With 1,669 players, Bologna's was actually the largest of the weekend's three Grand Prix events, and a number of big stories came out of it too. For the most part, the talk of the tournament centered on the brand new Amonkhet Limited format of course ...
Nothing Is as It First Appears
If you have followed the Magic story, you probably read about Gideon and the rest of the Gatewatch traveling to Amonkhet and finding, to their surprise, an apparent paradise in the riverside city of Naktamun. But upon further exploration, the five planeswalkers noticed that not all was what it seemed to be, discovered a dark underbelly to Amonkhet's society.
If someone wanted to translate that same sense of discovery to Amonkhet Limited, and we know they did, then they definitely succeeded! When talking to pros this weekend, one refrain I heard often was people having to revise their initial evaluation. (1) Márcio Carvalho, Limited master possibly not least because of his ability to do so, told me he had had Compulsory Rest as the top white common originally. "It fell a lot in my ranking and Gust Walker is the best 2-drop you can get at common. It's just absurd the amount of damage it does."
(1) Márcio Carvalho
And while most everyone was striving for that Final Reward—in story and in tournament—Carvalho had come to a different realization. "Well, at first I thought it was obvious that Final Reward was the best black common, but I can tell you this. I prefer Cartouche of Ambition. The card is just unfair in a format that's all about the damage race. This even kills a lot of creatures and completely changes a race in your favor."
Team EUreka's Aleksa Telarov, meanwhile, took another look at green. "I would like to mention that Synchronized Strike looked much better than it performed and Watchful Naga was better than it looked!"
Whereas Hall of Famer Frank Karsten reconsidered his picks for best common and uncommon in red. "My original pick order list had Electrify and Deem Worthy. But looking at it again, Magma Spray and Trial of Zeal, respectively, may be better. These cards are more mana efficient and fit the format: you can get an impressive amount of value if you have a deck with Trials and Cartouches, and Magma Spray is great in an embalm world."
Finally, Platinum pro Andrea Mengucci stopped by during Sunday's first draft to say, "Remember how I told you I hated green? I'm [playing] green now, and it's great!"
You can find Mengucci's deck, with which he ended up going 3-0, as well as 64 other 3-0 lists here.
I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blue
Using the color blue in Limited had frequently been a tricky affair. After all, blue was the color of trickery, whereas Limited was more often about creatures smashing into one another. And Amonkhet's blue again had people singing the blues. "I'm trying to avoid blue. Those decks are hard to build and the focus of the blue cards is a bit scattered," said Pro Tour finalist Matej Zatlkaj, for example.
Javier Dominguez, who later ended up in the Top 8 here in Bologna, didn't like green-blue; Peter Vieren, whose brother made the Top 8 as well, had nothing good to say about white-blue. Gold pro Aleksa Telarov added, "My least favorite color combination is something clunky and inefficient like green-blue or blue-black, trying to push their synergies but being
slow in doing it and getting run over by agressive decks."
Six-time Grand Prix Top 8er David Brucker liked blue the least of all colors and suggested to avoid it, and Márcio Carvalho shared the sentiment: "It doesn't pair well with a lot of colors and it's kinda slow."
Niels Noorlander and Mattia Rizzi
Platinum pro Niels Noorlander and Gold pro Mattia Rizzi heaped on even more criticism, stating, "With blue-black, it's really easy to end up with a deck that just cycles and doesn't do much else. If you don't play the cycling cards it's hard to get a coherent deck in these colors, and when you do end up with a decent looking cycling deck it's still not great."
Blue-black in particular was disliked by many. Interestingly enough, others were singing its praises, most notably Andrea Mengucci and Arne Huschenbeth. In fact, blue's role in the format remained a subject of controversy and would clearly be a topic to investigate further at the upcoming Pro Tour.
Then again, Booster Draft had always been self-correcting in a way best exemplified by the three drafts (22) Martin Jůza's did in Bologna. With his first two, Jůza had demonstrated a fondness for aggressive red-white decks, but he noted that in the Top 8 draft "everyone seemed to be fighting over white." So he went into blue and black instead and was rewarded with a sweet collection of cards he took all the way to the finals. He even faced another blue deck then, and the color was only marginally underrepresented among 3-0 draft decks earlier in the day, while blue-black specifically was actually overrepresented among the 9-0 Sealed Decks.
A Great Format ...
If the weekend showed anything it was that Amonkhet was shaping up to be a Limited environment beloved by the player base. And possibly no one was more excited for it than Aleksa Telarov. "Embalm gives you a lot of time and ability to maneuver around and therefore the games don't close out super fast. Exert is just a great mechanic, difficult to utilize properly, opening up chances to win games that in previous formats you couldn't. Also, I cannot even begin to fathom how good cycling is, but I know that the player who uses his cycling spells more effectively will have a bigger win rate."
Telarov noted that a few people were already moaning about Glorybringer. "But let's say the biggest bomb is Glorybringer. It can get stopped/dealt with eventually by stuff like Fan Bearer, Compulsory Arrest, Final Reward, Electrify, Fling, even Spidery Grasp and Cartouche of Strength. Not to mention additional options to deal with bombs at uncommon and rare.
"I definitely think this format is super healthy and has a wide variety of great commons," said Telarov, "which make for a good format in my opinion. It's also very consistent in that the cards are mostly asking for just one colored mana, so everyone can play some spells most of the games and the mana is almost never an issue whatsoever."
Frank Karsten agreed that the math checked out: "The standard is seventeen lands in Limited decks, but in Amonkhet you can afford to cut a land as long as you have three to four cheap cycling cards. Another crucial aspect is that that there are very, very few double-colored cards that constrain your mana base. You have to go to rares and mythics like Gideon of the Trials or Prowling Serpopard to find them. This means that an eight/eight mana base usually gives enough colored sources."
Niels Noorlander pointed out the strategic depth of the set. "There are a lot of archetypes in this format. You can have a four-color green deck against a blue control deck and that's really grindy, but if you play versus aggro you need enough early game to survive until you can stabilize. There really is no typical Amonkhet Limited deck. You can have an aggresive deck with fifteen lands or a more midrange deck with seventeen. I don't think the concepts of synergy and curve are mutually exclusive either. For example, in this format there are a lot of decks that need synergy, like White-Black Zombies. This deck, however, still needs a good curve or it just will not work."
A Great Top 8 ...
Many great European players had chosen to attend Grand Prix Richmond instead of Grand Prix Bologna this weekend because of its proximity to the location of next week's Pro Tour. And of those who didn't, some had apparently picked Bologna specifically because they expected it to be an easier tournament with fewer pros present. At least Pro Tour Aether Revolt quarterfinalist Jan Ksandr told me as much about a certain Czech contingent.
But worries that the Top 8 in Bologna might have to make do without its fair share of big names were definitely premature. When the dust settled and the final eight gathered in the feature match area for the last draft of the day, a quick calculation yielded a whopping 32 previous Grand Prix Top 8s on these players' résumés.
Left to right: Dario Veneri, Pascal Vieren, Francesco Giorgio, Corrado De Sio, Simon Nielsen, Dario Parazzoli, (22) Martin Jůza, Javier Dominguez
Of course, Martin Jůza's career accounted for 24 of them, but still. 2014 World Magic Cup champion and current Gold pro Simon Nielsen was certainly no slouch either. Neither was Francesco Giorgio who, playing for England, had been defeated by Nielsen in the semifinals of that same tournament three years ago. Nor was Pascal Vieren, a finalist of the most recent World Magic Cup.
Another Gold pro, Spain's Javier Dominguez had reached the Top 8 five times before and entered the playoffs hunting for his third trophy. Like all of the Top 8 players, he had been mostly unstoppable this weekend, having lost only two of the Swiss rounds, to his fellow quarterfinalist Dario Veneri and to his girlfriend ...
Round 6 feature match: Javier Dominguez vs. Beatriz Grancha Marin
David versus Goliath in the Finals
The final match was supposed to a done deal before it had even begun. Going by prior results, Corrado De Sio was a massive underdog here. (22) Martin Jůza not only had the aforementioned 24, now 25, Top 8 finishes at the Grand Prix level to his name, he could also boast three Sunday appearances at the Pro Tour, including one at the most recent. What De Sio had written on his player profile sheet under previous Magic accomplishments, in contrast, was a simple "None."
Finals: (22) Martin Jůza vs. Corrado De Sio
Even Jůza's deck was suposedly favored against De Sio's. Jůza had drafted Archfiend of Ifnir plus two Ruthless Sniper and more than enough cards with cycling, and De Sio was on white and blue, a color combination traditionally weak to cards like these. Indeed De Sio had no Lay Claim—as opposed to Jůza—or Cast Out to deal with the aforementioned.
And when the two finally did start playing, De Sio almost immediately lost the single advantage he appeared to have. That is, he was allowed to go first, but after one mulligan his unimpressive charge of Sacred Cat and Those Who Serve didn't get him very far. Before long, Jůza had locked up the ground with Wasteland Scorpion, Baleful Ammit, and Liliana's Mastery.
Following that one Ruthless Sniper and some Splendid Agony action made it so that Baleful Ammit, later joined by Pitiless Vizier, could attack relentlessly. De Sio fought valiantly, until Jůza cast Sacred Excavation and then Wander in Death to retrieve two cyclers each.
De Sio didn't get off to a fast start into the second game either, cycling Djeru's Resolve at the end of Jůza's turn two. The pressure was mounting and Jůza noticed a little slip-up. "Did you draw the card from the cycling? I think you forgot to draw a card."
This elicited a chuckle from the crowd of spectators and a shout of: "You're so nice!"
However, soon enough, De Sio got an offense going: Tah-Crop Skirmisher enchanted with Cartouche of Knowledge, and Curator of Mysteries. The former traded with Baleful Ammit and the latter later received two counters courtesy of Splendid Agony. Still, Jůza had no Ruthless Sniper and De Sio was making some definite progress.
Jůza had to try and race against the flier. For that he used Pitiless Vizier and planned to return Baleful Ammit via Wander in Death next. But an unexpected twist saw De Sio use Commit // Memory to get rid of the Vizier and to shuffle away all of Jůza's plans.
Afterward, Jůza still hadn't drawn Archfiend of Ifnir, either Sniper, or Lay Claim, whereas De Sio turned up the heat further with River Serpent and Gust Walker. Jůza was looking for answers, cycled Wander in Death, cast Stir the Sands, and might have been able to mount a relevant ground offense yet. Only the game ended before that. With Jůza tapped out, De Sio put Mighty Leap on the very top of his library via Naga Oracle, and cycled Shimmerscale Drake to go get it. Jůza had to watch helplessly as River Serpent grew to 7/7 and rose out of the river, higher and ever higher, up into the air, cue music, water dripping off it in slow motion ... and scene.
With that, the score was tied at 1-1 and it all came down to one more game. This turned out to be somewhat anticlimactic, although decently spectacular at least on one side of the table. By turn three, De Sio had summoned a little army of Tah-Crop Skirmisher, Sacred Cat, and Gust Walker. Jůza summoned Baleful Ammit and put a counter on his Wasteland Scorpion, creating the perfect opportunity for De Sio to use Impeccable Timing during his next attack.
On his following turn Jůza went cycle, cycle, land, go, whereas De Sio added Aven Initiate to his team. Jůza went, "Cycle," and now through clenched teeth, "cycle again," before playing another land and passing once more. And that was it.
Needless to say, Jůza was quite disappointed and mentioned that this "looked like an insanely good matchup." But it wouldn't have been a proper battle of David versus Goliath if Goliath had won, right?
"This is the fifth Grand Prix final I lost," said Jůza. "Should have been the fifth Grand Prix final I win."
Corrado De Sio was meanwhile busy receiving congratulations from his fellow Italians and visibly exhausted as he accepted the winner's trophy.
Congratulations to Corrado De Sio, champion of Grand Prix Bologna 2017!