The tournament, like every Grand Prix, had been full of memorable stories, of exciting matches, of interesting decks doing interesting stuff. The following are our Top 5 picks, the five moments which made Grand Prix Barcelona an event to remember ...
5. When the Snake Vanished
Just two weeks before this event, at the previous Standard Grand Prix in Utrecht, the black-green deck built around and named for Winding Constrictor had been everywhere. It placed three of its pilots into the Top 8, alongside four Mardu Ballista players. The picture didn't look much different for the decks in 9th to 32nd place either. There, six Black-Green Constrictor players were vying for the top spot with nine Mardu players. This weekend, however, there hardly was a Snake to be found. Winding Constrictor was gone.
I talked to one of the few holdouts. David Brucker had piloted Black-Green Constrictor to a Top 8 finish at Grand Prix Utrecht, the sixth of his career, and he was again playing the deck this weekend. Unfortunately, as Brucker admitted, that hadn't been the best idea, a choice purely motivated by lack of time. He badly crashed and burned and failed to make Day 2. Brucker explained, "Before, Saheeli was your bad matchup and Mardu was your good matchup. Now, though, with every Mardu player transforming into a control deck after sideboarding, you hardly ever win a post-board game against Mardu anymore. So you literally have no good matchups left."
At some point during the second day I asked my colleague Matej Zatlkaj when we had last seen a Black-Green player still in contention for Top 8 on camera. The answer was Round 11 and Zatlkaj quipped, "I didn't expect to see one this late, frankly."
After scouring the top tables, we eventually found one in Michal Brancewicz, literally the last one who still had a shot at the Top 8. Naturally, Brancewicz immediately lost his Round 14 feature match.
Yet there was a silver lining. While it appeared that Winding Constrictor wasn't good enough for the Top 8, it certainly was good enough for Top 32. In fact, six black-green decks found a niche there. All of them, it should be noted, featured either a strong energy or delirium theme. Alas, the days of straight Black-Green Constrictor seem to be over.
4. When the Eldrazi Came to Save the Day
Just as we were mourning the demise of Winding Constrictor, a new challenger appeared to lift our spirits. Shota Takao and Toru Inoue both came all the way from Japan to save us from a stale metagame and to showcase their innovative Black-Red Eldrazi deck.
Both had been on track for a possible Top 8 berth well into the second day. Takao had started the day on 8-1 to Inoue's 7-2, but eventually the latter overtook the former and ended the tournament in 20th place.
Using many of the staples of the format like Scrapheap Scrounger, Walking Ballista, Heart of Kiran, Fatal Push, Unlicensed Disintegration, and Pia Nalaar, the deck could easily be mistaken for any old version of Black-Red Aggro, especially in the early turns of a game. Few opponents expected the sudden onslaught of Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher.
3. When the Top 8 Split Neatly Between Copy Cat and Mardu
It really split so neatly you wouldn't believe it! Not only was one half playing Four-Color Copy Cat, while the other was on Mardu Ballista. The final Swiss standings lined the players up in such a way that the quarterfinals featured four matches of the one deck against the other.
Left to right: Mardu, Cat, Mardu, Mardu, Cat, Cat, Mardu, Cat
Then, as luck would have it, half of these matches went to the Cat players and half to the Mardu players. Now, this could have led to two mirror matches being played next. But it didn't. Instead, the semifinals were another round of Four-Color Copy Cat versus Mardu Ballista.
You can probably figure out where this was heading. Which is: to the finals. Which featured: another battle between Cat and Mardu. So, of the seven matches played in the Top 8 in total, a full seven were Four-Color Copy Cat against Mardu Ballista.
This led to some weird discussions. Like the following:
"Petr Sochůrek has won this matchup twice before in this Top 8; he must be feeling pretty good about his chances in the finals."
"Wait. But so did his opponent!"
2. When Sochůrek Secured Sovereignity Over the Skies After All
The first game of the finals was a quick affair. Matthew Pope led with Heart of Kiran, Thalia, Heretic Cathar, and Aethersphere Harvester. Sochůrek was unable to defend himself against the fliers. He did have a Felidar Guardian, but when he killed the opposing Thalia with Harnessed Lightning, Pope returned the favor and pointed a Fatal Push at Felidar Guardian. Pope also had Gideon, Ally of Zendikar for his next turn, a card which allowed him to crew both his Vehicles on its own. The fliers swiftly took the game for Pope.
Things were again going fine for Pope in the second game, maybe developing a little slow with just Mardu Ballista on turn two and Aethersphere Harvester the turn after. Then disaster struck.
Several of the Copy Cat players in the Top 8 had mentioned Skysovereign, Consul Flagship as the most important tool in their arsenal for beating Mardu Ballista. This was the card which Sochůrek cast on his fourth turn. Pope didn't stand a chance. Sochůrek ruled the skies and evened the score.
1. When Things Ended in Cats
So it all came down to one final game to decide the champion. Pope, playing first, went off to a good start with Heart of Kiran on turn two, Scrapheap Scrounger on turn three, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar on turn four. Sochůrek managed to stabilize only after using Tamiyo, Field Researcher to tap some of Pope's permanents, allowing a counter attack to kill Gideon. Unlicensed Disintegration took out Tamiyo, leaving the board at two Thopter tokens for Sochůrek and a Knight Ally token plus Heart of Kiran for Pope. Sochůrek untapped and summoned Felidar Guardian, Saheeli Rai already in hand ...
Pope activated Shambling Vent and attacked with two power 2 creatures. Sochůrek double blocked the Knight Ally token to get rid of it. Pope had it deal 2 damage to Felidar Guardian, then killed it with Shock. Sochůrek untapped and summoned another Felidar Guardian ...
Pope, finally, didn't have an answer. Saheeli Rai joined the Guardian on the battlefield and Pope extended his hand in concession.
Sochůrek really had infinite Cats, first just figuratively, then almost literally. The Czech Platinum pro certainly was happy with this conclusion and gladly picked up his second Grand Prix trophy, saying, "You know, it was exactly one year ago that I won Grand Prix Paris."
A great anniversary and a great end to the weekend. Congratulations to Petr Sochůrek, well-deserved champion of Grand Prix Barcelona 2017!