172 players returned Sunday morning for six more rounds of Standard at Grand Prix Phoenix. Leading the competitors at the top of the standings are Michael Peterson, No. 6 Ranked Player Shahar Shenhar, No. 23 Ranked Player Eric Froehlich, Grand Prix San Diego 2013 Champion Nathan Holiday, and 2012 Magic Online Champion Dmitriy Butakov.
Butakov in particular stands out as the lone combatant not representing one of the recognized Standard archetypes from the previous three weekends. The Magic Online player from Russia is taking advantage of his trip to the United States to compete in last weekend's 2013 Magic Online Championship in order to compete in a Grand Prix or two while he is here. His Bant Control deck, an interesting departure from his choice of Esper Control in last weekend's tournament and an old standby of his from the Magic Online events, gives him some unique tools, but will they be enough to maintain his solid record?
The Standard format has been evolving week to week, and with players bringing the latest versions of the popular archetypes here to battle, how will it shape from this weekend? And more to the point, who will walk away with the title of Grand Prix Phoenix 2014 Champion? Find out today as we bring you live coverage from Arizona!
by Adam StyborskiSunday, 4:12 p.m.Top Tables Metagame – Round 14
by Mike RosenbergRound 13 Feature MatchPhilip Arcuni (Naya Hexproof) vs. David Ochoa (B/r Devotion)
by Adam StyborskiSunday, 1:40 p.m.Top Tables Metagame – Round 12
by Mike RosenbergRound 10 Feature MatchDmitriy Butakov (Bant Control) vs. (6) Shahar Shenhar (Esper Control)
by Adam StyborskiSunday, 11:51 a.m.Day Two Metagame Breakdown
by Event Coverage StaffDay 1 Undefeated Decklists
by Event Coverage StaffDay 1 Blog
by Event Coverage StaffInfo: Fact Sheet
Day 1 Undefeated Decklists
Sunday, 11:51 a.m. – Day Two Metagame Breakdown
Throughout Day One we watched the top tables metagame progress closer and closer to what everyone had been expecting for the weekend: Black Devotion and Esper Control, with plenty of Blue Devotion, Monsters, and Burn – each of several flavors.
The truth is slightly more complex:
This is a pie chart of the top ten most played archetypes, and these are true archetypes: Distinct flavors of Black Devotion are broken out, and well as the two takes on the Monsters and Blue Devotion archetypes. For those that'd like to do the counting at home, this is the complete list of all archetypes in Day Two:
|Blue Devotion (White)||10|
|Black Devotion (Red)||7|
|Black Devotion (White)||7|
|Black Devotion (Blue)||2|
|Red Devotion (White)||2|
|Red-Green Devotion (Colossal Gruul)||1|
However, summarizing the core archetypes together paints a familiar picture to Day One:
When we pull together the different builds of archetypes, Black Devotion maintains its lion's share of the field. The rest of Day Two matches up to Day One, with Blue Devotion and Monsters both roughly equal to Esper Control's presence. These four archetypes combined are two-thirds of Day Two metagame, followed distantly by Boros Burn and, interestingly, Bant Control (which had one representative remaining undefeated through Round 10).
As Pro Tour Hall of Fame member William Jensen shared yesterday, it's clear the metagame tweaks among the core archetypes are what most players considered coming into Phoenix. How the emergent Bant Control deck fits into the metagame leveling the rest of the field brought is a question perhaps only the Top 8 will answer.
Round 10 Feature Match - Dmitriy Butakov (Bant Control) vs. (6) Shahar Shenhar (Esper Control)
For those who followed last weekend's 2013 Magic Online Championship coverage, you may have noticed that 2012 Magic Online Champion Dmitriy Butakov made an attempt at back-to-back titles with Esper Control. This week, he brought a Sphinx's Revelation deck to battle, but it switched from one shard of Alara to another: from Esper (white/blue/black) to Bant (white/blue/green).
While it seemed like Butakov was an Esper player switching out black for green if you've only been following Butakov's performance offline and online for the past two to three weeks, Bant Control – also nicknamed Bant Superfriends on various online forums eluding to a trio of powerful planeswalkers – was actually Butakov's preferred archetype.
"I actually played Bant Control a while ago for months, and it just stopped winning," said Butakov. "I think it was a down-streak and I don't think it's fair to blame the deck. I didn't have the guts to take it to the MOC [Magic Online Championship], and since I couldn't test at Grand Prix Vienna [his laptop broke during that week], I had to play safely."
In terms of why he selected Bant Control, Butakov's answer was straight-forward. "Kiora gives you an edge against Mono-Black and Mistcutter Hydra gives you an edge against other blue control decks," he said.
Going into Round 10 against No. 6 Ranked Player Shahar Shenhar, who was playing Esper Control, there was a chance that those Mistcutter Hydras would become handy. However, the match would certainly not be easy for either player. While Butakov was playing the deck he is the most familiar with, Shenhar is far from a stranger to blue-control either. After all, it was a blue deck that helped earn him the 2013 World Championship title last summer, albeit with more powerful spells from the Modern format.
The two sat down and got ready to clash in an epic battle of card-draw and planeswalkers.
Any action taking place early could be summarized as follows: scry lands, scrying, the occasional Azorius Charm cycle, and both players skipping an early game in favor of a more powerful late game.
With seven lands in play for each players, Butakov went for Jace, Architect of Thought. Shenhar let it resolve, and Jace went down to two loyalty, netting Butakov a land and a Supreme Verdict, the latter of which hit the graveyard due to Butakov having too many cards in hand. Jace was quickly put into a Detention Sphere by Shenhar on the next turn, and Shenhar passed with plenty of lands, but fewer cards than Butakov.
Then, Shenhar passed without playing his ninth land. Butakov felt content to activate and attack with Mutavault, drawing out a Last Breath from Shenhar. On the next turn, an untapped Temple Garden signaled Sphinx's Revelation, which came down for three at the end of Shenhar's turn. Elspeth, Sun's Champion met Dissolve, and Butakov discarded some redundant removal.
Butakov tried for Kiora, the Crashing Wave on the next turn, which warranted a Syncopate for seven from Shenhar. Butakov let the counter through, then fired back with Dissolve when Shenhar found and attempted to cast Jace, Architect of Thought. Butakov attempted a second Elspeth, Sun's Champion, which resolves and immediately made three tokens. Shenhar passed with no action on his next turn, and the tokens began their attack. Another turn, and Elspeth made three more tokens. Again, three more arrived. Another turn from Shenhar warranted nothing, and Elspeth again increased the size of her army, threatening ultimate.
At the end of Butakov's turn, Shenhar went for a Sphinx's Revelation for four. This warranted Syncopate from Butakov for four. Shenhar fired back with Dissolve, but lost the counter-war to Butakov's Syncopate for one, denying him the powerful card draw, and cementing the theme of the game: Butakov was aiming to out-attrition Shenhar in sheer cards, and was succeeding.
Shenhar had Supreme Verdict to wipe away Butakov's token army, but the game was bleak for Shenhar. Butakov had denied him any sort of card-drawing power, Shenhar was burning cards to not lose to Elspeth's tokens, and Butakov was burying his opponent in his own card draw instead. The planeswalkers and extra draw power proved to be too much for Shenhar to overcome, and turn-after-turn, Butakov whittled Shenhar's non-lands down to virtually nothing, with a Dissolve at the ready for a top-decked Sphinx's Revelation if it were to come, nevermind that Shenhar would have to deal with three potent planeswalkers even if a Revelation did resolve for him.
Then, Shenhar led with a Thoughtseize. Butakov grimaced, and aimed Dissolve at the discard-spell. In response, Shenhar fired off Sphinx's Revelation for eight, and Shenhar suddenly went from dire straights to a glimmer of hope. However it would be an up-hill battle, as Elspeth, Sun's Champion netted Butakov an emblem on the next turn, giving his tokens and his Mutavault some added oomph.
The second game had an interesting start, with Shenhar casting and resolving Nightveil Specter. This prompted Kiora, the Crashing Wave from Butakov, which went up to three loyalty in order to lock Nightveil Specter down for a turn. Shenhar responded with Detention Sphere, and when no lands came, Butakov cast Jace, Architect of Thought. The pile was split between two Dissolves and Kiora, the Crashing Wave, with Butakov taking the planeswalker and passing without his fifth land.
Shenhar had Jace, Architect of his own, which got him a land and Syncopate before his Specter took out Butakov's copy of the planeswalker. Shenhar passed with two up, but lossed his Jace to a Mistcutter Hydra for two from Butakov on the next turn. Nightveil Specter got Shenhar an Island on his first successful attack into Butakov. Elspeth, Sun's Champion met Negate, and a second Jace, Architect of Thought from Butakov found the Russian player two basic lands before succumbing to the Specter.
An attempt at a second Kiora, the Crashing Wave started a counter-war, with Shenhar coming out ahead. An attack from Nightveil Specter found Shenhar Jace, Architect of Thought, which he cast into Butakov's Negate, content to let his free spell off of the Specter go to the graveyard. Brimaz, King of Oreskos warranted Detention Sphere from Shenhar, which resolved after an ensuing counter-battle, but cleared the way for Butakov to resolve Elspeth, Sun's Champion. Jace, Architect of Thought came off of another Nightveil Specter attack, giving Shenhar another in-play threat as it went to five loyalty.
A second Nightveil Specter, however, walked into a drawn Detention Sphere for Butakov, exiling both of Shenhar's flying creatures. A Mutavault activation and the Hydra dropped Jace to three loyalty. Jace went to one, finding Shenhar a Dispel and Island, and when Shenhar passed, he unleashed a Sphinx's Revelation for six on Butakov's upkeep.
This cleared the way, however, for Butakov to resolve a top-decked Jace, Memory Adept, which went to work on depleting through Shenhar's deck. Despite having a full hand, Shenhar was now being attacked on two fronts, and when a Sphinx's Revelation for two found no answer out of the situation, Shenhar offered the handshake.
Butakov 2 – Shenhar 0
Sunday, 1:40 p.m. – Top Tables Metagame – Round 12
With the field established for Day Two all eyes turn towards the potential to Top 8, and each round another group of players fall off the path to glory. This the what the metagame for players aiming for Top 8 – that is, at least twenty-seven points (with one match paired down to a player with twenty-six) – with just two losses:
|Blue Devotion (White)||5|
|Black Devotion (Red)||2|
While Black Devotion has been the boogeyman of Day One and Two, it's Blue Devotion (combining both mono-color and white-splashing versions) that's become the largest share of the metagame.
The four main archetypes now comprise 70% of metagame, effectively locking in some combination to appear in the Top 8. But why would Blue Devotion decks pick up steam as Day Two plays out? Sam Pardee, a Mono-Blue Devotion pilot with a Grand Prix finals appearance in Albuquerque, shared some answers.
"Esper used to be a really bad matchup, but it's getting to the point where that have so many tap lands and are so focused on fighting things other than the Blue Devotion deck it's gotten better. That match up improved a lot,"Pardee explained, regarding what's typically considered a bad match up for the deck. "Black Devotion cutting Nightveil Specter for Lifebane Zombie helped out as well since it doesn't effectively block anything while Nightveil can block all of our creatures. Against Monsters you're pretty favored: You have Tidebinder for their big dudes, and three different fliers they don't have any way to interact with."
With a splash-white version available, why had Pardee brought the mono-colored version? "Consistency of mana," Pardee said. "I didn't want to have tap lands against the Burn decks, and I didn't think Ephara, God of the Polis is good: Most decks aren't even running that card. I think Detention Sphere is fantastic but I prefer having one-mana answers like Rapid Hybridization. Against Polukranos, World Eater, having Rapid Hybridization in response to monstrous is huge."
Was this the time for Blue Devotion to return to the winner's circle? Perhaps the better question is what will the net result of players' metagame tweaks be? Three more rounds of players' choices would decide the Top 8.
Round 13 Feature Match – Philip Arcuni (Naya Hexproof) vs. David Ochoa (B/r Devotion)
For platinum pro David Ochoa, the first half of the season has been a difficult series of rough beats and heart-breaking finishes. The Northern California pro has gone to over a dozen Grand Prix events in the North America region, looking to build up a resume of five solid Grand Prix finishes, and with that, some much-coveted Pro Points to lock up Platinum.
While he landed a Top 16 finish recently, some rough waters prevented Ochoa from building on an impressive lead to only finishing at 40th place. His third loss of that event was against Naya Hexproof from Jacob Maynard, and going into this round, he found himself in a very similar predicament.
His opponent this round is Philip Arcuni, a Magic player from Santa Barbara, California, who has been battling through with his Naya Hexproof deck, and currently sits at 10-2 going into the thirteenth round.
The Naya Hexproof match-up is particularly rough for a Black Devotion deck, as many of the strategy's main deck cards are effectively blanked by the hexproof creatures in Arcuni's deck. While it isn't a match-up that is impossible to win, it does not put Ochoa in a favorable spot to take the game.
A second-turn Pack Rat from Ochoa was met with Gladecover Scout. However, the Rat looked a lot less scary from Ochoa when he passed without a third land. Voice of Resurgence from Arcuni elicited Devour Flesh from Ochoa, taking out the Scout, but it was simply replaced with another. Thoughtseize from ochoa revealed a hand of all spells: two Selesnya Charm, Ethereal Armor, and Madcap Skills. The red enchantment hit the graveyard, and again, Ochoa passed with no action.
And what little action he had, the Pack Rat, was Chained to the Rocked when Arcuni drew it on the next turn. Without the Pack Rat, a third land would not get Ochoa out of the predicament, and he promptly packed it in for the next game.
Ochoa led off the second game with a a first-turn Thoughtseize, eliciting a "Shoot!" from Arcuni who revealed a hand with Gladecover Scout, Voice of Resurgence, Madcap Skills, and lands. He discarded the Voice of Resurgence, passing to Arcuni who led with Temple of Plenty, keeping his card from the scry on top. Ochoa followed suit with Temple of Malice, seeing and leaving Pack Rat. Arcuni's Gladecover Scout entered play on the next turn.
Pack Rat came down for Ochoa, and a freshly drawn Voice of Resurgence was Arcuni's next play. Ochoa was not deterred though, casting Duress and robbing Arcuni of an Unflinching Courage. He played a land and passed with three open, using the mana to make a rat when Arcuni's only action was Fiendslayer Paladin.
...that is, until a Madcap Skills came off the top and onto the Fiendslayer Paladin. It attacked in, dropping Ochoa to 11 and bringing Arcuni to 23. That became 20 when a rat attacked in, with Ochoa keeping back two rats (one made that turn) along with an untapped Mutavault. With the rats becoming a large force, Arcuni's attacks became minimal, at least until Ajani, Caller of the Pride came down and gave the Fiendslayer Paladin double strike and flying. The Fiendslayer Paladin was sent in, dropping Ochoa to 1.
However, Ochoa kept calm, passing with all of his creatures untapped and a card in hand. When Arcuni sent in his whole team, Ochoa made a rat (his fourth), woke up Mutavault, and blocked all of Arcuni's creatures, two rats in front of the Madcap Skills-enhanced Fiendslayer Paladin. The resulting attack left Arcuni's board in ruins, with nothing but an elemental token from a Voice of Resurgence left over. An attack that, if Ochoa could not draw a Hero's Downfall, was also unnecessary, as Ajani could simply go up to two loyalty and then launch the Fiendslayer Paladin at Ochoa for lethal the next turn.
However, when another Madcap Skills came off the top on the next turn, it was all for naught, with Arcuni's lone elemental getting through for the final points of damage.
It was difficult to determine whether holding back a rat token was Ochoa's best option, to prevent an early demise to another Madcap Skills. In most cases, attacking in this case is correct, giving the opponent as few extra turns as possible. But the Pack Rat math can be very different, and hard to calculate in dire circumstances.
Nonetheless, Ochoa would have to wait until his next Grand Prix for a shot at Top 8, his chances denied in Phoenix after a rough round, a familiarly frustrating match-up, and a fate grimly similar to what took place two weeks ago in Cincinnati.
Arcuni 2 – Ochoa 0
Sunday, 4:12 p.m. – Top Tables Metagame – Round 14
Round 12 featured the rise of Blue Devotion decks – both mono-colored and white-splash takes – in an expected field of Black Devotion and Esper Control. With two rounds to go for the Top 8, this is what the field of players in striking distance looked like:
|Blue Devotion (White)||2|
|Black Devotion (Red)||1|
It looks a bit scattershot, right? But that's not the entire story.
|1||Holiday, Nathan||Mono-Blue Devotion||36-36||Berni, Robert*||Mono-Black Devotion|
|2||Froehlich, Eric^||Black Devotion (Red)||36-36||Bercovich, Brandon^||Mono-Black Devotion|
|3||Macurda, Art*||Jund Monsters||33-33||Mccoy, Kevin||Blue Devotion (White)|
|4||Ward, Daniel*||Bant Control||33-33||Lytle, Tyler||Mono-Red Aggro|
|5||McAtee, Brian||Red-Green Monsters||33-33||Ulanov, Denis*||Mono-Black Devotion|
|6||Mackl, Valentin||Blue Devotion (White)||33-33||White, Chad*||Red-Green Monsters|
|7||Arcuni, Philip||Naya Hexproof||33-33||Smith, Andrew*||Mono-Red Aggro|
|8||Wong, Gary*||Mono-Blue Devotion||33-33||Neal, Chris||Jund Monsters|
|9||Amato, Alex*||Mono-Red Aggro||33-33||Butakov, Dmitriy||Bant Control|
|10||Shenhar, Shahar||Esper Control||33-33||Levin, William*||Jund Monsters|
|11||Lee, Farand||Big Naya||33-31||Oliver, Neal*||Esper Control|
(Note: * denotes the winner of the Round 14 match; ^ denotes the match was an intentional draw.)
Here, things make more sense: Three Black Devotion decks and one Blue Devotion deck were the closest to securing their Top 8 place. The background of decks vying for Top 8 were Monsters varieties with several more of the smaller slices we watched throughout the weekend, and thanks to the tight clustering of results the Round 15 stage was set for seven matches that potentially matter.
At the start of Round 15, three Black Devotion decks looked locked with the strong chance that Bant Control would be there to. Blue Devotion and Mono-Red Aggro, and Monsters were all one more win away.
The strength of Blue Devotion had passed, just as it did for Monsters, from earlier rounds. This truly was the weekend apparent for Black Devotion. Would it be the Top 8 as well?