These were the cards that shaped the tournament, that sparked discussions and were the most debated, the cards that won games and turned Grand Prix Manchester into an event to remember ...
Release the Kraken! A full team of English players showed up with an innovative deck that aimed to land Dictate of Kruphix early on and lock up the game with Scourge the Fleets and Whelming Wave later on. Most of them sank during the swiss rounds, but Daniel Entwisle finished in 30th place with the deck. Scourge the Fleets doesn't care what is on the other side of the table. It could be a Prognostic Sphinx with hexproof. It could be nine 1/1 Soldier tokens from Elspeth, Sun's Champion. Or it could be an indestructible Fleecemane Lion. Doesn't matter; Scourge the Fleets will bounce everything equally well. And its creature type comes in handy for Whelming Wave!
Expecting a tournament filled with green midrange decks, most players wanted to tune their decks for the mirror matches. Ajani, Mentor of Heroes is a great way to do just that, as can go over the top of what other people are doing and can give you some card advantage at any stage of the game. On Saturday morning, the card dealers already mentioned Ajani as part of their bestseller lists. Later on Saturday, Matej Zatlkaj said that he expected this to be a breakout tournament for the planeswalker. And when the Top 8 was announced, there were multiple decks with Ajani left standing. Top 8 competitor Valentin Mackl mentioned that he would have liked to have had even more Ajani in his main deck, so this planeswalker may have a promising future.
The event saw a resurgence of mono-black decks which many players, after their bad showing at Pro Tour Journey into Nyx, had written off already. All too soon because, as it turned out, there still was some life left in the undead. Both Sebastian Knörr and Nikolas Labahn utilized the lack of Dark Betrayals in other people's sideboards to clinch a berth in the playoffs. While running wildly different versions of mono-black, one very aggressive, the other very control-oriented, both their decks included Herald of Torment, heralding the universal appeal of the card. Pro Tour champion Samuele Estratti even put it into his black-green-white midrange deck with the express purpose to bestow it upon Courser of Kruphix and kill an opposing Elspeth, Sun's Champion.
If it weren't for the ubiquitous Sylvan Caryatid, Fleecemane Lion might be the best two-drop in the format. It can attack into Caryatid, it dodges Drown in Sorrow and Magma Jet, and it is still a good draw in the late-game as well. While the power of Fleecemane Lion was already showcased by Patrick Chapin in Atlanta, this weekend has shown that the 3/3 fits in Naya as well. Both Valentin Mackl and Marcio Carvalho made it to the Top 8 with four Fleecemane Lions in their Naya decks, and the Lion stories don't stop there: Craig Jones was raising eyebrows all weekend by making Fleecemane Lion monstrous and bestowing Chromanticore on it, safe from Silence the Believers due to the Lion's hexproof. Roar!
To be honest, though, Courser of Kruphix and his smaller sidekick Sylvan Caryatid were the most influential and dominant cards of the tournament by far. 73% of all players who had made it to the second day of competition here in Manchester had Courser of Kruphix in their decks and many a game began with the one-two punch, or rather one-two block, of Caryatid and Courser. Certainly one of the central building blocks of the block, it will be particularly interesting to see whether Theros's midrange decks can translate to the Standard format after the rotation in the fall.