four different formats. And when he battled his way to the finals against No. 3 Ranked Player Reid Duke, even Shenhar himself would tell you that the odds of him winning were low. He was facing down a matchup against Bogles, a deck that aimed to suit up a Slippery Bogle or another hexproof creature with an assortment of auras, which had overwhelming odds at winning against Shenhar's deck of choice, Blue-White-Red Control. However, Shenhar found a game plan that could earn him the three wins he needed, and after starting out with two losses in the best-of-five final match, Shenhar battled his way back, ultimately earning his win when Duke's deck failed to produce a hand that he could keep in the final game.
Perhaps the cherry on top of the whole week for Shenhar was being able to win the title of Magic World Champion with his family in the audience.
Pro Tour Gatecrash Quarterfinalist Melissa DeTora
Another player that had a big year was Melissa DeTora. While Melissa has been playing the game and had played in a dozen Pro Tour events, with Pro Tour Gatecrash being her twelfth, it was that twelfth Pro Tour that marked her big break. For DeTora, the answer to her biggest moment in 2013 was simple."It was probably when I Top 8'd Pro Tour Gatecrash. It had to be the best thing," she answered.
That event was more than just DeTora's big break into the Pro Tour, a finish that helped propel her into Gold level status for the 2013-2014 season. It was also the first time a female player to Top 8 a Pro Tour. While it is not something DeTora wishes to define her career in Magic, it is hard to ignore the impact her finish in the Top 8 of Pro Tour Gatecrash had for female Magic players ever. As said in her interview with Brian-David Marshall earlier in the year:
"I got a lot of messages from female players who said I was an inspiration to them, and they were scared to play in GPs and PTQs before but are no longer scared," she continued. "I also got messages from guys/dads who said that their girlfriends/daughters were so excited that there was a female player doing well and couldn't stop watching the coverage all weekend, and they never cared about PT coverage before. A female player even approached me at GP Charlotte the next week and said that I was her hero. It definitely feels good to be someone's hero, and it feels amazing that something that I did was an inspiration to other female players."
DeTora's team that she prepared with, Team Revolution (consisting of Hall of Famer Raphael Levy, herself, Pro Tour Theros Quarterfinalist Guillaume Wafo-Tapa, and a slew of other great American and French players) also had some success later in the year at Pro Tour Theros, a moment DeTora mentioned was also very big for her in 2013. "The other thing was Dublin because our team [Team Revolution] worked so well together and we had three in the Top 8. Overall, we did really well, so it was a really good moment for the team," she said.
DeTora's biggest moment in 2013, her Top 8 in Pro Tour Gatecrash, was not only a huge point in her Magic career. It was one of Magic's biggest moments overall in 2013.
No. 12 Ranked Player Owen Turtenwald
Speaking of players that have had big years in Magic, No. 12 Ranked Player Owen Turtenwald had had many moments to choose from as his biggest moment in 2013. The former Player of the Year has been consistently doing well at the highest levels of the game for years, but there were two things that eluded him coming into 2013.
The first major achievement that eluded Turtenwald was a Pro Tour Top 8 finish, a monkey he was finally able to get off of his back at Pro Tour Gatecrash (alongside Gerry Thompson, both being people who were considered the best players without a Pro Tour Top 8). After playing for as long as Turtenwald has, you'd think that his first Pro Tour Top 8 would be his biggest moment in Magic this year. And if you asked him which moment was his biggest a month ago, you may have been correct.
However, that wasn't Turtenwald's biggest moment in his mind. Turtenwald's answer, if you've been following the Grand Prix coverage for the last month, isn't surprising. "[My biggest moment was] two or three weeks ago when I won two Grand Prix trophies," he said.
The other big achievement that eluded Turtenwald going into 2013 was a Grand Prix victory. Coming into the year, Turtenwald had an incredible twelve Grand Prix Top 8s to his name. However, he had not earned a win in any of them.
This was all until Grand Prix Washington D.C concluded. It was there that Turtenwald finally battled his way through two days of well over a thousand other players to earn his first Grand Prix title.
Then, he did it again the next week in Albuquerque, scoring his second Grand Prix title and becoming the sixth player to ever win consecutive Grand Prix titles. He is also the first American player to ever achieve consecutive Grand Prix victories.
Turtenwald's back-to-back Grand Prix wins were his biggest moment in Magic in 2013. However, Turtenwald's 2013 finishes also put him in the spotlight as one of the biggest players of 2013. Considering he followed up his win in Albuquerque with a Top 16 finish at Grand Prix Toronto, it is clear that Turtenwald is ready to keep playing, and keep winning.
Magic has had a huge year in 2013 with many monumental moments for the players not only in attendance this weekend, but for the big players in the game. What big moments will 2014 hold? We'll find out, as Magic has a great line-up of events set for next year!
Round 8 Feature Match - Patrick Chapin vs. Patrick Cox
Hall of Famer Patrick Chapin surprised approximately nobody when he showed up this weekend with cards like Jace, Architect of Thought and Divinations sleeved up. The Team StarCityGames member chose to forego his Orzhovian followings from Pro Tour Theros in favor of Esper this weekend.
His opponent, team ChannelFireball member and champion of white weenie in the current Standard format, was Pat Cox. While Chapin chose to defer from black and white lands exclusively, Cox's latest take on attacking with little white creatures went down the Orzhov path. Backed up by Orzhov Charm and Xanthrid Necromancer, Cox's deck has even more ways to battle through sweepers such as Supreme Verdict, but would it be enough again Chapin's control cards?
Cox led with a first-turn Soldier of the Pantheon. Chapin had Thoughtseize, revealing two more copies of the one drop, Orzhov Charm, Daring Skyjek, and some lands. One of the Soldiers went to the graveyard, and Cox was content on attacking for 2, playing his other Soldier and scrying with a tapped Temple of Silence. Chapin, meanwhile, drew some cards with Divination.
Attacks dropped Chapin to 12, and Cox passed with two open, complicating matters for Chapin, as his opponent had an instant creature in the form of Orzhov Charm bringing back Soldier of the Pantheon. He cast another Divination and passed, while Cox brought back his Soldier with the Charm. Attacks dropped Chapin to 6, and Chapin drew, played a land, and passed with four open.
However, when Cox had Spear of Heliod, Chapin suddenly went from having a turn to simply being dead, his removal no longer giving him a way to survive the turn.
Cox again led with Soldier of the Pantheon in the second game. However, Cox had no second land until the third turn. He used it to cast Daring Skyjek, and then used it to scoop of his other creatures to deposit into the graveyard when Supreme Verdict swept the board clean on the fourth turn. Imposing Sovereign ensured that Chapin's fifth-turn Blood Baron of Vizkopa would come in tapped, but it was cold comfort. Cox cast Ajani, Caller of the Pride to pump up his Imposing Sovereign, and Boros Elite followed, but Chapin's powerful start proved too difficult to claw over.
Warped Physique disposed Cox of his Sovereign. A turn later, and Ajani fell to the Blood Baron, which was then joined by Jace, Architect of Thought post combat. Elspeth, Sun's Champion a turn later sealed the deal for Chapin, and the two went to a third game...
...which started off with a mulligan to five from Chapin. The Hall of Famer was not able to find a land past the two he kept with his five card hand. Cox, however, had a series of threats that Chapin had little ways of answering given his mana stall.
Xanthrid Necromancer and Boros Elite gave Cox a very real and very resistent clock, especially when it joined two Mutavaults, Dryad Militant, and Boros Elite in combat on the fourth turn. Chapin's Devour Flesh kept him alive, but he offered the handshake when nothing of worth came off the top.
Chapin 1 – Cox 2
Quick Questions #3: Which devotion deck is the best in Standard right now?
Round 9 Bubble-Match Round-Up
The ninth and final round of Day One here at Grand Prix Dallas/Fort Worth featured plenty of recognizable faces battling in bubble matches. Sitting at 6-2, these players had their tournament lives at stake. What were they playing? How did they do? We scoped out the tables, the matchups, and the results to see who would move on to Sunday play.
(24) Christian Calcano (Esper) vs. Terry Stoute (Mono-Blue Devotion)
No. 24 Ranked Player Christian Calcano managed to make it to the venue before the sixth round began, with his travel delays almost causing him to miss the event. However, with a 3-2 record thanks to his byes, he managed to reach the site of the Grand Prix just in time, and he found himself in a video feature in the ninth round against Mono-Blue Devotion player Terry Stoute.
No. 24 Ranked Player Christian Calcano
Ultimately, Calcano's Esper deck prevailed, earning him the win against Stoute 2-1. Calcano, after starting the day with a 3-2 record due to travel delays, will be battling tomorrow.
Joe Demestrio (Mono-Blue Devotion) vs. Deanna Dang (Mono-Blue Devotion)
Calcano's travel buddy for the trip, Joe Demestrio, experienced the same airplane woes as his friend, also barely making it to the event before the sixth round would have sealed his fate. Now, he sat at 6-2, battling against Deanna Dang in a Mono-Blue Devotion mirror match.
However, he was not as fortunate as Calcano. Ultimately, Demestrio found himself washed away in the Mono-Blue Devotion mirror match. Dang will advance after her 2-1 victory against Demestrio.
(12) Owen Turtenwald (Mono-Black Devotion) vs. Paul Novak (Mono-Green Devotion)
No. 12 Ranked Player Owen Turtenwald found himself battling on the bubble in the final round of Day One, his Mono-Black Devotion deck keeping him in it. His opponent, Paul Novak, opted instead for the explosive Mono-Green Devotion deck, which is capable of some brutally powerful starts at the exchange of some consistency.
Unfortunately for the two-time consecutive Grand Prix winner, Turtenwald foundself on the receiving end of some powerful draws from Novak, something that Mono-Green Devotion is very capable of. Novak defeated the No. 12 Ranked Player 2-1 and will be advancing to Day Two.
Shahar Shenhar (Selesnya Aggro) vs. Alex Huebner (Mono-Green Devotion)
No. 4 Ranked Player Shahar Shenhar found himself in a similar situation, with Selesnya Aggro keeping his hopes alive but only barely. He faced off against Alex Huebner, who was playing Mono-Green Devotion, in the ninth round.
And in similar fashion to the previously discussed match, Mono-Green Devotion ended up ahead at the end of the match, as Huebner defeated Shenhar 2-1 to advance into Day Two.
(1) Ben Stark (Orzhov) vs. Evan Longpre (Selesnya Aggro)
No. 1 Ranked Player Ben Stark went with ChannelFireball's deck of choice for the weekend, Orzhov. The name is used loosely used since the deck bares much more resemblance to the White Weenie archetype. His opponent, Evan Longpre, was playing Selesnya Aggro.
No. 1 Ranked Player Ben Stark
In the end, Stark's deck showed just how powerful attacking with little white creatures can be, as he defeated Longpre 2-0 to advance to the second day of competition.
Melissa DeTora (Mono-Blue Devotion) vs. Evan Burcaw (Mono-Black Devotion)
Melissa DeTora found herself fighting for her tournament life in what has become a classic matchup over the last few weeks of Mono-Blue Devotion fighting Mono-Black Devotion. DeTora's opponent, Evan Burcaw, was the Mono-Black pilot for the round.
However, one thing we've seen despite the matchup being close is that Mono-Black Devotion has an edge, and that edge is what Burcaw needed to advance past DeTora with a 2-1 victory.
Tom Ross (Mono Red Aggro) vs. Trevino Christopher (Esper)
And finally, Tom Ross found himself in a positive situation where his Mono-Red Aggro deck had a chance to beat up on an Esper deck before Supreme Verdict and Jace, Architect of Thought did their things. Trevino Christopher, however, was looking to steal a win against the brutally fast red deck.
And stealing a win is exactly what Christopher did, as he defeated Ross's red deck 2-1 in order to advance into Sunday play.