1,734 entered, just 193 returned.
Plus some others to play in side events. But, come on, we're doing a thing here.
Among those 193 returning to vie for the Grand Prix trophy are a few who are no strangers to Sunday success. Headlining that crew is No. 11 Alexander Hayne, who leads a gang of 9-0 players that dominated the first day with careful play and winning strategies. Stu Somers, Nick Sefert, Kyle Boggemes, and Jeffrey Pyka round out the 9-0 club.
But there's a bevy of experience trailing just behind them ready to pounce on the slightest misstep, including No. 16 Josh McClain, David Ochoa, Brad Nelson, Ari Lax, Eric Froehlich, Pat Cox, Brian Kibler and Luis-Scott Vargas. They've all been there before, and it would surprise no one to hear any one of these names announced along with the rest of the Top 8.
The field as a whole has been diverse, with decks ranging from Jund Monsters to Boros Burn to Black Devotion to Esper Control to Blue Devotion to Bant Midrange all finding success. Plus about a million more archetypes. Standard is seriously wide open.
So pick your favorite deck, your favorite player, your favorite card, and strap in. We've got six rounds of Standard coming your way plus a tension-packed Top 8, all leading up to the crowning of the Grand Prix Cincinnati Champion.
by Corbin HoslerRound 13 Feature MatchDavid Ochoa vs. Jacob Maynard
by Blake RasmussenQuick QuestionWhat has been your best sideboard card?
by Corbin HoslerDay 2 Metagame Breakdown
by Blake RasmussenDeck TechOrzhov White Weenie with Patrick Cox
by Blake RasmussenRound 12 Feature MatchAlexander Hayne (Esper Control) vs. Jeffrey Pyka (Uw Devotion)
by Corbin HoslerRound 11 Feature MatchNo. 11 Alexander Hayne (White-Blue Control) vs. Nick Seifert (Mono-Black Devotion)
by Blake RasmussenRound 10 Feature MatchJeffrey Pyka (Uw Devotion) vs. Stu Somers (Mono Black Devotion)
by Corbin HoslerDay 1 Undefeated Decklists
by Event Coverage StaffDay 1 Blog
by Event Coverage StaffInfo: Fact Sheet
Day 1 Undefeated Decklists
Round 10 Feature Match – Jeffrey Pyka (Uw Devotion) vs. Stu Somers (Mono Black Devotion)
Of the five 9-0 decks heading into this round, fully four of them have registered some number of Thoughtseizes. Stu Somers, who made the trek from Pittsburgh despite being sick and had proceeded to rattle off an undefeated Day 1 anyway, was one of them, expertly piloting Mono Black Devotion through a hostile field.
The one exception to the Thoughtseize rule, however, is Jeffrey Pyka, who braved the elements and mastered his Uw Devotion deck all the way to the feature match area this round. And, coincidently, Somers' path somewhat already crossed with Pyka.
"Stu, right? You beat my friend in the last round."
Pyka didn't seem too bothered by it, laughing heartily at the coincidence. In fact, Pyka didn't seem bothered by much. Even when he made his own misplays he'd smile, nod, offer a quick "ok" and move on with a joke or quip about how the match was going.
How did the match go? Well, that's why we're here. Read on to find out.
It was a clash of Devotions in Round 10, as each player pledged their allegiance to a different slice of the color pie.
Somers opted for a no-frills Mono Black Devotion deck, eschewing even the fashionable main-deck Lifebane Zombies that others started picking up on. It wasn't flashy, but it was certainly effective.
Pyka, meanwhile, was playing the Blue Devotion with as many frills as the deck could afford. He was sporting the white splash for Detention Sphere and Ephara, God of the Polis. No. 5 Sam Black said yesterday that he didn't like the white splash but that its biggest advantage was its better matchup against Black Devotion. With Ephara, it could play a better attrition game, and with Detention Sphere, Pack Rat wasn't game over like it often was for blue devotion. Pyka more or less agreed, saying he chose the white splash for "power over consistency."
Pyka has already played multiple Black Devotion decks this weekend and has yet to drop a game, a fact he attributes to the white splash. He claimed that, when it was Mono Blue, he felt just slightly advantaged over Black Devotion. But now he says the matchup is "more like 80-20."
Removal, removal, removal, Desecration Demon, Gray Merchant.
Oh, you want more than that?
Well, Somers started out strong with a second turn Pack Rat and an Underworld Connections, but lost his Connections to a Detention Sphere and, eventually, the Pack Rats as well. Pyka tried to pull ahead with Ephara, but it was the only creature he had, oddly enough, and it fell to Devour Flesh while sitting next to an un-animated Thassa, God of the Sea. It was an odd situation that Pyka said has just never come up before and, thus, he wasn't really even aware Ephara was turned on until Somers asked.
So, at this point, by my count, removal, removal, removal, impotent God.
Somers was stuck on four lands for a few turns, but that just meant his hand was full of gas. Pyka kept trying to resolve creatures and increase his devotion, but every single time Somers had some kind of removal.
So, still, removal, removal, removal, still existing impotent god of the sea.
Then, Desecration Demon. It started crashing in every turn, laying waste to either Pyka's life total or his creature base.
That's how it went for about six turns. Pyka would play some kind of threat, Somers would have removal, and they'd do the dance again the following turn. Eventually, however, Somers got in a large enough hit to put Pyka in range of a Gray Merchant. With no maindeck counterspells and no way to interact at instant speed, Pyka could simply pick up his cards—many of which were already conveniently stacked in the graveyard.
For the second game, Pyka got off to the kind of start he wanted, getting in some early damage with a Frostburn Weird, punctuating the point with a "Bam" before playing both Thassa, God of the Sea and Ephara, God of the Polis.
Once again, Somers had the early removal and, once again, started placing cards in his graveyard almost immediately. This time however, it was Nightveil Specter laying the beats instead of Desecration Demon.
The bigger difference, however, was that Pyka was able to actually activate both Ephara and Thassa, swinging in for a massive 11 damage and dropping Somers all the way to six with one massive attack.
But here Pyka made an almost costly mistake. After leaving a Detention Sphere on the top of his deck with a scry, he forgot to resolve his Ephara trigger and failed to draw it. That let Somers grab it with Nightveil Specter and, a few turns later, actually cast it off an Island.
It could have been disastrous, but Somers, after trying to fight through both Thassa and Ephara for several turns, was out of gas anyway, and simply fell to a single Mutavault attack for the final points of damage.
For the second game, things got a little weird. Lifebane Zombie revealed a speculative hand that couldn't cast much but had tons of gas if it could ever reach the more than two mana Pyka had at his disposal.
He missed the first turn, but started hitting after that. Detention Sphere kept him in the game, and Thassa pushed him into the lead.
If that sentence makes it seem like Somers was standing still while Pyka drew out of his mana screw, that's because, well, he pretty much was. Somers was now the one stuck on mana, unable to garner anything past a third land. As Pyka kept hitting his lands and getting Thassa active even in the face of removal, the Mono Black player fell further and further behind.
Eventually, Master of Waves added a second major threat to the board, and, constrained on mana as he was, Somers just wasn't able to keep up with Pyka's growing army.
Pyka said it was games like the second that led him to playing the white splash, able to throw haymakers and permanently answer just about anything with Detention Sphere. Even if he stumbled, he had a much easier time coming back where, in the past, the deck could have trouble doing just that.
Round 11 Feature Match - No. 11 Alexander Hayne (White-Blue Control) vs. Nick Seifert (Mono-Black Devotion)
It's hard to pick a favorite in a field of more than 1,700 players, but from the start of Grand Prix Cincinnati the miracle man Alexander Hayne was near the top of that list. And by the time Day 2 began, the Canadian stood alone atop it after an undefeated 9-0 start.
He followed that up with another win to start off Sunday, and in Round 11 squared off against Nick Seifert in a matchup of two of the final undefeated players. With a win, Hayne would continue his seemingly-inevitable march toward the Top 8 and possibly his fourth Grand Prix title in eight months.
On the other side sat Nick Seifert; and while his hot streak may not be as impressive as Hayne's, he did cash at the largest-ever Constructed Grand Prix in Richmond two weeks ago.
What else could Hayne be playing? After bursting onto the scene two years by winning Pro Tour Avacyn Restored with a white-blue control deck and taking down Grand Prix Vancouver in January with another, there could be no doubt that Hayne would be battling with the same in Cincinnati.
Seifert also kept it simple, playing Mono-Black Control without any splashes, something that put 23 players into Day 2, the second-most of any archetype behind Esper Control.
It's a matchup that revolves around incremental advantages and pacing rather than huge haymakers, though there would be several of those to come.
Game 1 was an exercise of patience, something Hayne showed he had plenty of as Pack Rats began to gather on Seifert's side of the field. A Supreme Verdict eventually cleared out the pack and was followed by a Jace, Architect of Thought, but the mono-black player fought back with a Desecration Demon and then a Thoughtseize.
Unfortunately for Seifert, that Thoughtseize revealed a loaded grip for Hayne, who had prioritized making his land drops with his Jace and Scry triggers. With two Sphinx's Revelation in Hayne's hand, Seifert was forced to strip away the Elspeth, Sun's Champion, allow Hayne to draw four and then six with Revelation, and settle in for the long game.
But Hayne wasn't prepared to let it get that far. He issued another Verdict and used a Last Breath to take out one of the two Mutavaults Seifert was using to stay in the game. When Hayne was able to able to use his final open mana to Syncopate a crucial Underworld Connections after attacks and then land an Ætherling on the next turn Seifert quickly suggested the pair move on to Game 2.
"You're the first person who has been able to get off a big Revelation against me,' Seifert lamented. "I've played against it a few times, but I have been able to keep them off it until this match."
While Hayne was the one enjoying all the card advantage in Game 1, that quickly changed in the next contest. Seifert got into the red zone for three consecutive turns with a pair of Mutavaults until Hayne tapped out for Jace, Architect of Thought. That gave him a window to resolve the all-important Underworld Connections, which he used to keep the supply of cards coming. Hayne fought back with an Elspeth, Sun's Champion to join Jace, and she began ticking up toward her ultimate while Seifert worked at Hayne's life total with a Gray Merchant of Asphodel.
But for all the cards Seifert saw, he never saw the most important one for this situation: a Hero's Downfall for the Elspeth he was staring down. That allowed Elspeth to activate her Ultimate and send a host of tokens into the air to seal the win and keep Hayne perfect on the weekend.
Round 12 Feature Match – Alexander Hayne (Esper Control) vs. Jeffrey Pyka (Uw Devotion)
Do I really need to introduce No. 11 Alexander Hayne again?
Look, I know he's in the feature match area again. As his native Canadians would say—"sorry."
Except I'm not, really. Insane Hayne, as he's come to be known, lives up to his moniker, especially when it comes to Standard, and especially when it comes to playing Sphinx's Revelation control decks. Like, multiple Grand Prix wins. Not Top 8s. Wins. A win this weekend would be his fourth Grand Prix win in the last year. Really, the only negative thing you can say is that it's been a while since he won a Pro Tour. Which he's also done.
Jeffrey Pyka didn't have Hayne's resume by a long shot, but he was quickly getting used to the feature match area. The reason?
He and Hayne are the last two undefeated players. At 11-0, they were closing in on clinching Top 8 berths and immortality. But, first, they had to get through each other.
They might have shared a mana base, but their philosophy was quite different. Hayne was sporting a Sphinx's Revelation-based control deck that liked to beat up on aggressive strategies, pretty similar to the one he won his last Grand Prix with.
Pyka, on the other hand, had in hand the newest evolution of Blue Devotion, splashing white for Detention Sphere, Ephara, God of the Polis, and a few sideboard cards. Though Mono Blue had been faring poorly this weekend, Pyka was doing quite well by joining the Azorius Guild.
Game one tended to favor the Supreme Verdict player, but Pyka gained a lot of tools for the second and third games, including more Planeswalkers, counterspells and disruptive elements.
The match started slowly, just like Hayne liked it. He casually Syncopated a Thassa, God of the Sea on turn three, then dug a little deeper with Azorius Charm before dispatching of the sea god's Bident with Detention Sphere. A slow pace was just fine with him.
But things picked up considerably when a Nightveil Specter was able to break through and pluck a Jace, Architect of Thought from the top of Hayne's library. Hayne dispatched it with a Mutavault the following turn, but quite a bit of damage was already done. Despite the slow start and Hayne's removal, Pyka still had a hand full of gas and plenty of land to play them out.
So play them out he did. After Nightveil Specter was hit with Azorius Charm, Pyka unloaded some of those excess cards with Cloudfin Raptor and Master of Waves. That prompted a Supreme Verdict, but Pyka simply started getting in with Mutavaults while playing out just one threat at a time. In this case, the Nightveil Specter returned.
But Hayne wasn't without his own recourse, in this case, an Elspeth, Sun's Champion.
Hayne could only smirk as the Sphere removed his Planeswalker, and a second Sphere (from Pyka's own hand) took out the tokens guarding the replacement. With no Sphinx's Revelation showing up to save him, Hayne quickly succumbed to Pyka's growing army.
Once again, Pyka was careful in the second game not to expose too many threats at once to Hayne's removal. Frostburn Weird got in for a shot of four damage before giving way to Master of Waves with just a single token. Pyka wouldn't even cast anything in to open mana after Hayne telegraphed Dissolve by playing a Hallowed Fountain untapped.
The problem for Hayne wasn't Pyka's deliberate play, however, it was the lack of a fourth land at any reasonable point in the game. Forced to tap down to deal with Master of Waves, Hayne was simply ill-equipped to fight back against pretty much anything, including the pair of Bident of Thassa's that turned Mutavault into an Ophidian.
Hayne gamely made a show of it, removing one or two things, but he ended up having to make a risky play just to have a shot at winning—casting Archangel of Thune when he finally drew lands—but lost to, you guessed it, Detention Sphere.
That left Jeffrey Pyka as the last man standing at 12-0.
Deck Tech - Orzhov White Weenie with Patrick Cox
It wasn't all that long ago that No. 4 Ben Stark made the Top 4 of Grand Prix Dallas/Ft. Worth with a mostly white Orzhov Aggro deck.
Just four months, actually. And since then the deck has even received the gift of Brimaz, King of Oreskos as well as Spirit of the Labyrinth, if it wants yet. Yet despite Stark's success, despite Brimaz, King of Oreskos, absolutely no one is playing it.
No one except Pat Cox.
Pat Cox has steadfastly stayed true to his White Weenie build and found success nearly every step of the way.
And it's not like Cox is doing poorly with it. He narrowly missed a Top 8 in Albuquerque—splashing red instead of black and finishing 9th for his trouble—and sits at 9-2 after 11 rounds this weekend, well on pace for Top 8 contention.
So let's do some learning on the latest incarnation of White Weenie.
The deck starts with its slate of imposing one-drops. With Dryad Militant, Soldier of the Pantheon, and Boros Elite, white has access to more quality one-drops than any other color, and two of them even actually do a thing besides attack and block. Militant's ability is rarely relevant, but Cox said Soldier of the Pantheon randomly hoses some decks, especially those relying on Detention Sphere.
The quality of its two and three drops are pretty much unmatched as well. Daring Skyjek is the weak link, but the deck actively wants to attack with as many creatures as possible, so it's often just a 3/1 flier for two mana. Just as important is its ability to attack through Sylvan Caryatid even when grounded.
That third point of power is also why Spirit of the Labyrinth made the cut. Cox said the ability rarely matters, but the extra power is important for getting in damage and getting through Sylvan Caryatid. Since multiple Imposing Sovereigns are redundant, Cox simply replaced one with the newest addition to the white weenie pantheon.
Beyond that, Cox filled out the deck with Brimaz, King of Oreskos and Banisher Priest. Cox hasn't been as impressed with Brimaz, King of Oreskos as he was originally, and actually claims it's about on power level with Banisher Priest. Plus, he added, casting Brimaz, King of Oreskos on turn three against a Supreme Verdict deck is just asking to get wiped out.
Additionally, the split between Spear of Heliod and Ajani, Caller of the Pride is mostly a function of the fact that Cox thinks Ajani is just better. The ultimate doesn't come into play often, but the first two abilities have been aces for the Channelfireball player.
But the real key to the deck, and the reason to play a White Weenie strategy instead of Black or Red aggro, is Brave the Elements.
"Brave does a lot of work," Cox said. "It's a Falter, it's a counterspell, it's a combat trick. It does everything."
You might have noticed that, so far, we haven't mentioned any black cards. First, be patient. Second, good eye!
You see, Cox has played the core of the deck splashing other colors—notably red—before, but came back to black for the sideboard cards. Doom Blade helps against Monsters, Thoughtseize helps against things Thoughtseize helps against, and Dark Betrayal makes the Black Devotion deck slightly more palatable.
But the real star in Cox's mind is Xathrid Necromancer, which is virtually impossible to beat for decks that have to kill things naturally. It's really only weak to Anger of the Gods, a card no one is playing in Standard.
Speaking of cards no one is playing, Cox only feels comfortable playing the deck because Black Devotion decks have left Shrivel and Drown in Sorrow at home. Were they to come back, or were Anger of the Gods to become a thing, he'd have to change his tune.
But for now, Cox is pretty happy to play against pretty much anything except Mono Black Devotion, and even that match can be close with Dark Betrayal.
So with another strong finish in sight for Cox, only one question remains:
Why aren't you playing it?
Day 2 Metagame Breakdown
Coming into Grand Prix Cincinnati, one of the widespread beliefs was that the king of the format, Mono-Black Devotion, was dead.
When one falls, another must rise. In this case, Esper Control. Of course, reports of mono-black's demise may have been slightly exaggerated, since it was the second-most represented deck on Day 2.
Here's the full list, in case you're curious.
Day 2 Metagame Breakdown
Of course, that's a pretty broad breakdown, and doesn't take into account any of the popular variations on the decks, so let's look at how that breaks down.
The vast majority of players who chose to cast Sphinx's Revelation did so with Esper, using traditional black removal and discard to clear the way for their threats.
A few others are sticking to the more basic White-Blue version, which adds consistency at the expense of Thoughtseize, while replacing Doom Blade and Ultimate Price with Last Breath. Both versions have found success this weekend, with Alexander Hayne and his white-blue deck leading the way.
And there are four others who went in a completely different direction, utilizing green to take advantage of new fish on the block Kiora, the Crashing Wave.
The most-played variant was black-red, with nine copies of the deck that has propelled Eric Froehlich and David Ochoa to success this weekend. The deck uses red to splash powerful cards like Rakdos's Return and Slaughter Games, which along Sire of Insanity make the control matchup much more favorable.
The other mainstay of the format, Mono-Blue Devotion is much more slanted to include a second color than mono-black is. Eleven of the 21 Blue Devotion players chose to battle with white cards in their decks, utilizing Ephara, God of the Polis and Detention Sphere to keep the cards coming and the Pack Rats in check.
We've got enough Monsters to fill a zoo in Day 2, and again we see the trend towards a splash. There were 16 players who chose to battle with the Jund-colored version of the resurgent deck, and even one that chose to splash white instead to play Advent of the Wurm.
If there could be a surprise deck of the weekend in a format this advanced, that deck would be White-Black Midrange. Taking the Mono-Black Devotion shell but cutting out the Devotion cards in favor of Blood Baron of Vizkopa, Obzedat, Ghost Council or even Brimaz, King of Oreskos alongside Elspeth, Sun's Champion.
The success of White-Black, much like the Br Devotion decks, can be attributed to a better matchup against the Sphinx's Revelation decks. Blood Baron of Vizkopa and Obzedat are resilient to many forms of removal, while Elspeth presents a threat that usually takes multiple cards to answer.
After placing two copies into the Top 16 of Grand Prix Buenos Aries last weekend, the Boros players were out in force in Cincinnati. Sixteen of them advanced to Day 2 with the white-red burn deck that eschews most creatures in favor of covering their opponent in flames. The deck is fast enough to race the aggressive decks while also dodging most of the removal spells from the control decks.
The other breakout deck from last weekend, three players took the black-green graveyard deck into Day 2. Based around filling up the graveyard with cards like Commune with the Gods and Grisly Salvage. That allows underused cards Nighthowler and the draft-leftover Nemesis of Mortals to get very big, very quickly.
It even makes use of Deathrite Shaman in Standard. What more could you want?
Everyone knows all the fun stuff is in the "Other" section, and Cincinnati didn't disappoint. Among the decks that put two or fewer copies into Day 2 there was a smattering of the rest of the format.
Aggressive strategies were well-represented, with Mono-Black Aggro and Mono-Red Aggro putting three players into Day 2, while flavors of Devotion from red, green and white all appeared as well. Evan Edwards was even spotted casting Prime Speaker Zegana in his blue-red-green deck.
Quick Question: What has been your best sideboard card?
With such a diverse field and with the amount of tweaking being done looking to gain an edge on the field, sideboards take on a greater importance than normal. The right card in your final 15 can turn your tournament around. The wrong one can sit there forlornly wishing it were something, anything else that could help you keep up.
So we asked some of the players who are doing well this weekend what their best sideboard cards have been.
Round 13 Feature Match - David Ochoa vs. Jacob Maynard
It was a lively feature match area in Round 13, with a pair of matches going on that came complete with their own commentary.
Grand Prix Columbus champ Jacob Maynard faced off against ChannelFireball pro David Ochoa in the coverage match while Jared Boettcher and Clyde Martin squared off next to them. All four were in Top 8 contention but if they were nervous it didn't show, and they spent a few minutes before the round began swapping stories.
"So David, how did you do last weekend at Montreal?"
"I went into Day 2 at 8-1, and then I went 1-2 went a solid deck and 3-0 with a steaming pile that did happen to do some sweet things," replied Ochoa, who finished 10th at the Limited event last weekend.
Of course, all the banter soon faded as the players settled in for the match. Well, Maynard and Ochoa did anyway. Martin and Boettcher, who took the match 2-0, kept up their running commentary throughout the games, to the amusement of everyone in the feature match area.
The top tables have been a sea of Esper Control and Mono-Black Devotion, but the matchup between Ochoa and Maynard presented something different.
Ochoa is still on black Devotion but is splashing red for a list that Eric Froehlich designed for the tournament. The two cut the once-staple Pack Rat and added Rakdos's Return to the maindeck, which along with sideboard cards Slaughter Games and Sire of Insanity vastly improve the control matchup.
Maynard, on the other hand, went about as rogue as you can in Standard. Piloting Naya Auras, he takes advantage of tough-to-remove threats Witchstalker and Gladecover Scout to pick up the draft bomb enchantment Unflinching Courage and a host of other enchantments to try and ignore everything that isn't their opponent's life total.
Ochoa happened to have both. And that's bad news when you're relying on a single 1/1 to pick up some buffs and go the distance.
The glades couldn't cover the scout from Devour Flesh, and Thoughtseize a turn later took out Ajani, Caller of the Pride. That was enough to clear the way for Ochoa's Desecration Demon to take big chunks out of Maynard's life total despite the Voice of Resurgence that picked up an Unflinching Courage.
As soon as the game ended, the banter resumed, with Maynard remarking that he was 3-0 against black Devotion this weekend.
"Not looking good for me then..." Ochoa replied.
"But you won Game 1!"
A sheepish grin and a shrug from Ochoa.
"Yeah, I guess I did," as the table laughed.
Ochoa looks over his hand as he tries to figure out the best way to handle Maynard's Hexproof threats. Even after winning Game 1, Ochoa wasn't feeling good about his chances.
Much like Game 1, Game 2 hinged on a single play. It began on turn two when Ochoa tried to use a Devour Flesh on Maynard during his attack phase but a Selesnya Charm made a knight to fall on the sword instead, setting up a defining turn three.
During one of Ochoa's feature matches on Saturday, he was able to blow out his Esper opponent with Bile Blight when the control player animated two Mutavaults after one went unscathed the turn before.
Ochoa said then he always touches the stove twice, and that turned out to be the difference in Sunday's game. Rather than cast a second Devour Flesh in his main phase while Maynard was tapped out, Ochoa saved it again until the attack step, hoping that Maynard would add another enchantment onto the Gladecover Scout before forcing him to sacrifice it.
Despite the mistake, which Ochoa scolded himself on in between games, it looked like he would get away with it after Maynard mulliganed to five cards in Game 3 and Ochoa cast Thoughtseize for three straight turns before landing an Underworld Connections and a Desecration Demon.
Of course, the one card Thoughtseize can't answer is the one on top of the deck, and that's exactly what happened. Maynard found the lands he needed on top of his deck, followed by the Gladecover Scout and enchantments that he needed to grow it.
Still, it wasn't a race he was going to win. That is, until Ajani came off the top to give the Scout flying and double strike to end the game in one huge attack.
The win put Maynard two victories away from the Top 8, and after the match he was confident the deck could take down the tournament.
"It's something a lot of decks just can't interact with," he said. "It hits the format from a different angle. I've always played Affinity because I liked to play aggressive and kind of ignore what the opponent is doing, and this deck does that.
"Two more wins to get there."