More than 1,500 players showed up to Washington D.C. to see off Standard. With Battle for Zendikar and Shadows Over Innistrad blocks set to rotate later this month as Ixalan enters the format. With powerful Zombies and Eldrazi soon to leave Standard, the weekend represented a final look at those format-defining strategies, as well as an early-season opportunity for ambitious pros to pick up points in a diverse Standard format.
With a large crowd for the main event and surprises still popping up, there's no doubt that the first nine rounds of the Grand Prix delivered. Here are the highlights that stood out from Saturday.
The Format is Still Wide Open
As the door closes on this Standard format – one heavily shaped by the events and inclusions from Hour of Devastation, it’s worth noting just how rare a Standard format like this one is. Typically, the Pro Tour defines the metagame, and things evolve from there until reaching equilibrium a few weeks later, at which point players refine decks and sideboard plans to combat the format.
The format never stopped evolving.
It’s fitting as we prepare to welcome Dinosaurs to Standard, and evolution of this Standard continued in the nation’s capital. After Ramunap Red dominated the Pro Tour and Mono-Black Zombies and Black-Green Constrictor made their way to the top at Grand Prix Minneapolis, a Grand Prix Denver that two weeks ago also featured the breakout of Jeskai God-Pharaoh’s Gift was marked by the historic rise of Temur Energy, with Brad Nelson, Corey Baumeister and Brian Braun-Duin all making the Top 4 of the tournament playing the exact same 75 cards (Nelson walked away with the trophy).
That suggested that Temur Energy may be the top dog in Standard, but the first day of Grand Prix Washington D.C. dispelled that notion. Nelson and Baumeister – along with a handful of other top pros – audibled to Mono-White Eldrazi this weekend, leveraging Eldrazi Displacer, Thought-Knot Seer and Archangel Avacyn against the likes of Temur and Zombies.
But that wasn’t all. Green-White Ramp entered the fray this weekend, with players ramping to Approach of the Second Sun, while Blue-Red Control dipped into black in order to take advantage of the new finisher of choice: The Scarab God. Perhaps nothing illustrates this point better than the fact that of the 14 decks that won trials on Friday of the Grand Prix, there were 11 distinct archetypes among the winners.
“Standard hasn’t been this wide open in a very long time," explained Dan Ward. “Right now, Standard is like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade: you know what’s coming – you’re going to see Snoopy and mono-red – you just don’t know when it’s coming."
SINGLE CARD SPOTLIGHT: The Scarab God
Speaking of control, nothing this weekend has made a bigger impact on the archetype quite like The Scarab God. Innovated by control fanatic Shaheen Soorani (would you expect anyone else?), the Hour of Devastation God has slowly but surely begun to take over the format – making the most of that Zombie flavor. While, ironically, it’s not found a home in Mono-Black Zombies where it must compete with Liliana’s Mastery at the five-drop spot, it has appeared in numerous other archetypes.
Like Temur Energy, a powerful deck that thanks to Servant of the Conduit and Aether Hub can fairly painlessly splash black. Whether it’s ramping out an early The Scarab God or slamming one in the late game to steal a creature (or just be a recursive threat), The Scarab God has proved well worth the splash.
So good, in fact, that it’s even begun to knock off the God-Pharaoh himself. Blue-Red Control has been a force in the metagame for months, and the deck began to dip into black for Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh after the release of Hour of Devastation. But with Ramunap Red already such a difficult matchup, going so far over the top with Bolas wasn’t always a great option.
Enter The Scarab God. With the ability to affect the board much earlier and the resiliency to stick around through almost any removal, the card has become the default finisher for the deck, a major reason why a handful of pros decided to sleeve up the archetype this weekend.
“It’s just not a fair Magic card," said Ari Lax, who started off 6-0 with the deck. “You play your normal game, then look down at your nine mana and cast The Scarab God. Your opponent picks up your graveyard and sees a Torrential Gearhulk in there, and they usually just scoop because they know they aren’t beating that."
The Scarab God is more than just a way to get value from a fallen creature. It also serves as main deck graveyard hate for the God-Pharaoh’s Gift decks that were popular in Denver. The full package comes together to create a card that we’re going to see in Standard for a long time to come.
Baumeister Runs it Back
He’s not a newcomer to pro Magic, but Corey Baumeister has in many ways exploded onto the scene recently. He was actually in a pro event before his older brother Brad Nelson, but in short order it was Nelson who became a household name thanks to his incredible run to Player of the Year in 2010 and his continuing, consistent success and prominence in the years since.
But another thing has remained consistent – his praise for Baumeister’s Magic skills.
Now, the rest of the Magic world is finding out. Baumeister’s first Grand Prix Top 8 came in 2015 in Miami, but it’s his incredible 2017 run that has truly set him apart. It began with a March victory at Grand Prix New Jersey, and things have snowballed from there. He made the Top 8 of Grand Prix Minneapolis a month ago alongside his brother, and then made history by advancing to the Top 4 of Denver playing the same 75 Temur Energy cards as Nelson and Brian Braun-Duin.
And yet, he’s not done. Despite the success with Energy, he happily sleeved up Mono-White Eldrazi this weekend, and done the improbable: accomplished another career first, this time a 9-0 finish at Day 1 at a Grand Prix.
Six Lead the Way to Sunday
With more than 1,500 players battling Standard in D.C., it was a crowded field as Saturday wound down. In the end, it was a loaded feature match area as players battled for the 9-0 finish.
In the end, the six who emerged undefeated were Corey Baumeister, Sarah Zyla, Donald Smith, Yuxuan Zhu, Ray Huang and Ben Anderson! Without giving too much away, the six were piloting two copies of Mardu Vehicles, two copies of Ramunap Red, Mono-Black Zombies and Mono-White Eldrazi. It was the perfect cap to a day that saw a rise of decks and innovative strategies as players continued to experiment.
We’ll return on Sunday with six more rounds, as we march toward the Top 8 here in D.C.!