Top Stories of GP Brussels 2018

Posted in Event Coverage on August 12, 2018

By Frank Karsten

Earlier on Saturday morning, 1,109 players arrived in Brussels to play in the main event. After 15 rounds of Swiss, we had a Top 8 that was dominated by Esper Control. In the end, it was Jérémy Dezani who emerged triumphant with that deck, defeating Giordano Fagiolo and his Mono-Red Aggro deck in the finals.

R/B CHAINWHIRLER AND TURBO FOG WERE THE MOST POPULAR DECKS IN DAY 2

Last weekend at Pro Tour 25th Anniversary, R/B Chainwhirler (encompassing both aggro and midrange variants) was the most-played archetype in Standard. But perhaps more memorably, several successful players unveiled Turbo Fog—the deck that aims to stick an early Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, protect it with Root Snare or Haze of Pollen, and eventually take all the turns via Nexus of Fate. This strategy was very well suited against the red creature decks that lacked relevant disruption at the Pro Tour.

This weekend, players approached this turbolent metagame development in different ways. Some chose to embrace the deck. Others tried to beat it with Aetherflux Reservoir, Wizard's Lightning, or simply Negate. Still other players stuck with their red-black decks and simply added sideboard cards like Insult // Injury. But as we entered Day 2, R/B Chainwhirler and Turbo Fog were still on top in terms of metagame share.

Archetype Day 2 Players Day 2 Percentage
R/B Chainwhirler 78 32.5%
Turbo Fog 34 14.2%
Steel Leaf Stompy 23 9.6%
Esper Control 19 7.9%
W/U Control 15 6.3%
Grixis Midrange 14 5.8%
Mono-Blue Storm 13 5.4%
Mono-Red Aggro 11 4.6%
Mono-Red Wizards 8 3.3%
Sultai Gift 3 1.3%
W/B Benalia 3 1.3%
Other 19 7.9%

Notes: The "Mono-Red Aggro" category includes versions splashing for Scrapheap Scrounger. The "Other" category features 2 Abzan Midrange, 2 B/G Constrictor, and 2 Grixis Chainwhirler decks, along with the following singleton deck choices: W/U Gift, Esper Benalia, G/U Karn, G/W Midrange, Mono-Black Control, Mono-Black Zombies, Mono-White Angels, R/G Monsters, R/W Angels & Dragons, Sultai Midrange, U/B Midrange, and U/R Gift.

Throughout Day 2, both R/B Chainwhirler and Turbo Fog performed reasonably well: their Day 2 non-mirror match win percentage were respectively 54.1% for R/B Chainwhirler and 50.5% for Turbo Fog. But neither of these two decks proved dominant, as there was only one R/B Chainwhirler player and one Turbo Fog player in the Top 8, and neither made the finals.

As a final noteworthy stat: Turbo Fog's record against R/B Chainwhirler in Day 2 was 92-90, indicating that the loss of surprise value and the sideboard adaptations brought the matchup much closer to 50%. It was no longer the walkover that it supposedly was at the Pro Tour.

ESPER WAS THE MOST PREVALENT COLOR COMBINATION IN THE TOP 8

Despite only being 7.9% of the Day 2 metagame, three Esper decks managed to advance to the Top 8. Their pilots were all familiar faces: Pro Tour Hall of Famer Guillaume Wafo-Tapa, Pro Tour champion Jérémy Dezani, and Gold-level pro Arne Huschenbeth.


Guillaume Wafo-Tapa, Jérémy Dezani, and Arne Huschenbeth (left to right).

While no one was surprised that renowned control master Wafo-Tapa stuck with his trusty Disallows and card draw spells, I was more surprised to see the deck in Huschenbeth's hands, so I asked him about his deck choice. "I played red-black at the Pro Tour and went 5-9, so I disappointed my teammates there," Huschenbeth told me. "But one round I was paired against Oliver Tiu, who played Esper, and he crushed me. So I messaged him, copied his list, played a bit, and went like 14-1 on Magic Online, beating red-black and Turbo Fog left and right. I think the deck was the best deck for this tournament."

Indeed, this Grand Prix suggests that Esper Control is the perfect choice for a metagame filled with R/B Chainwhirler and Turbo Fog. With countermagic to stop Nexus of Fate and with Vizier of Many Faces to deal with sideboarded Carnage Tyrants, the deck has all the right tools to beat Turbo Fog. And Huschenbeth believed that the matchup against a typical R/B Chainwhirler deck was just as favorable: "If they were lower to the ground with more one-drops, it would be much harder. But in Game 1, they have so many dead removal cards, and if they don't curve out perfectly, their deck is too slow. And Duress doesn't take Gearhulk…I'm actually happy if they play Duress on turn two."

SULTAI GIFT BREAKS THROUGH


Nils Gutierrez Von Porat (left) and Ivan De Castro (right)

Earlier on Saturday, teammates Nils Gutiérrez Von Porat and Ivan De Castro entered the tournament with nearly the same Sultai Gift deck. They kept pristine 7-0 records until they were paired together in Round 8. Expecting that a 12-2-1 record would be enough for Top 8, they agreed to an intentional draw in an attempt to maximize the probability that they could both make Top 8 together. While that dream did not come to fruition—De Castro finished 28th—one out of two teammates in the Top 8 is still a pretty good conversion rate.

Nils Gutiérrez Von Porat's Sultai Gift – Top 8 at Grand Prix Brussels 2018

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Their deck features Gate to the Afterlife and God-Pharaoh's Gift, but what sets it apart from other Gift decks is that it doesn't rely on the 7-mana artifact. Their deck eschews Angel of Invention and Stitcher's Supplier and instead has a creature base that looks perfectly reasonable if no God-Pharaoh's Gift shows up. According to Gutiérrez Von Porat, the deck wins with a normal creature curve (for example, Llanowar Elves on turn one, Champion of Wits on turn two, Walking Ballista on turn three, and Verdurous Gearhulk on turn four) about half of the time.

Both players had a hand in the development of the deck. "After Llanowar Elves was revealed in Dominaria, Ivan brewed up a blue-green Gift deck with Llanowar Elves," Gutierrez Von Porat said. "He was winning a lot with the deck on Magic Online, but it had one problem: big stuff from the opponent, like Ghalta, Primal Hunger or Lyra Dawnbringer. I added a black splash for Hostage Taker, which solves that problem and is excellent with Gift."

According to Gutiérrez Von Porat, the deck is well-positioned in the current Standard metagame: "Red/black is pretty close—we are 50-50—but we beat everything else. With 6 counterspells in the sideboard and pressure, we can beat Turbo Fog, Storm, and so on."

They had found a reasonable degree of success with the deck since its inception—Gutiérrez Von Porat took the deck to an 11-4 finish at Grand Prix Birmingham, while De Castro piloted it to a 10-4 Standard record at Pro Tour 25th Anniversary—but this weekend marked the breakthrough Top 8 finish that they had been hoping for.

ADDITIONAL ROGUE DECKS FINDING SUCCESS

In an era where decklists are widely available online, there are underappreciated benefits to playing a rogue brew—something that Alex Stok and Glenn Muijen, both of whom were piloting an unusual deck in the feature match area on Sunday morning, understood all too well.

“I like to play decks that people don't know," Stok told me. "When opponents don’t know my list, they often board incorrectly, and that can give me free wins."

Glenn Muijen agreed: “You get a few extra percentage points when you know what you’re supposed to do in a matchup while your opponent doesn't."

Let's take a closer look at their deck choices.

Alex Stok's Mono-Black Control – 8-6-1 at Grand Prix Brussels 2018

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Alex Stok, who has a Top 8 at Grand Prix Utrecht 2014 to his name, entered the tournament with four copies of Cabal Stronghold. His deck, largely developed by his friend Andy Cooman, previously brought him to a 5-1 Standard record at Dutch Nationals, and this weekend it carried him to a Day 2 finish in Brussels.

“It’s a deck with a lot of removal to kill everything on my opponent’s side, and the main plan is to take one of my opponent’s win conditions via The Eldest Reborn and Gonti, Lord of Luxury," he explained. “I have a few silver bullets like Josu Vess, Lich Knight and Torment of Hailfire that I can dig for with Treasure Map, but I tried to keep my own creature count close to zero. This makes opposing removal spells dead, and usually I win with one of my opponent’s best cards."

Opponents didn't always know or realize this, leading them to suboptimal sideboard decisions: “One game, I Duressed my opponent and saw that they kept a hand with four creature removal spells. This gives me free wins."

In terms of matchups, Stok felt that his mix of discard spells, planeswalker removal, and card draw effects gave him a favorable chance against Turbo Fog. The matchup against R/B Midrange was tougher, but according to Stok, if you can properly sequence your removal—for example keeping Vraska's Contempt for Rekindling Phoenix—then it's winnable too.

Glenn Muijen's R/G Monsters – 12-3 at Grand Prix Brussels 2018

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Glenn Muijen has always liked green midrange strategies, and he has tried to make some kind of red-green Monsters deck work since Amonket: “When I saw Rhonas the Indomitable, I thought ‘I want to build the best Rhonas deck.’ The first iterations weren’t great, but after Rekindling Phoenix was released, it all came together.”

The addition of Steel Leaf Champion from Dominaria improved the creature base even further, but it turned the mana base into a massive challenge. “That’s why I am playing the Timber Gorge,” Muijen explained. Together with an Adventurous Impulse and 4 Aether Hub (supported by a minor energy theme) his deck scrapes together just enough red and green sources. Although he gets there barely, I agree that the mana base is passable in terms of consistency.

“Mana management is really important, especially the sequencing with the energy cards,” Muijen continued. Indeed, there can be some challenging puzzles in trying to figure out how to best exploit Aether Hub and Greenbelt Rampager in the early turns. But in the end, the addition of the red cards makes it all worth it. Besides powerful fliers, you gain Banefire against Turbo Fog and Chandra’s Defeat against R/B Chainwhirler.

And as with all rogue decks, the fact that opponents didn't know his list helped: “If players didn’t see all that many cards from me in Game 1, they often think I’m on the Steel Leaf Stompy version with Sarkhan’s Unsealing and may board completely differently. For example, I had several red-black players who kept Magma Spray against me in the expectation that I was playing Llanowar Elves.” These are small edges, but they did help carry Muijen to a 14th-place finish—a new personal best for him.

SCROLLING DECK NAME TECHNOLOGY

Rob van der Burgh stunned us all with an ambitious red-white deck featuring History of Benalia, Goblin Chainwhirler, and a top-heavy mana curve. During his Round 9 feature match, the coverage team had fun coming up with a increasingly more descriptive deck names as the round went on.

As commentator Riley Knight promised, here is van der Burgh's decklist.

Rob van der Burgh's R/W Angels & Dragons … and Phoenixes … and Planeswalkers – 10-5 at Grand Prix Brussels 2018

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JÉRÉMY DEZANI TAKES THE TROPHY

Pro Tour Theros champion Jérémy Dezani is no newcomer to a Grand Prix finals, as he already owned two Grand Prix trophies. Earlier this season, he had made it to two Grand Prix finals in an attempt to score his third. While he wasn't able to get there in Seattle or Shizuoka, this weekend he emerged triumphant.

"I think the key match was definitely the quarterfinals," he told us. In that match, he had to dispatch his compatriot Guillaume Wafo-Tapa in a marathon Esper mirror. Game 1 was particularly memorable, and well worth checking out in the Twitch archives if you like control decks. It's hard to appreciate it without seeing the whole game, but it all came down to a point where Wafo-Tapa had to resolve 2 Torrential Gearhulks to win before he would run out of cards, leading to one of the greatest counter-wars ever witnessed.

The battle worked out in Dezani's favor, and he kept winning after. Alexander Gordon-Brown's Sultai Midrange deck was not suited to beat Esper Control in the semifinals, and Giordano Fagiolo's Mono-Red Aggro draws were too slow in the finals.

Jérémy Dezani's Esper Control – Champion of Grand Prix Brussels 2018

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Congratulations to Jérémy Dezani, your Grand Prix Brussels 2018 champion!

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