Team Grand Prix bring out the best in the Magic community, from the most well-liked pros to the most local of players not seen regularly on the Grand Prix circuit. The Magic of Magic with your friends is enough to excite anyone, and that would explain why more than 500 teams – and 1,600 players – made the trek to Cleveland to compete in the Team Limited event.
It was also the final bow for Amonkhet. With the hour of devastation approaching quickly, Nicol Bolas and friends are sure to shake up the Limited format. But until then, it's Trials and Cartouches all the way as players build streamlined, powerful decks for Cleveland. It's been an exciting start to the tournament here in Believeland, and there's surely more to come as we march toward the Top 4.
Here are the moments that stood out to us in Day One.
A Last Look at Amonkhet
Nicol Bolas and the Hour of Devastation landing soon, players will soon have a brand-new Limited format to solve, one that will be influenced by Amonkhet but not defined by it. That makes this weekend in Cleveland the final chance for players to battle a format that has come to be synonymous with aggression.
The fast decks of Amonkhet have been feared since the early days of the format. A first-turn Bloodlust Inciter is perhaps the most feared opening in the format, and Gust Walker on the second turn isn't far behind.
Of course, Sealed can be a different format entirely. While there are some absurdly potent aggressive decks floating around the room today, there are also a plethora of slower, controlling decks that aim for a much different endgame.
Speaking of endgames, one of the late-game cards to lock things up is Sandwurm Convergence. Many matches have been decided by the horde of 5/5s, though typically it doesn't very many Wurms before the opponent is picking up their cards. Unless, that is, they have their own Wurm creator.
And when Sandwurms converge, the board ends up looking something like this.
A pair of Sandwurm Convergence square off.
When Wurms Attack
Two Sandwurm Convergence. Twenty-three Wurm tokens on the battlefield. Zero cards in library. One all-out attack.
When Wurms Block
When the dust settled, it was Avi Grinberg whose Wurms took the match, as his opponent's Synchronized Strike couldn't force through enough damage to end the game.
Not a bad send-off for Amonkhet.
A Fling to Remember
Oliver Tiu's match against Louis Kaplan played out like so many others. The teenage wunderkind got ahead on board with his white-black deck, the Zombies giving him a large board and safe lead on life totals as well.
So when Kaplan attacked with both his creatures while trailing 17-7 in life, it raised a few eyebrows. Still, there was no predicting what was coming.
Tiu opted for the safe block, taking damage from one attacker while throwing a Soldier token in front of the Initiate's Companion Kaplan sent his way. The block put the pressure on Kaplan to make a move, and when he did just that with Shed Weakness, it was a trade Tiu was happy to make, as he looked to untap with lethal on the board for the crackback.
It was a chance he would never get. Kaplan followed up with Brute Strength, and then a final card to complete the "super combo."
Froehlich Battles Back from the Brink
In a day filled with close games, narrow victories and impressive comebacks, perhaps nothing stood out more than Hall of Famer Eric Froehlich's Round 5 match against Greg Ogreenc. It was a game where one side seemingly played all the most powerful cards, and yet somehow came up short.
In a series of plays that will leave even veteran Magic players asking, "how did he do that?" as they look back at the game, Froehlich faced down relentless pressure from Ogreenc that included not just Scaled Behemoth but also Rhonas the Indomnitable. The power of Ogreenc's deck had seen his team to a 4-0 record, and it looked as if he was well on his way to 5-0.
But Froehlich demonstrated it's not just the power level of your cards that matter, but how you play the cards you have. What followed was one of the best games of the day here in Cleveland.
Duke Gets Creative
Magic is a game with rules. And, often, those rules are made to be broken.
Take, for instance, the card Haze of Pollen. Often, "Fog" effects are looked on unplayable in Limited, due to the fact they rarely affect the board and often simply delay defeat by a turn. That has led most people to dismiss the card or fail to take it into account.
Of course, with the release of Amonkhet and the return of cycling to the game, everything has changed. Haze of Pollen may only be situationally good, but with cycling it's guaranteed that the card is never dead. That makes it more playable than ever, and when it's good, it's really good.
Duke – the world's third-ranked player and 20-time Grand Prix Top 8 competitor – showed exactly why in his Round 6 match against Jed Robinson, as Robinson attacked for lethal on what would be the deciding turn of the game.
Don't sleep on rarely seen cards – or one of the game's best players.
Tiu, Shenhar, and Floch Run the Table
It was a team brought together by circumstance. Olivier Tiu, and Shahar Shenhar had already decided to pair up for Grand Prix Cleveland, but they still hadn't locked up the final spot on the team. Ivan Floch went to Grand Prix Amsterdam considering a trip to the United States for Grand Prix Vegas and Cleveland, but was lacking a team.
It was convenience that brought the team together, but don't be surprised to see them back together in the future after a perfect run through Day One of Grand Prix Cleveland. The team rattled off an unblemished 8-0 start before squaring off against the fabled Peach Garden Oath – Reid Duke, Owen Turtenwald, and William Jensen.
It didn't slow down the newly formed trio, and a pair of tight games later they had emerged as the only undefeated team and the favorites to advance to the Top 4 as we enter Sunday.