It's been a truly historic weekend, revisiting Dominaria after twenty five years. Grand Prix Beijing was not only full of legendary battles and epic sagas, it was also filled with precious memories. Let's take a trip together, reliving the best moments of this weekend!
Dominaria Draft Archetypes with Liu Yuchen
In 2017, Liu Yuchen became the second Chinese player, after Xu Ming, to make it to the top eight of a Pro Tour when he finished fifth at PT Aether Revolt. Also, he also has five Grand Prix top eight finishes and a China National Champion title. As one of the top players (if not the top player) in the mainland and the captain of Team MTG Sheep, we spoke to him about his favorite archetypes to draft in Dominaria. Are you ready for yet another lesson at the wizard school?
"Haha, it's so few. Other players have thirty or forty trophies. Anyway, my favorite archetype to draft is Blue-Red Wizards, followed by Green decks. All my eight trophies came from drafting these colors." Nonetheless, Liu was happy to share the overall strategy in assembling a killer product. What were the key cards to look out for if you're trying to draft blue, red, or green?
"Assuming there is no good rare, Adeliz, the Cinder Wind is a worthy first pick. It effectively gives your entire team prowess. There are only a handful of cheap removal spells in the format (including but not limited to Shivan Fire, Vicious Offering, Gideon's Reproach) so even if your opponent kills it, later on, you should have been able to push at least six to eight damage. It is a very powerful card."
Tempo was the name of the game. Academy Journeymage was a very different card when it costs four mana instead of five, while Blink of an Eye was another tempo card for disrupting the game plans of other decks. "Bounce, without losing a card, is very effective against green and white. Green has expensive creatures, while white has tokens as well as cards which rely on auras and equipment. Blink of an Eye is crucial in setting them back."
However, it was the red commons which Liu paid considerable attention to. "Bloodstone Goblin is not a Wizard, but it provides good synergy with the rest of your deck. Blue and red have some of the most affordable kicker spells, and that makes Bloodstone Goblin tricky to block. Ghitu Journeymage and Ghitu Lavarunner are also cards which do not excel in other archetypes, meaning that they will come around late or even table. If you want to increase the number of spells to support Adeliz, the Cinder Wind and Ghitu Lavarunner, Opt and Warlord's Fury are great for pushing additional damage."
Together with burn and bounce, Liu also highlighted Run Amok and Fervent Strike. "When you're constantly burning creatures and bouncing creatures, your opponent is often on the backfoot, and he or she is often forced to block. That makes Run Amok better than Fervent Strike. Not only will you be killing your opponent's blocker, but you're also trampling over for additional damage. Maximising your ability to deal damage will matter greatly when you are also playing Fiery Intervention, Sorcerer's Wand and even Radiating Lightning."
Liu moved on explaining his strategy when it came to drafting green. Paired with a different color, the direction is entirely different.
"Saproling Migration and Yavimaya Sapherd are the most important green commons. They are the overlapping pieces regardless of which color you pair green with." Spore Swarm and Song of Freyalise also offer a lot of synergies.
"If you play green with white, it becomes a token deck, and you'll need to look out for Call the Cavalry, Sergeant-at-Arms, Wild Onslaught and Charge. Song of Freyalise allows me to cast my expensive kicker spells early and is perfect with token generators. Tokens are great in this format because Radiating Lightning and The First Eruption are the only annoyances - black has no Infest-like effects while the board sweepers of the format (Urza's Ruinous Blast and Slinn Voda, the Rising Deep) are not always easy to cast."
In black, Thallid Soothsayer and Thallid Omnivore are the cards which other archetypes don't rely on. They are great in token decks, obviously, and Vicious Offering is also best when paired with green. The Black-Green Saproling deck is very synergistic, but in the end, it still boils down to how many copies of Saproling Migration and Yavimaya Sapherd you've got.
"If you decide to play Red-Green, you might also table Hallar, the Firefletcher." In Liu's opinion, players are likely to move into Blue-Red Wizards when they open or are passed Adeliz, the Cinder Wind, but they are unlikely to move into Red-Green when they open Hallar, the Firefletcher since its a less powerful card. However, red and green had great uncommons in the form of Skizzik, Untamed Kavu, Goblin Barrage, and Fight with Fire, which all complement the "kicker strategy". As for Blue-Green, Liu thought that the color combination pales in comparison due to a lack of removal. "Pounce was already difficult to use, and Ancient Animus is equally difficult to time. I've tried out Blue-Green before, but I did not have much success with it."
With that, we've come to the end of our little chat, and we hope that you've learned how to draft Blue-Red Wizards, White-Green Tokens, Black-Green Saprolings, and even Red-Green Kicker. Try out one of these strategies at your next Dominaria Booster Draft!
Dominaria Draft Archetypes with Lee Shi Tian
While heralded as the Modern Master for being the only player in the world to make the Top 8 of three consecutive Modern Pro Tours, it's no secret that Lee was adept at grasping Limited formats either.
Lee first rose to stardom after winning Grand Prix Birmingham 2008 (by the way, Grand Prix Birmingham 2018 takes place next week, ten years after Lee won his title) and proceeded to make the Top 8 at five Pro Tours. A Platinum pro who is well-respected by his peers and the community, Lee took some time to share his three favorite draft archetypes.
"Black-Red, White-Black, and White-Blue are my favorite color combinations to draft," Lee said.
Black-Red, or Black-Red Kill as he dubs it, is basically a removal-based deck at its core. Since most of the kill spells were concentrated in these two colors, they combine to provide the most extensive removal suite possible. Naturally, all these spells were highly-sought after, but Lee's opinion is that you should pick these removal spells more highly than a lot of other fancy legends.
"Creature quality isn't super important when you're drafting Black-Red Kill. You just pick removal spells over anything and then fill out the deck with whatever comes along. Since you're trying to put stress on your opponent's board, you should also prioritize creatures which trade with other creatures, rather than walls."
What he meant was that, if you had the hypothetical choice between a 4/2 and a 2/4, pick the "Giant Cockroach" since it trades more easily. The onus is on making trades while holding a handful of removal and it forces your opponent to deploy all their creatures until they eventually run out. "At that point, you'll be able to control the board and be able to close the game with 'mediocre' creatures like Drudge Sentinel, Feral Abomination, or Pardic Wanderer. Since you're going to be prioritizing removal, you won't have a lot of quality creatures, but at least you know that these creatures will table."
Such a strategy not only denies other players of removal, but it also ensures that you have solutions to the bombs your opponent presents. Lee highlighted the most important commons - Ghitu Chronicler, Deathbloom Thallid, Rampaging Cyclops, and Keldon Raider. "Ghitu Chronicler allows you to reuse a removal spell, while Keldon Raider helps you filter away unwanted land to draw more kill spells. Since your opponent isn't going to have many creatures, Deathbloom Thallid and Keldon Raider become more effective at trading or clocking." Going by that logic, Stronghold Confessor is also pretty decent, since your opponent's side of the table is going to be (hopefully) empty most of the time.
The next deck Lee spoke about was the White-Black Knights deck. I asked him what the key card was. He flipped through the Dominaria Bundle's Player Guide and pointed out a single card to me as he began giggling.
Right... thanks for nothing, bro? How about you teach us how to draft this deck without relying on opening a MYTHIC RARE?
"Haha! Seriously though, the White-Black Knights deck relies heavily on uncommons. That is the biggest drawback, but you'll be able to read the signals to determine if it is open. This color combination has Knight of Grace and Knight of Malice, which are two of the best two-drops in the format. While there are no direct tribal payoff cards, high card quality is what you're going for. If you open something like History of Benalia, Aryel, Knight of Windgrace, or History of Benalia, it is a good chance to move in. To summarise a little, in the Black-Red Kill deck, you're prioritizing the removal spells. In White-Black Knights, you need to focus on the uncommons."
Last but not least, Lee said that White-Blue Historic (or White-Blue Flyers) was an essential archetype in the format. Cards like D'Avenant Trapper, Relic Runner, and Serra Disciple can be built around, and Lee's strategy was to overload the deck with evasion. Aesthir Glider and Jhoira's Familiar are average, but Lee said that these two cards hit two crucial criteriums to enhance the historic deck. "They can fly, and they trigger historic. That's great!"
"Let's talk about Aven Sentry as an example. It's okay in a White-Green deck with two flyers, but it's much, much better in a White-Blue deck with 12 evasion creatures. It forces your opponent to spend removal on it. White-Blue has always tried to stack as much evasion as possible while dealing with spiders."
Green has always been White-Blue's archnemesis since every format has some form of reach to deter flyers. Thankfully, Lee has got everything sorted out. "The most annoying cards for White-Blue Historic are Mammoth Spider, Arbor Armament, Pierce the Sky, and Multani, Yavimaya's Avatar. D'Avenant Trapper, Deep Freeze, and Into the Roil can deal with reach creatures, or you can support them with Adamant Will, Time of Ice and Merfolk Trickster. "Haha, you can even destroy Multani with Merfolk Trickster and try to defeat your opponent before they summon it again. And like always, hate draft the 'Plummets' when they table around."
With that, we've come to the end of the sharing session, and Lee headed over to his next booster draft. I'm glad to have learned how to draft Red-Black Kill, White-Black Knights, as well as White-Blue Historic and I hope Lee runs the tables in his second pod.
Kelvin Chew Nearly Makes Top 8 Again
Last year at Grand Prix Beijing 2017, Kelvin Chew was deemed worthy to hoist the champion trophy, earning himself his first title after four Grand Prix Top 8 appearances.
However, this weekend, the tournament did not begin easy 14th-ranked Chew, who was the third highest ranked player in the room. Right after his three byes, he was paired against (5) Yuuya Watanabe, an indication of a rocky road ahead. He escaped from Watanabe's clutches, only to be paired against the other 5th-ranked player Shota Yasooka in Round 6. He wasn't so fortunate this time and Yasooka handed him his first (and only) loss of Day 1.
Meeting both end-bosses in Day 1 did not make things easy for Chew.
As the tournament progressed, Chew trudged forward regardless of the resistance he faced, dispatching Liu Yuchen (China's current top player) in Round 9, Kato Kensuke (Grand Prix Kyoto 2018 Top 4 competitor) in Round 11, and former China National Champion Lu Chao in Round 12. Wow, will this day never end? The field was definitely not as soft as you thought and figurative landmines were everywhere - at least for Chew.
Kelvin Chew earned two Pro Points this weekend for his efforts, going up to 37 Pro Points this season.
In Round 14, which was a win-and-in match, Chew was paired against Zhi Yimin from Shanghai. Coincidentally, Zhi also made the Top at at Grand Prix Beijing 2017. To make the twist of fate even crueler, both players were piloting White-Blue Historic / Flying decks and Zhi's product was vastly superior. Crushing Chew in two straight games, Zhi ended Chew's dream of defending his title. Regardless, Chew was still glad to pick up a couple of Pro Points as he went up to a total of 37 for the 2017 - 18 season.
Zhi Yimin made back-to-back Top 8s at Grand Prix Beijing.
On a related topic, Zhi made back-to-back Top 8s in Beijing, solidifying himself as one of the top up-and-coming players of the local community. To crack the Top 8 in two consecutive tournaments in the same city was a feat of strength in itself.
"Beijing is indeed my lucky place. I'm glad to be qualified for another Pro Tour, and I hope I will be able to hit Silver this season!"
Yuki Matsumoto Takes A Risky But Calculated ID
Two-time Grand Prix Champion Yuki Matsumoto was having quite a smooth-sailing weekend and remained in contention for the Top 8 throughout the weekend. Despite barely surviving Day 1 with a 7-2 record, he won his first five matches in Day 2 to pump up his score to 12-2 (36 points). At the end of Round 14, however, he began worrying about his tiebreakers and started to do some simulations in his head.
"Nine possible players could make the Top 8. The top three tables are likely to ID, and that leaves only one spot for two remaining players. I was sure that I had the worst or second-worst tiebreakers. If I took an intentional draw, I might end up in 9th place."
After his Round 14 match ended, it became public information that both Yuuya Watanabe (11-3, 33 points) and Zhuang Kai (12-2, 36 points) had both won their respective matches in Round 13 and Round 14. It meant that both Watanabe and Zhuang would be paired with each other in Round 15 with absolute certainty since they both went 2-0 in that draft pod and both players had the closest possible record - all other players in the pod had less than 33 points.
When the standings and pairings for Round 15 were posted, Matsumoto confirmed that Watanabe and Zhuang had indeed been paired against each other. At the moment, he decided to take the risky ID with Zhi Yimin (12-2, 36 points), who was guaranteed to make the Top 8. Matsumoto, however, was at the mercy of the fates.
After taking an ID, Matsumoto was the mercy of the fates.
"To be honest, my deck is very bad. In Round 13 and Round 14, I had no choice but to play and try my best to win, which I did. All the games were very, very close and I know my deck was not a 3-0 deck for sure. If I were to be paired against Zhi Yimin, the other 2-0 drafter in my pod, the chance of me losing the match was extremely high because the probability of Zhi having a better deck than me was also extremely high. He only needed an ID to lock the Top 8, so he would offer me an ID. If I turned away that offer, I felt that he was going to beat me in Round 15 for sure."
Rather than lose flat out, Matsumoto took the ID and began to pray. Pray, for what, you may ask? He needed Watanabe to beat Zhuang to free up a spot.
"Watanabe is always in chase for Pro Points and he will never accept the ID. It makes no sense at all. Watanabe was playing that match for sure, regardless of who he was paired against. He cannot make the Top 8 anymore. But if he won Round 15, that gives him one additional Pro Point. Also, I heard that his deck is pretty insane."
Yuki Matsumoto watched on nervously as Yuuya Watanabe was about to close the game (and match) with an active Lyra Dawnbringer.
When all was said and done, Watanabe did indeed defeat Zhuang in two straight games. Watanabe-san showed me his deck as he wrapped things up and mentioned that it was "absolutely the best deck he ever drafted". Well, you be the judge of that.
Luckily for Matsumoto, Watanabe drafted what he called the best deck in the format ever. "I don't think I will be able to draft a better deck than this in Dominaria Limited ever again," Watanabe said.
You be the judge of that. Lyra Dawnbringer, Urza's Ruinous Blast, triple Eviscerate, double Arvad the Cursed, double Garna, the Bloodflame, double Skittering Surveyor, and double Clifftop Retreat. Bombs, removal, perfect mana, card advantage, great mana curve, and even a delicious combo in the form of Traxos, Scourge of Kroog and Voltaic Servant.
Right... That's absolutely ridiculous. There's no way Watanabe would pass up a chance for that Pro Point!
I spoke to Zhuang Kai after the match and patted him on his back for a job well done. He took the near miss in stride and expressed that everything Watanabe did was perfectly logical and reasonable.
"As a professional player, every Pro Point counts. There is Platinum, National captaincy, and the World Championship at stake. It's totally understandable for Watanabe to do what he did, especially when he had drafted such a great deck," Zhuang explained. "Of course, I don't expect a concession or for him to do me a favor, if I want to make the Top 8, I have to try my best to beat him fair and square."
To paint a clearer picture, , the final tally before and after Grand Prix Beijing looked like this:
- Yuuya Watanabe 39 + 3 (X-3, 12th place) = 42
- Shota Yasooka 39 + 3 (X-3, 9th place) = 42
- Ken Yukuhiro 35 + 6 (2nd place) = 41
- Kelvin Chew 35 + 2 (X-4, 27th place) = 37
In the end, Matsumoto did sneak into the Top 8 in the 8th seed, defeating fellow countryman in the quarterfinals before losing to Zhang Zhiyang in the semifinals. Nonetheless, this made for a really interesting story for an avid tournament goer who understands the intricacies of high-level tournament Magic.
A Historic Weekend for Zhang Zhiyang
As legendary characters new and old rise to prominence on Dominaria, so did Zhang Zhiyang. Maneuvering past 908 other players here at Grand Prix Beijing, the legendary Zhang took down Grand Prix Beijing 2018 on the back of his adamant will and mastery in the Dominaria Limited format.
The Top 8 comprised of five Japanese players and three Chinese players, so the task of keeping the title on local soil laid on the backs of Zhang Zhiyang, Zhi Yimin, and Mao Dun.
The final draft table comprised of five Japanese players and three Chinese players.
Unfortunately for China, Zhang and Zhi were paired against each other (guaranteeing the elimination of one Chinese player), while Mao also lost against Ryosuke Urase in the quarterfinals. However, Zhang never gave up and eventually steamrolled his way through the Top 8, dropping only a single game in the Top 8 to Ken Yukuhiro in the finals.
"After five trips to Top 8s, I finally have a Grand Prix title," Zhang heaved a sigh of relief. It had been a long weekend of ups and downs for Zhang, but it was all worth it in the end when he took it all down and made his nation (and Team MTG Sheep) proud. Once again, hearty congratulations to Zhang Zhiyang for cementing a spot for himself in Magic's illustrious history.
Congratulations to Zhang Zhiyang, the Grand Prix Beijing 2018 Champion!