Highlights of Grand Prix Denver Day 1

Posted in Event Coverage on October 14, 2018

By Corbin Hosler

More than 500 teams turned out for Grand Prix Denver, and it was a packed house as we kicked off the first Grand Prix team event of the season. The Magic world has been abuzz with our return to Ravnica, and the set saw plenty of love today as the 1500-plus competitors battled it out in eight rounds of Team Sealed. Here are the highlights of Day 1 at Grand Prix Denver.

The Team is the Thing

There was a lot going today in Denver – cosplay, artist booths, a giant Sealed tournament and much more. But more than anything, team events are about the team – the players you make the trip with and compete alongside during a long day of Magic. As such, I'd be remiss if I didn’t lead by highlighting some of the most exciting teams from the event, whether that’s a trio of the world’s top pros or a group of cosplayers or content creators.

As with any team event, we must begin with the Peach Garden Oath – Reid Duke, Owen Turtenwald and William “Huey” Jensen. The team name Peach Garden Oath is basically synonymous with “Top 4 competitors” at this point, so how did the most feared team in the room do on Saturday?

Coming off a Team Series win at the 2018 World Championship with Ultimate Guard Pro Team, it’s almost always a surprise when the PGO isn’t winning them all. But with the pre-tournament favorites out of the field, who else could step up?

There were plenty of teams loaded with pros, and the consensus in the room seems to be that Guilds of Ravnica is an interesting and skill-testing Limited format to reward those well-practiced at their craft.

Brian Braun-Duin, Seth Manfield and Corey Baumeister teamed up for Denver, and after taking a Round 1 loss they rallied back to win all the rest of their rounds – a 7-1 finish puts them behind just the two undefeated squads, though the trio knows they have their work cut out for them on Sunday as they battle through poor tiebreakers.

Also near the top of the standings is the unlikely team of Shahar Shenhar, Noah Walker and Oliver Tiu. Each has a decorated resume, experience finding success in team events and in Limited. But there was one thing they couldn’t agree on: whose team it started as. Both Walker and Shenhar claimed Tiu as their own – “there may be some disagreement on that," as Walker deftly put it. For his part, the former Rookie of the Year Tiu stayed out of the debate, proving himself to be the brains of the operation this weekend.

Whatever it is, it worked; the team will return on Sunday with a 7-1 record. With plenty of other powerhouse teams clustered at the top, Sunday is sure to be a clash of heavyweights as teams jockey for a spot in the Top 4.

Of course, not all teams come together because they’re full of pros.

The cosplay kids may not have made Day 2, but they were the highlight of many opponents’ day. They were three of many cosplaying at the event, and it’s becoming more and more commonplace to sit down across from your opponent and find that you may be facing off a planeswalker this round.

Even the powerful mages in the multiverse need a little help, sometimes – and sometimes the multiverse collides.

Manfield looking toward Playoff

The 2017-18 pro season may be behind us, but that doesn’t mean it’s over. Fans will be treated to a an exciting playoff between co-leaders Manfield and Luis Salvatto just before the kickoff of Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica next month in Atlanta, and the unique format already has Manfield’s attention. Full details are in the link, but both players will bring four different Standard decks and rotate through them as they play.

“I really like choosing a lot of different decks, especially in a new Standard format," explained Manfield, who also finished 7-1 in Denver alongside teammates Brian Braun-Duin and Corey Baumeister. “I’ve never had an experience playing a format quite like we will be. The closest we’ve come is the Team Super Leagues where I had to be ready to play a handful of different decks, but this will be all new to me. I really like that they’re trying out new things with formats."

While it would be easy for Manfield to focus on the playoff, the truth is he’s got a new Pro Tour and an entirely new Pro Tour season to get a jump on as well.

“You know, I don’t feel like I really ‘need’ the title; to win it you have to have a lot of things go in your favor and my season was already great – I won a Pro Tour [Ixalan] last season, that was the highlight and that’s a pretty good one to have," he explained. “I’ve chatted with Luis a little about the playoff and he’s really excited as well. I really like him as a person, and playing against a competitor like that gets me even more excited. I’ve been in high-pressure situations before and I’m going into this with the goal to just have fun, not to go crazy stressing out over it."

Exploring Guilds of Ravnica

The first major events with Guilds of Ravnica came last weekend as players gathered in Montreal and Mexico City to play with the newest set. The five-guild setup means that deckbuilding can sometimes be straightforward, but with access to additional packs (and mana-fixing Gates) in Team Sealed, players went deeper into the city of guilds today than ever before.

One standout archetype was Izzet Aggro, which comes together to form a tempo deck that has no trouble getting ahead on the board and keeping opponents off balance while attacking with cards like Leapfrog and Piston-Fist Cyclops. One pro described it as a “pile of bad cards that happen to work really well together."

Between Sonic Assault, Beacon Bolt, Hypothesizzle – and with Goblin Electromancer discounting the lot – the aggressive Izzet deck can keep blockers tapped and keep the creatures crashing in, whittling down opponents’ life totals before using Inescapable Blaze or Dirent Current to finish them off.

Of course, sometimes it does a lot more than whittling.

“There was one turn where I just 14’ed my opponent," explained Michael Malone, one of the six undefeated players in the room. “Risk Factor into Risk Factor into Inescapable Blaze, and they just died."

It’s the Izzet. You never know what you’re going to get.

Two Teams on Top

With many Hall of Famers and top-ranked players in the room, the competition at the top was fierce all day long But in the end it was a pair of underdog teams who claimed the top spot and will return in pole position on Sunday.

First up was the trio of Jacob Baugh, Jack Dobbin and Andrew Tenjum, who piloted Boros, Selesnya and Dimir (with a green splash) on the day. The team spent the week preparing, doing half a dozen practice builds before sitting down the day of the tournament for the real thing. Even with all that practice, building decks in Guilds of Ravnica Team Sealed isn’t easy.

“Our original decks really weren’t great, but we kept working and figured it out," Baugh explained. “It’s very hard to pick your colors in this format. You can basically play everything, but you have to make the right choices. It’s usually correct to have two, two-color decks and one three-color deck."

With another Team Sealed on tap in the morning, this trio will have one more chance to put their practice into action as they vie for a shot at the Top 4.

The second undefeated team may be the most unlikely winners in the room. Michael Malone – winner of Grand Prix Charlotte in 2015 – is no stranger to Grand Prix success, but for this team Grand Prix Denver almost didn’t happen at all.

“Dustin [Flora] and I were supposed to play with Jimmy Smith," Malone explained. “We all met in Florida. Well, I got on a plane and flew here and after I arrived we got a message from Jimmy that he had lost in his house in Hurricane Michael. Obviously at that point he wouldn’t be making it."

The vicious hurricane tore through large parts of the southeastern United States in the days before the tournament, and left Magic the last thing on the minds of thousands including Smith. That meant the team needed a third.

Enter Jesus Buenrostro. He bought a same-day ticket from Los Angeles and flew to Denver to join the team. Eight rounds later, and they’re one of just two undefeated teams in the room. With every win, the team shared a simple message: For Jimmy.

They’ll be back on Sunday to try and turn their perfect start into a perfect finish.

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