522 teams, a total of 1,566 players, gathered in Amsterdam to provide a worthy sendoff to Ixalan Block. It was the final Grand Prix to feature Ixalan/Rivals of Ixalan in Limited, the last time people could send an armada of Pirates into battle against a herd of Dinosaurs, the end of the Vampires' expedition into Merfolk territory ...
Pirates versus Dinos? How About Pirates with Dinos?
Pirates versus Dinosaurs was what grabbed the headlines. It had been the central feature which got people excited prior to the release of Ixalan, and the block certainly delivered on that front. Especially after the release of Rivals, however, players found that one of the most promising strategies was to have the two tribes work together. No better way to get the big bulky Dinos onto the battlefield in time than to invest some of the Pirates' hard-earned Treasure.
Thoralf "Toffel" Severin
One of the most passionate proponents of pairing Pirates and Pterodons was Thoralf Severin. Always on the cutting edge of Limited trends and technology, the German player had often had successful runs at GPs, including two previous trips to the semifinals.
At this event, he was as happy as can be, because Team Sealed even provided additional incentive to build a Pirate/Treasure deck splashing for the splashiest of Dinosaurs. Being the expert, his teammates wisely left that archetype to him, taking up Vampires and Merfolk themselves. So Severin got to run a deck based in red and blue on both Saturday and Sunday, each with some Dinosaurs at the top of the curve. The sweetest of the two featured a Zetalpa, Primal Dawn which he could cast as early as turn five, at least if opponents were foolish enough to kill his Gleaming Barrier.
"But much more relevant is that it only takes a single Prosperous Pirates to get Zetalpa out by turn six," Severin pointed out. He also mentioned that the deck's Treasure was by no means working to full capacity yet. "If our pool had included, say, Zacama, Primal Calamity, I would have jumped at the chance to put it into this deck as well."
Pros in Peril?
The short answer was no. The longer answer, meanwhile, would have to acknowledge that quite a number of high-profile teams dropped out of contention and out of the tournament early on Saturday: the team-up of the two French Hall of Famers Gabriel Nassif and Raphaël Lévy with Amiel Tenenbaum, for instance, or the two Worlds finalists (5) Javier Dominguez and (17) Márcio Carvalho who played together with recent WMC semifinalist Marc Tobiasch. No better fared Canada's (25) Alexander Hayne, neither did Zac Hill and Gaudenis Vidugiris who had come all the way from the States, nor (23) Liu Yuchen from China.
Some blamed bad luck or the format or Tetzimoc, Primal Death. Because, of course they would; it's a time-honored tradition among Magic players. A notable exception proved Petr Sochůrek who had teamed up with (12) Martin Jůza and (24) Grzegorz Kowalski. He told me that they really hadn't been unlucky but quite simply played badly. I voiced disbelief at that, but Sochůrek insisted.
"For example, in our last round, we decided to board into a different deck, but we didn't have it ready. So in our hurry, we forgot about a dual land, and then I lost because of color screw," said the two-time GP champion, proving that even great players don't always play great Magic.
Overall, though, the suggestion of any unusual failure rate among the pros wasn't borne out by the facts. On Saturday I had compiled a list of the 44 most accomplished teams in attendance. At the end of the day, 21 of them had reached the requisite record of 6-2 or better:
Ivan Floch, Thomas Hendriks, Frank Karsten — 24 points
Carmine D'Aniello, Matteo Moure, Adriano Moscato — 21 points
Pedro De Diego, Francisco Sifuentes, Christian Calcano — 21 points
Arne Huschenbeth, Thoralf Severin, Jasper Grimmer — 21 points
Elias Klocker, Carsten Linden, Immanuel Gerschenson — 21 points
Max Pritsch, Andreas Schraut, Fabian Thiele — 21 points
Geoffrey Siron, Vincent Lemoine, Davy Loeb — 21 points
Laurent Stihle, Julien Stihle, Loïc Le Briand — 21 points
Felipe Archangelo, Lucas Berthoud, Walter Perez — 18 points
Lukas Blohon, Christoffer Larsen, Martin Müller — 18 points
Michael Bonde, (11) Andrea Mengucci, Thomas Enevoldsen — 18 points
Aaron Burns Lees, Mattia Rizzi, George Worsnop — 18 points
Henry Channing, Kayure Patel, George Channing — 18 points
Pierre Dagen, Gregory Cassini, Elie Pichon — 18 points
Tina Dahl, Martin Dang, Alexander Pasgaard — 18 points
Antonino De Rosa, Luca Casadei, Alessandro Portaro — 18 points
Rene Kraft, Tobias Radloff, Martin Zimmermann — 18 points
Antoine Lagarde, Louis Deltour, Remi Fortier — 18 points
Karl Sarap, Hannes Kerem, Viktors Kazanskis — 18 points
Leo Schulhof, Jeremy Berthoux, Pierre Sommen — 18 points
Peter Ward, Tom Martell, Sam Rolph — 18 points
21 out of 44 amounts to 48%. Meanwhile, the baseline for Day 2 conversion—72 teams out of an original 522—came to barely 14%. So, compared to all the others, more than four times as many of the 44 most notable teams made the cut. Pros in peril? Hardly.
Intentional Draws? What Intentional Draws?
The final round of a Grand Prix often sees the top-ranked players agree to a draw which results in everyone involved advancing to the playoffs. At Grand Prix Amsterdam, this wasn't possible. All the teams at the top four tables had to play.
The view from the top
The pairings for Round 14 showed that up to four teams could go to 36 or more points:
|Table||Team 1||Points||Team 2||Points|
Only if Kreijne-Geurts-Heijne won at table one and Dewulf-Meulders-Bastogne won at table four, then one of the remaining tables could draw safely. Well, Dewulf-Meulders-Bastogne won their match, but the match at table one finished with one team going to 36 points and the other staying at 34. So no draws were possible, right?
"... right," Thoralf Severin admitted sheepishly. His team and their opponents did in fact agree to a draw at the end of Round 14. As Severin explained, "None of us realized that one of the teams at table one already had a draw. We thought that both were at 33 points before the round, and that a draw would leave all of us with more points than at least one of the teams."
Even a severe miscalculation couldn't stop the team of Jasper Grimmer, Thoralf Severin, and Arne Huschenbeth
The German team made it into the Top 4 anyway, but their opponents were left out and finished the tournament in fifth place.
Game Day Champions? How About Grand Prix Champions?
The finals was the classic story of David versus Goliath. On one side sat the team of Geoffrey Siron, Vincent Lemoine, and Davy Loeb with four previous Grand Prix Top 8s and three Pro Tour Top 8s, including one win, between them. On the other side we had Jeroen Kreijne, Simon Geurts, and Pim Heijne, all three of whom had listed Game Day champion as their chief accomplishment so far. "How did we get here?" Geurts wondered.
The match was a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs. First to finish was the battle between Siron and Kreijne. In game one, Siron didn't have a fourth land, and no source of black mana, while Kreijne curved out with cheap creatures and Pirate's Cutlass.
The second game had Kreijne stuck on two lands for a while. However, Siron could barely capitalize on that, as he had drawn eight lands by turn six. When Kreijne finally found lands, Siron stood no chance.
The fight between Davy Loeb's Merfolk and Pim Heijne's Vampires, meanwhile, went to three games. The first game went to Heijne after he got a two-for-one trade with an early Golden Demise and a three-for-one with Vona's Hunger, when his Sanguine Glorifier-boosted Queen's Agent was triple-blocked.
Davy Loeb versus Pim Heijne
Loeb returned the favor and won the second game in equally brutal fashion. His River's Rebuke cleared away all blockers, allowed Loeb to bring Heijne to 5, and his Crashing Tide on the following turn clinched the game.
Loeb began their final duel with Mist-Cloaked Herald and Giltgrove Stalker, and then ambushed Heijne's Dinosaur Hunter with Swift Warden—successfully, as Swift Warden was immune to Moment of Craving by the time it was declared as a blocker.
This left Vincent Lemoine and Simon Geurts to duke it out for the title ...
Lemoine had drafted a red-white aggro deck, while Geurts tried to take control with his white-blue. Interestingly, each had the tools to beat the other's strategy. For instance, Relentless Raptor was kept at bay by Gleaming Barrier until Lemoine enchanted it with Tilonalli's Crown. But then the Raptor was bounced by Crashing Tide, just to return to the battlefield and pick up Swashbuckling. Only Geurts's Pious Interdiction put a stop to the Raptor's relentless assault.
However, a few turns later, Lemoine was able to get his army of small creatures to match up favoribly with Geurts's blockers after all, thanks to Pride of Conquerors. Then, just as Geurts was about to take control with Nehazal, Primal Tide, Lemoine drew Dinosaur Stampede. "That's a good topdeck," Geurts said appreciatively. He counted the damage, nodded in resignation, and picked up his cards.
In the other two games, though, Geurts's high-toughness creatures proved entirely too tough for Lemoine to get through ...
It did take a while, but eventually Lemoine admitted defeat, reached across the table, and became the first to congratulate Geurts and company, the newly-minted champions of Grand Prix Amsterdam 2018!