Top 5 Grand Prix Memories of 2012

Posted in The Week That Was on November 30, 2012

By Brian David-Marshall

Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

As we wind down for the holiday season here at I was looking back at the results from the last calendar year and was dumbstruck by the plethora of Grand Prix. The number of Grand Prix in 2012 more than doubled from twenty the previous year to forty-two in 2012—thirty-nine of which are in the books. Just about any weekend there was not a Prerelease, Release, or Pro Tour–level event going on you could find hundreds upon hundreds—thousands in some cases—of players gathered to try their hand against the game's best.

The run of events began last January in Austin with Raphael Levy hoisting the trophy and most recently we saw Tyler Lytle and Makahito Mihara holding hardware in San Antonio and Taipei. There are still three events to go, including live coverage from Grand Prix Lisbon this very weekend, but reserving the right to amend this list in their wake I wanted to look back at the five most enduring memories from the last calendar year of Grand Prix action.

#5—The Big Brewdown

"It's a brewer's world. Everyone else is just living in it."
—Conley Woods, Grand Prix Orlando winner, Daily Decks Author.

Standard was in the doldrums while the Magic community waited for the release of Dark Ascension to shake things up. Insectile Aberrations and Invisible Stalkers ruled the red zone with Runechanter's Pikes, and nobody had high expectations for a rogue deck winning its way through a field of 925 players. You just have to look to Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa's Top 8 deck to get an idea of what public enemy number one looked like at the time.

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa's Delver

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Take an established format with a clear best deck and put it in the hands of one of the absolute best players of all time and you would have to assume he won... right? Nope. He was dispatched in the semifinals by Conley Woods, who was playing a rogue build of Wolf Ramp that featured black for Glissa, the Traitor and recurring Ratchet Bombs. On top of that, Conley faced off against a similarly unexpected rogue list from none other than Patrick Chapin—who would be inducted into the Pro Tour Hall of Fame later on in the year.

Glissa, the Traitor
Ratchet Bomb

Conley Woods's Wolf Run Black

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Patrick Chapin's Grixis Control

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As they sat down for the finals, neither of the idiosyncratic deck builders had won a GP yet, and it was Woods who came away with the trophy in two hard-fought games. As I mentioned earlier, Chapin would go on to be inducted into the Pro Tour Hall of Fame later on in the year, in no small part for his sixty-card creations like the one that finished second in Orlando. Conley Woods just returned to the Top 8 stage this past weekend at Grand Prix San Antonio with another crazy Standard brew.

Conley Woods, Patrick Chapin

#4—Teaming with Excitement

Nobody knew what to expect heading into Grand Prix San Jose. There had not been a three-person Limited Grand Prix in more than five years. While team play was looked back on fondly by the pros it has never really moved the attendance needle in the past, with the number of teams never cracking the two-hundred mark. Despite constant pleas for the return of the format from pros, and a certain Pro Tour Historian, it had been hard to justify that risk on a tighter twenty-Grand Prix schedule in past seasons.

With the number of events more than doubling in 2012, trios got their big chance in San Jose. The timing could not have been better. Return to Ravnica had just been released and Pro Tour Return to Ravnica was just up the coast the following weekend. There were more teams in the tournament than the number of individual players in any previous trios Grand Prix: 571 teams—almost 1,800 players—turned out for the event, and despite a daunting eleven rounds on Day One I didn't talk to any teams that were not eager to do it again.

There will be two more three-person team events during the 2013 slate of events—one in Amsterdam and one in Providence, RI—and if you have a chance to play Magic shoulder to shoulder with your pals, I strongly urge you to do so. But don't be surprised if Dave Williams walks away with the trophy instead of you.

Williams has been dominating three-person events for as long as they have been in existence, starting off with a Top 4 at the very first trios GP in Cannes, France, alongside Dan O'Mahoney Schwartz and William Jensen. He has gone on to make the Top 8 of five such events in total —with different permutations of teammates each time—with three titles, including his win at this most recent event in San Jose alongside Paul Rietzl and Matt Sperling.

Matt Sperling, Paul Rietzel, Dave Williams

Also of note from this event was the breakout finish for Maksym Gryn, who would go on to place Top 16 at the Pro Tour the next weekend after finishing second at the Grand Prix alongside Lucas Siow and Jamie Naylor. The odd nature of the team event meant that the Swiss rounds cut to the Top 2 teams, which probably does not shine enough light on the strong Top 4 finish of Conley Woods, Eric Froelich (no slouch himself when it comes to team events), and Owen Turtenwald. Perhaps even more notable was the fourth-place finish of Ivan Floch, Lucas Jaklovsky, and eventual Pro Tour champion Stanislav Cifka.

#3—Best Top 8 of the 2012 Season

There was a considerable amount of excitement about the first-ever Grand Prix held in Costa Rica, and more than 350 players competed in the Magic 2013 Limited event. When the dust settled, the Top 8 was one of the best of all time, with Pro Tour Hall of Famer Shuhei Nakamura posing with the trophy. Nakamura, with his twenty lifetime GP Top 8s and five wins—two of which came this year—is no small part of what made this Top 8 so impressive, and he is the clear headliner. But let's look at the rest of this bracket, which features nary a blank entry under the "previous Magic accomplishments" section of the Top 8 profiles.

Shuuhei Nakamura

Nakamura defeated David Sharfman in the finals. The young Floridian has amassed quite the resume these past few seasons, with a win at Pro Tour Nagoya and another at the massive Grand Prix in Paris. The players who Sharfman and Nakamura defeated in the semifinals were Ben Stark and Willy Edel, respectively, both of whom are players very much in the discussion when the Hall of Fame voting starts up next summer. Stark has seven Top 8s at the Grand Prix level and another three at the Pro Tour level. Willy Edel just added the fourth Pro Tour Top 8 to his resume with his finish at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica in Seattle, and Costa Rica was his third Grand Prix Top 8.

Two Platinum Pros headlined the quarterfinals, with David Ochoa—who would finally break through into a Pro Tour Top 8 later in the year in Seattle—and his ChannelFireball teammate Josh Utter-Leyton. That brings the Top 8 to six players with Pro Tour Top 8s on their resumes and abundant success at the GP level. Rounding out the Top 8 were two players still on the cusp of their careers: AJ Sacher, in his second Top 8, and Pascal Meynard, who was playing in his third. None of the players were "relatively unknown" or having "breakout weekends." It was eight players who play the game at the highest level sitting down for one last draft. Fittingly, it was the most successful and experienced of the lot who walked away with the biggest check and the trophy—and not the only one he would win this year.

#2—Top Deck of the Year

"I just won a Grand Prix!"
—Bronson Magnan

We saw a lot of Modern action down the Grand Prix stretch of the season but the first of the year was in Lincoln, Nebraska (Grand Prix Hoth, as it was affectionately nicknamed), when Bronson Magnan introduced himself to the world with an AggroLoam deck that most people did not see coming. He played against Pro Tour veteran Andrew Cuneo in a back-and-forth three-game finals.

Bronson Magnan

Cuneo was playing his trademark MeliraPod deck and had just seemingly stabilized behind a Thrun, the Last Troll as both players were down to their decks' Plan Cs. Magnan was reduced to attacking with a Lavaclaw Reaches while Cuneo was hitching his wagon to the hexproof legend. Magnan ripped his card for the turn and it was the timeliest of Planeswalkers in the form of Liliana of the Veil—soon to become a Modern staple—as his only way to deal with Thrun, the Last Troll and allow him to break through for his... well... breakthrough victory.

#1—Player of the Year

With thirty-nine Grand Prix in the books, there was one thing everyone looking back at the calendar year could easily agree upon. Yuuya Watanabe has established himself as one of the game's all-time greats in just five short years of playing on the Pro Tour. He followed up his 2007 Rookie of the Year campaign with a Player of the Year run in 2009 and then won the title for a second time this year at the Magic Players Championship . In the wake of that, he finished second at the Pro Tour in Seattle while racking up five Grand Prix Top 8s and winning two of those. He is currently sitting on eighteen Grand Prix Top 8s and could easily break all the records by the time he is eligible for Hall of Fame induction in a few more years. We are going to be taking a more in-depth look at the career of the two-time Player of the Year before year's end—and with three more GPs before the year is over he could add to his resume between now and then.

Yuuya Watanabe

Honorable Mention: All of You

As I was interacting with my social network about the year in Grand Prix, I was struck by the most important aspect of adding twenty-two events to the schedule. It meant that more people than ever before had a chance to try their hand at playing in a GP. It is easy to focus on the Top 8s and the trophies, but I heard from countless players who were thrilled by the chance to try their hands against the likes of Martin Juza, Brian Kibler, Shuhei Nakamura, Luis Scott-Vargas, and the rest of the game's frequent fliers.

I heard from players with all types of finishes, ranging from a win shy of advancing to Day Two to Top 64 to just missing the cut from Top 8 to a qualifying Top 4, and there was one constant—if you have a chance to play in a GP next year when it rolls through your neck of the woods, you should definitely give it a try.

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