17-year old Brett Shears took down Your Move Games' rising star Danny Mandel in a hard fought championship match to claim the title Grand Prix Denver Champion. Spears was playing Magic back in L.A. when the scene was hot five years ago and he was 11. He made one junior Pro Tour and played one Masters Pro Tour before he left the game. All the new money that's available now, especially the Masters Series has brought him back. In addition, his friends have been doing well and his brother Steve won money at U.S. Nationals this year (placing 20th). All these factors combined to convince Shears to grab his friend Blake Quelle's blue-black-green control deck and board a bus with several other friends for the 24-hour ride to Denver. Grand Prix Denver was the first constructed event he's played in well over two years. While he did like the neo-Kowal design that Quelle handed him, he also didn't have any other choices because he doesn't own enough cards.
In my mind, the other big story of Grand Prix Denver was the amazingly diverse field. The 402 players ran something like thirty different archetypes. I don't think there has been a more balanced environment in the history of Magic. The rest of the IBC qualifier season should continue to reward skill and preparation because there simply is no deck you can just download and win with.
GP Denver's Top 8 was very high quality despite the fact that many American Pros decided to take the weekend off to relax after last week's grueling World Championships. The pros who did make the trip almost all finished in the money, and many of the names in the Top 8 are familiar to most Sideboard readers. Brock Parker continued his hot Grand Prix streak and backed up claims I've heard from more than one person that he's the best player in the game without a (Pro Tour) Top 8. Danny Mandel proved he's worthy of his Your Move Games shirt. Darwin Kastle, with his win at GP Columbus still fresh in everyone's mind, joined his teammate Mandel in the Top 8. And Alex Borteh showed the world that his second place finish at Worlds wasn't a fluke.
The top prize in the Amateur competition wasn't decided until the Top 8 quarterfinals, either. Both Mike Abraham and Aaron Knobloch made it into the single elimination rounds despite having zero career Pro Points. Both lost in the quarterfinals, so Abraham won the extra $500 because he finished higher in the Swiss.
Blue-Black-Red control had a real coming out party. It's been in the shadow of it's older brother Go-mar for months, and more people ran Go-mar (of one form or another) in Denver than ran U-B-R, but it was the U-B-R decks that rose to the top of the Swiss. Two of the five undefeated players after day 1 were running it and three members of the Top 8 ran it. Expect to run into increasing amounts of Nightscape Familiars, burn, permission, and card advantage at a qualifier near you.
This tournament also confirmed everyone's suspicion that blue is the best color. There's quite a variety of decks available, but a lot of them are blue. Seven of the Top 8 had Fact or Fiction main and Gainsay in the 'board. Geno Buffi (who was playing for Top 8 in the final round, but lost to Mike Abraham) actually had Gainsays in his main deck. His decision worked out for him - they were only dead once - and it looks pretty smart in retrospect too.
Perhaps the strangest thing to happen on Sunday was when Dave Price won the last round of the Swiss, but dropped from 8th to 9th place because most of his previous opponents who were still playing took intentional draws to get into the Top 8, while Brock Parker's and Brett Shears' previous opponents played and won, catapulted them past Price and knocking Price out of a Top 8 he thought he'd already clinched. Tables 1, 2, and 3 each agreed to intentional draws in the final round and Price had played against 5 of those 6 Top 8 bound players. Since draws count as one third of a win, this really hammered Price's 'breakers.