There was a lot of Amonkhet action going on this weekend and here are some of the biggest highlights from Beijing!
Two Heads Are Better Than One
Jason Chung and Zen Takahashi have been regular playtest buddies and best of friends for the longest time and naturally it wasn't surprising to see them make the trip to Beijing together. After deck-building ended, both friends found a quiet corner to embark upon the next step of their quest to become the Champion of Grand Prix Beijing. Quickly settling down and making use of whatever time they had before their next round, they swapped card pools and began building the deck that wasn't theirs.
Takahashi: For Jason and myself, our skill sets are quite different which is why we've always worked well together with one another. I like to build well-defined, streamlined decks which are always very solid, but Jason is great with out-of-the-box concepts and identifying unorthodox strategies. It is not always clear which approach is better, which is why it's always worth looking a second opinion.
Chung: There is always personal bias whenever you evaluate a card pool or even any card. Players tend to favor certain choices over others, if it might not be optimum. There are also issues like color preferences and play style to consider. It's very helpful when Zen looks at my card pool because I might have just missed something that is totally obvious to him.
For example, Takahashi submitted a textbook White-Green Aggro deck with cheap, efficient creatures, a light touch of removal and some pump spells. However, Chung felt that Takahashi might be better off just being greedy with a three-color Grixis Cycling deck.
Oh, there it is!
This three-color deck had issues but nothing that cannot be solved. Takahashi did not like to stumble on mana but Chung felt like the deck had the great payoff cards such as Drake Haven, Ruthless Sniper, Shadowstorm Vizier and Faith of the Devoted. It is also worth noting that discard outlets such as Tormenting Voice and Merciless Javelineer triggered those payoff cards as well. In addition, you could always get out of a fix with some cheap cycling cards, not only to find all your three colors, but also to find your bombs and solutions.
Takahashi: That is a great concept and it is true that I have all the key cards, even Drake Haven! However, on another note, the cost of cycling is actually pretty high in this environment. This is a format where you cannot really afford to stumble so we can't have too many cycling cards as well. However, in a dedicated cycling deck like this one, they are necessary.
Another reason to crack their heads was also due to the fact that they needed to build a second deck for sideboarding purposes.
Switching Sealed Decks after Game 1 was one of the oldest tricks to exist – and you thought that transformational sideboards only existed in Constructed – but Takahashi emphasized that this technique was even more important than in other blocks.
Due to the cycling mechanic, decks were generally more consistent. This means that the aggro deck you built tended to function better than an aggro deck in another format. The same is true for midrange and control decks. In that case, does that imply that Amonkhet Limited was really a big game of “Rock Paper Scissors”.
Jason: Let's say you have a midrange deck and you're playing against an opponent with a control deck. That is a really bad matchup for you because you're not fast enough to kill them. Also, they have more powerful cards and a better late game for you. This is like you playing 'Scissors' and them playing 'Rock'.
Takahashi: Continuing on Jason's point, your midrange deck might be superior to your aggro deck in a vacuum, but the truth is you have a better matchup if you sideboard into your aggro deck to try and beat the control deck. Playing a worse deck doesn't mean it's the wrong choice as long as you've improved your matchup.
Essentially, what Takahashi and Chung were saying was, if your opponent was playing “Rock” against your “Scissors”, you should sideboard into “Rock” for Games 2 and 3!
Both players were aware of this and this was why it was even more crucial for both of them to cooperate and jointly develop the sideboard plan! Two heads are better than one and certainly not still not too many to spoil the broth.
Invocations in Limited Play
Ever since the introduction of the Masterpiece Series, one of the greatest joys of ripping open a booster to find a shiny alternate-art treasure gleaming back at you. In the case of Amonkhet, we have thirty different Amonkhet Invocations which showcase the power and the rebukes of a pantheon of gods and their God-Pharaoh.
It's also worth nothing that these Amonkhet Invocations are legal in Amonkhet Limited, which makes it rather cool if you were playing a card that nobody else was! We spoke with four players who received some of these delightful Invocations in their Sealed Deck card pool! Despite being very rare, it's nice to learn about how these cards impact Limited play! For example, did you know that Attrition is one of the most powerful in Limited games while cards like Entomb and Stifle are poor and situational despite being Legacy staples?
Zan Kewen with Kefnet the Mindful.
Zan Kewen is from Nanjing, China and he confessed that he had been extremely lucky. He started playing Magic last July and had since then also opened Kaladesh Masterpieces Mana Crypt and Chalice of the Void! Kefnet the Mindful is one of the cards from Amonkhet but beating down with a fancy copy certainly felt like it is worth a lot of style points.
Lu Zuyi with Mind Twist.
Huang Hao-Shan once told me that he would like to open Mind Twist at a Grand Prix. However, it was Beijing local Lu Ziyi who beat him to it! As an active player, he also had the joy of finding Kaladesh Masterpieces Painter's Servant, Duplicant, Sword of Feast and Famine, as well as Mana Crypt!
Lu made the decision to splash Mind Twist in his White-Green deck because of how powerful the effect was. “I have Evolving Wilds, Cascading Cataracts among other mana fixers so I'm not really sacrificing much. However, since Mind Twist is a discard spell, you really want to be able to fire it off at the correct moment, which makes it not as good in my deck since I don't always have black mana. However, it is still a great card and I've caught a couple of opponents with it!"
Wang Fan with Austere Command
Fellow Beijing comrade had Austere Command but he had yet to cast it once. Not because that he was so unlucky not to draw it all 9 rounds, but because Wang Fan decided that white wasn't good enough to play and ended up with a Blue-Red-Green deck featuring Pull from Tomorrow, Bounty of the Luxa, Trial of Zeal, Electrify and other goodies! In particular, he felt that the interaction between double Essence Scatter and triple Pouncing Cheetah had great synergy, since he was able to keep his mana open more often. Too bad we don't get to see a properly set up Austere Command wreck an opponent's board!
However, the luckiest of the quad had to be Chen Baiyang, the first player in the world to open an Invocation Force of Will at a Premier Event. As the owner of the most coveted prize, he certainly wasn't that upset that he couldn't play with it.
“Blue is generally a bad color in this format but if I did end up playing blue, Force of Will is great for sure. You are able to gain a lot of tempo because you get to cast a threat while countering an opponent's threat. In addition, since Force of Will is so rare in Limited play, it will very often cause a very, very huge surprise if someone stopped a game-winning card with it while tapped out!"
On the surface, Amonkhet Sealed Deck looked like a strictly two-color format. It was not difficult to jump to such a conclusion though. There are 10 dual-colored Aftermath cards as well as 16 other gold cards, which meant that nearly 90% of the expansion were mono-colored cards. However, three players are huge advocates of getting greedy in this format.
Two colors, in their humble opinions, were not good enough.
Liu Yuchen, China's winningest player of late.
Taking Pro Tour Aether Revolt Top 8 competitor, Liu Yuchen, for example, he had assembled a four-color deck which aimed to extract the highest power from the card pool. The biggest challenge was mana, but thankfully, Liu was able to work things out due to the wide range of mana-fixers in the format.
With green as his core color, he was able to jam pack his deck with the best threats and removal spells. Gift of Paradise, Evolving Wilds and Oashra Cultivator among others assisted Liu in playing Sandwurm Convergence, Bounty of the Luxa, Curator of Mysteries, Final Reward and also Start // Finish! He considered briefly to splash two Magma Spray and an Electrify but eventually decided against it. Clearly, sacrificing a little consistency for a more powerful deck was worth it, but if you overstretched things, you could end up walking on ice.
The common consensus is that this Dragon is the most powerful rare in Amonkhet Limited.
Unfortunately, he played against two opponents with Glorybringer and picked up two losses by the time it was Round 6.
Liu: Glorybringer is such a difficult card to beat! You just have to accept that even with a lot of removal the Dragon can still get you!
No. 8 Lee Shi Tian prefers a multi-colored deck over his 'traditional' one.
Echoing this sentiment was No. 8 Lee Shi Tian who pointed out that playing four or five colors was what he really wanted to do in this format. Unfortunately, he did not have a single Evolving Wilds in his card pool which meant that he had to shelve his plans to taste the rainbow.
Lee: Sealed Deck is never as fast as Booster Draft and you have a little more space to be creative without being punished that badly. Sealed Deck is all about maximizing your resources and playing all the powerful cards in your pool. This is why it pays to be in more than two colors. The format can support it and I am taking advantage of that.
Mana-fixers are precious commodities.
As for Ken Yukuhiro, he wasted no time assembling a Black-Green deck but realized that Red was also very strong. In order to take full advantage of the Trials and Cartouches – a centric theme of Amonkhet Limited – Yukuhiro decided on a Red-Green deck, splashing black.
Ken Yukuhiro refining his Jund deck.
Yukuhiro: Since I have Cartouche of Strength, Trial of Strength and Trial of Zeal, I felt like I should also splash black for Cartouche of Ambition. Not only do I get an additional removal spell, it is also another Cartouche to support both my Trials. Lifelink is also great in Red-Green because sometimes you need to race and you also have a lot of big creatures.
However, some of my cards such as Initiate's Companion and Nef-Crop Entangler have weaknesses. If his opponent is playing black or red, there are cards such as Blazing Volley and Splendid Agony. This where his deck will shift from the Red-Green core into a Black-Green core. This flexibility, Yukuhiro explains, is one of the benefits of playing a third color, so you can modify your deck and have more options to do so.
Amonkhet Limited is a high-powered environment and there are many bombs you need to deal with. Similarly, you want to be able to play all your bombs and hope your opponent doesn't have a solution for them. This is why it pays off to be a playing more than two colors. The format can support it and players were willing to take advantage of that!
The First Grand Prix
Each Grand Prix experience is unique to each individual every single time. You might have been traveling alone or with friends. You might have been here to pick up some Pro Points or here to participate in the Public Events. You might have planned to travel around the city or it might just be an “in-and-out” trip.
This story is about a group of streamers from Chinese Taipei who, despite having played Magic for a very long time, traveled to Beijing to participate in their very first Grand Prix, which is one of the most refreshing spectacles for any Magic fan. As avid gamers, they collectively have tens of thousands of followers on their respective social media avenues.
Clockwise from top left: Theo Cheng (Tofu), Huang Sen (Assen), Chuang Po-Yu (Troll Daddy), Lin Tzu-Yu (Tsuki) and Angel Huang. Five avid gamers with an online presence.
So, how was their very first Grand Prix experience?
Tsuki: I've played Magic for some time but I must confess that I'm not really good at it. However, I am very surprised that, even though this is a large-scale tournament, it isn't all as serious as it looks. One of my opponents actually taught me how to play in the middle of the match and his advice made a lot of sense. I was falling behind and lost anyway, but I felt like he genuinely wanted to help me learn the interaction of my Amonkhet cards.
Since it is the latest expansion, it is sometimes understandable to forget about a trigger or two. Tsuki also shared that there was an instance where she made a mistake and her opponent graciously allowed her to 'take it back'. In the spirit of sportsmanship, she declined that friendly gesture and insisted the game proceed.
Tsuki: I'm all about having fun and enjoying the game as it should be. If I make a mistake, I wish to learn from it rather than being bailed out by a kind opponent. I can be very competitive but the most important thing is still to have a good time!
How was Amonkhet treating them so far? Were they enjoying the cards, the mechanics, and more importantly, the new mysterious world?
Assen: We attended the Prerelease together and we really love this expansion. I think I can speak for everyone that we all love cycling and the whole Egyptian theme. In fact, we enjoyed ourselves so much we bought three booster boxes and shared it between us and continued to practice because we knew we were coming to Grand Prix Beijing.
Huang: Yea, we actually met up two or three times a week for the past two weeks ever since Amonkhet was released and we put in quite a lot of practiced for Sealed Deck. We even had some pointers from some of the best players in the country, such as Tzu Ching Kuo and Huang Hao-Shan! However, I didn't do so well in the main event and I'm slightly disappointed but it had still been a great time so far!
As for Tofu, he felt that the Grand Prix was a great experience. “Aside from Magic, getting to know players from around the world is a blessing and it is a great chance to meet the locals and understand the community. I look forward to my next Grand Prix and many more, because it is a very holistic experience. Not only do I get to play cards, there are also guest artists, vendors, public events and even cosplay! As a matter of fact, Huang was even dressed to impress, sporting her handcrafted Nissa costume all day!
Nissa comes to live at Grand Prix Beijing!
If you're hungering for more action, swing over to Grand Prix Bologna and Grand Prix Richmond! It is a triple Grand Prix weekend after all! Or better, start planning for your next Grand Prix trip because as hundreds of thousands of players will agree, it is an absolutely blast!
The Four 9-0 Players
1029 players arrived at Beijing, the first of three stops during this exciting triple Grand Prix weekend!
After nine rounds of Amonkhet Sealed Deck, only 326 players will return tomorrow for six rounds of Amonkhet Booster Draft. At the top of the standings are three Chinese players Guan Jian, Wu Xuan, Yang Yi, as well as Grand Prix Tokyo Champion Riku Kumagai. By winning all nine of their matches, they end up in Pod 1 tomorrow and have an easier path to the Top 8 which they so desired.
Clockwise from left: Guan Jian, Wu Xuan, Riku Kumagai and Yang Yi
If you're interested to learn about how they got there, perhaps you should check out the Undefeated Decklists tomorrow! Will Guan, Wu, Yang and Kumagai keep up their hot streak? With that, the Sealed Deck portion had concluded and we will move on to the Booster Draft portion tomorrow, which from what I hear is a different ball-game altogether!