There were plenty of great moments, decks, players, cards, and stories over the course of the weekend here in Amsterdam. The following are my picks for the things to remember from this Grand Prix.
Marvel was popular, but is no longer the undisputed king of Standard
Hailed by many as the deck to beat, Temur Aetherworks Marvel was indeed the most popular choice at the top tables at the start of the Sunday competition.
The presence of 15 Marvel players among the 9th-32nd place finishers confirmed that a turn-four Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger is still one the most powerful things you can do in Standard. A lot of players chose the deck, many good finishes were had by them.
But the deck choices of the five 9-0 players and the Top 8 players painted a different picture: there was only one Aetherworks Marvel deck in either group, and Jelco Bodewes promptly lost his quarterfinals. So what happened?
One important aspect is that a turn-four Ulamog doesn't happen consistently. The probability of hitting an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger in the top 6 cards (after putting one Aetherworks Marvel onto the battlefield) is 35.7%, and the probability of drawing at least one Aetherworks Marvel by turn four on the play is 52.8%. If we suppose that we have the requisite four lands and six energy in 50% of the games and ignore dependencies by simply multiplying everything together, then a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation indicates that a turn-four Ulamog happens in only 9.4% of the games. And that doesn't even opposing countermagic or discard into account.
Most of the time, games against Aetherworks Marvel are grindy and interactive, revolving around cards like Rogue Refiner and Harnessed Lightning. And those draws are definitely beatable—almost all of the players in the Top 8 felt like they had a good match-up against that part of the Marvel deck. A majority of the Top 8 players relied on the combination of humongous creatures (whose attacks are not easily stopped by the aforementioned energy cards) and countermagic, discard, and/or artifact removal (to stop Aetherworks Marvel from resolving or from spinning more than once). It worked out for them.
Although counterplay to Marvel might be narrow, the Top 8 decklists do offer various angles of attack, so let's take a closer look.
New Flavors of Mardu Vehicles Found Success
Four copies of Unlicensed Disintegration used to be a big aspect of Mardu Vehicles, but the dominance of Marvel necessitated a change.
Four copies of Spell Queller.
Samuel Vuillot and Petr Sochůrek had only two copies of Unlicensed Disintegration in their deck, while Simon Nielsen and Micheal Maurici cut the removal spell altogether. Since you can't destroy Ulamog but can stop Aetherworks Marvel from resolving, it was the adaptation that Vehicle decks needed.
That said, the midrange sideboard plan with planeswalkers and five-drops was still present. Some sweet battlecruiser Magic was demonstrated by Samuel Vuillot in Round 11 when he activated the Nahiri, the Harbinger ultimate for Skysovereign, Consul Flagship.
Electrostatic Pummeler Grew Exponentially
We saw a bunch of Red-Green Pummeler deck on camera over the weekend. But in the end it was 48-year-old Arjan van Leeuwen, well-known for winning back-to-back Grand Prix almost ten years ago, who carried the explosive deck to the Top 8.
A clear highlight of the weekend was when he attacked with an 80/76 Pummeler in the quarterfinals. Check out the clip below.
Pro Points accumulating
Several pro players could be found hunting for those elusive final Pro Points to secure certain levels in the Pro Players Club or a spot in the World Championship. The 2016-2017 Premier Play Leaderboard can be found here and if my unofficial calculations are correct, then these were some notable finishes from Grand Prix Amsterdam:
- Martin Jůza, currently ranked 13th in the global Top 25, gained one extra point thanks to his 12-3 finish (improving on an 11-4 finish as his sixth-best Grand Prix result). This brings him to 50 points on the season. Every point is important for him, as he has his eyes on a coveted seat at the World Championship.
- Oliver Tiu, ranked 25th in the Top 25, gained three extra points with his 12-3 finish. This gives him 40 points on the season, inching closer to a renewal of his Platinum status.
- Both Steve Hatto and Andrea Mengucci scored a single point with their respective 10-4-1 and 10-5 finishes, but that was an important one for them: Together with a minimum of three points from Pro Tour Hour of Devastation, they locked up the 35 points required to ensure Gold level for next season.
- Simon Nielsen, Martin Dang, Shahar Shenhar, and Eliott Boussaud all picked up at least one extra point in their quest for Gold. This puts them at 29, 27, 27, and 26 points on the season—not yet enough for Gold level, but every point counts.
And finally, Top 8 player Alexandre Mertins not only scored his first lifetime pro point this weekend, but he did so in his very first Grand Prix, and on his birthday to boot. Talk about having a good weekend!
Blohon carried the comeback of Black-Green
The Top 8 featured 16 copies of Winding Constrictor in various builds: two Black-Green Energy decks and two Black-Green Delirium decks. The Energy variants both fell in the quarterfinals, but Pro Tour Eldritch Moon champion Lukas Blohon took a Delirium variant to the finals.
He, along with Thomas Hendriks and Ivan Floch, were inspired by Shaun McLaren's deck from Grand Prix Montreal, evolved the list, and found great success. Floch went 10-5, Hendriks made the Top 8, and Blohon found himself in the finals.
According to them, the Marvel matchup is better than it might seem. The deck can explode onto the battlefield and win quickly with a huge Winding Constrictor or Tireless Tracker. In addition, it has Dissenter's Deliverance, Transgress the Mind, and Dispossess in the 75 as interaction.
Blohon's opponent in the finals was Benjamin Luft, a German player who had his first breakthrough performance this weekend. He got to the finals on the back of his Blue-Red Control deck, which could beat Marvel by simply countering everything they play. But he may not have been prepared for Black-Green Delirium.
In the first game of the finals, Luft had Censor for Winding Constrictor but no answer to Grim Flayer. Soon enough, there were four different card types in the graveyard, turning Blohon's creature into a 4/4. That size meant was hard for Luft to handle, as his removal suite consisted of Sweltering Suns, Magma Spray, and Harnessed Lightning. When Luft cast Sphinx of the Final Word as a blocker, Blohon used Verdurous Gearhulk to turn his Grim Flayer into a massive 6/6. Having outgrown Luft's removal spells and blockers, Blohon took Game 1.
In the second game, Luft countered all of Blohon's early spells and then started attacking with Torrential Gearhulk and Wandering Fumarole. For a brief moment, Blohon become the control deck as he used Dissenter's Deliverance and Grasp of Darkness (from the sideboard!) to halt the offense, followed by Ishkanah, Grafwidow to govern the battlefield. But at that point, Blohon was already down to 6 life, and when Luft played Thing in the Ice, the clock started ticking. Over the next few turns, Blohon was racking his brain to consider his attacks, carefully balancing pressure while keeping a Hissing Quagmire to play around spells. But ultimately, the Horror awoke, Harnessed Lightning cleared the last remaining creature-land, and Luft's attack was lethal.
In Game 3, after the initial back-and-forth exchanges, we had a planeswalker game on our hands: Liliana, the Last Hope and Nissa, Voice of Zendikar on Blohon's side versus Chandra, Flamecaller on Luft's. They ticked up and down, but in the end it all came down to their ultimate abilities.
Having been on the receiving end of one planeswalker ultimate and with the threat of another on the next turn, Luft saw no way out. He extended his hand in defeat, and that was that.