Modern motored into Motor City, bringing well over 500 teams and plenty of stories to share. From the Player of the Year race to powerful Planeswalking cosplayers and Rochester, New York emerging as the undefeated Modern capital, this was just a slice of the action from the Day 1 floor at Grand Prix Detroit.
Player of the Year Race
Last weekend, the 2017-2018 Player of the Year race entered a double Grand Prix at Richmond in almost a dead heat: top-ranked Seth Manfield held a one point lead over 2nd-ranked Reid Duke who in turn had just one point over 3rd-ranked Luis Salvatto.
By the end of the weekend, Salvatto had picked up a pro point to tie Duke as Manfield clinched a semifinal finish to extend his lead to three. While it wasn't a lock, it put the pressure on both Salvatto and Duke to dig deep for the remaining two events as Manfield pursued his additional points as well.
The headline team in the race was used to the spotlight. 16th-ranked Brian Braun-Duin and 13th-ranked Brad Nelson had found success at several events together. A team Top 4 in with Manfield in Toronto, plus a team Top 4 with Martin Muller in Hartford quietly made this one of the most effective team-ups this year.
“We’re the brains of the operation." Nelson said. “We work together for Pro Tour and we team well together for tournaments. We started casually doing it without the intent for world domination, but we interact well and know each others limitations."
Braun-Duin quickly clarified. “Our intent isn’t world domination but Worlds domination."
Manfield was all business however. “The plan for this weekend is to win this Grand Prix, then I think I’ll feel pretty comfortable." he said. “I’ve been in a similar spot before and I don’t like the feeling of “Hey, I need this other guy to not do well and I’ll win Player of the Year." Assuming nothing major shifts this weekend, I don’t have plans to go to Stockholm. If Salvatto wins—"
Nelson, like Manfield and Braun-Duin, was qualified for the 2018 World Championship the weekend after and interrupted Manfield. “There’s zero percent chance you’re going to Stockholm."
“Worlds is less than two weeks away. I want to relax." Manfield admitted. “I know Salvatto is playing in the next Grand Prix, and he can steal a win to go ahead of me, but if nothing major happens this weekend I’ll pass on Stockholm."
So how did the plan come together to win the Grand Prix this weekend?
“We were extremely disorganized because none of us wanted to play Humans." Manfield said. “We wanted to play with Ancient Stirrings or a Control deck. [Braun-Duin] ended up with Humans but until 11 PM last night I was under the assumption I was playing it. I thought about it and in the end I’ll always do what’s best for the team."
“Then they took a break and came back with ‘Just kidding!’”
It was a rocky start from the beginning for the team at Detroit, thought not entirely unsuccessful.
Unfortunately for Manfield his team dream in Detroit ended in Round 7 when they picked up their second loss after a tie. His destiny was now in the hands of others.
Another contender for Luis Salvatto found his team for Team Unified Modern the technologically modern way: through the internet.
3rd-ranked Luis Salvatto recruited Pro Tour champion Alexander Hayne and perennial Brazilian standout Thiago Saporito to continue the Player of the Year run.
“In the beginning I made a tweet asking for people," Salvatto said. “Some good players like Alexander Hayne and Logan Nettles replied—but then Thiago Saporit told me he wanted to play so it was settled with him for sure. I put some pressure on Alexander to play too—three or four guys were waiting for me to answer."
“So we ended up two nice guys and a Canadian." Hayne quipped. “The team is 2-0. Well… they are."
Salvatto didn’t miss Hayne’s joke, but shared the upside of team events. “It’s really good to lose and pick up a win. It’s one of the good things with team events—winning when a friend loses."
“At the team Pro Tour all of us had better records than our team," said Hayne, before pointing to Salvatto. “He’s looking to be the first ‘LSV’ to win Player of the Year. I’m playing to help these guys out."
It wasn’t just Salvatto’s race for Player of the Year they were fighting for—Saporito was also looking for his level up with a strong finish for the weekend. With a great record he could pick up the points needed for Platinum.
Four points could mean a lot for Salvatto and Saporito. Going into the last round, Salvatto and team were 5-2 and needed a win to make the Day 2 cut.
6-2 at #GPDetroit súper happy with the team, tomorrow more battles! Personal score 7-1— Luis Salvatto (@LuisSalvatto) September 8, 2018
Bant Knight fall 2-1
Mardu pyro 2-1
Salvatto—and Saporito’s—dream was alive after the Sunday cut in Detroit.
However there was still a third in the running for Player of the Year: 2nd-ranked Reid Duke. One of the pillars of the professional player community, his team for Detroit is the same as it is for every event: 5th-ranked Owen Turtenwald and Huey Jensen—each Pro Tour Hall of Fame members.
Owen Turtenwald, Huey Jensen and Reid Duke are popularly known as the Peach Garden Oath and among the game’s greatest competitors both individually and as a team.
There was no special planning or last-minute team changes. For Duke and company, it was another event where the plan was the same as it was every time: win.
And just like Salvatto’s team, Duke and the Peach Garden Oath needed to pick up a win in the seventh round to make the Day 2 cut.
Duke’s run for Player of the Year continued into Day 2.
The stakes for the event weren’t limited to prestigious qualifications and titles, but down to earth fun too. Bringing together cosplayers with 30 years of experience is exactly what Dana Fischer did.
The fact it was 30 years of life experience total is the fun wrinkle in this case:
The Gatewatch Girls Power—or #GatewatchGirls for Twitter’s sake—team up is a straightforward story of like-minded players: Dana Fischer and sisters Annika and Ainsley Maddock came together for a common purpose of teaming up to win a Grand Prix.
How did this powerful trio of Planeswalker meet? “We met online and we saw Dana on coverage." Ainsley Maddock said. “Look! It’s another girl who plays Magic and does cosplay!"
Her sister Annika was quick to add their excitement. “We gotta team with her!"
Ainsley Maddock, Dana Fischer, and Annika Maddock — adorned in Planeswalker attire — crashed #GPDetroit in style!— Magic Pro Tour (@magicprotour) September 8, 2018
It's the first tournament for Team Gatewatch Girl Power (or #GatewatchGirls for short), but it surely won't be the last! pic.twitter.com/d2DGoz8vmD
“For me, I saw some of the coverage for Grand Prix Indianapolis." Fischer said. “As soon as I saw I said ‘It’s so cool! I need to meet them!' At first it was a no. But then I learned they lived here. And finally I begged my mom and dad so much that we came."
“Dana is staying at our house for the Grand Prix." Ainsley Maddock said.
“We’re 2 and 4 right now. Not so great." Dana said.
“But she ultimate’d Karn!" Annika Maddock shouted.
“With Ulamog, and Wurmcoil and Urza’s Power-Plant!" Ainsley added.
With two more rounds of Grand Prix action plus a Sunday full of side events, it’s clear team #GatewatchGirls wasn’t going anywhere.
Each of us on Team Gatewatch Girl Power #GatewatchGirls has a token and feel free to come ask us for it if you see us at #GPDetroit ! We will also be teaming up at #GPDenver in Oct. @MaddockTodd @SarainAnnArbor pic.twitter.com/um0QtUyr0e— Dana Fischer the Magic Planeswalker (@DanaFischerMTG) September 8, 2018
They’ll have another shot at making Day 2 when their superteam returns at Grand Prix Denver.
A Platinum Team for Unified Modern
Thiago Saporito wasn’t the only player on a team looking for a great finish. Corey Baumeister needed to win the Grand Prix to notch Platinum status, and the crew assembled could do it: Pro Tour Hall of Fame member and 6th-ranked Martin Juza and Modern master of Grixis Control Corey Burkhart rounded out a trio of players to be reckoned with.
Corey Burkhart, Martin Juza and Corey Baumeister joined forces to try and secure Baumeister a Platinum finish for the season.
But it started the other way around. Juza and Burkhart were without their typical third player as Shuhei Nakamura was lined up to battle for the National Title of Japan.
“I answered the Twitter call!" Baumeister cheered!
Juza and Burkhart knew what they wanted: “He plays a lot of constructed and knows what he’s doing." Juza summed.
Burkhart was a little quicker to the punch. “Baumeister? Hit him up!"
“Plus we wanted to win the GP and make [Baumeister] platinum," Juza added. “We needed the extra motivation."
It was more than humble motivation and Baumeister’s skill that brought them together. Successful teams look to align the strengths of individuals up better.
“We like different styles of decks," Juza said.
“I like ‘aggro interactive’ decks," Burkhart added.
“Corey Baumeister wants to play decks like Tron. It’s really important for the team to have different playstyles." Juza explained.
If having different styles of play is step one, tackling which decks are played by who is step two. Burkhart knew exactly how to begin breaking down the options in Modern.
“I like to identify what the most powerful cards are that overlap between strategies." Burkhart said. “Path to Exile, Lightning Bolt, Snapcaster, Noble Hierarch—the high power level cards that define an archetype and can’t be split."
“If we want to build a deck with this you have to ask yourself ‘Which one is the best?' Other people are smart and going to figure out the combinations of decks so you want decks good against those decks."
“But we could level ourselves too much," Juza added.
Levels—the idea of looking at what your opponent is thinking, then considering what your opponent is thinking you’re thinking, and cascading into higher ‘levels’ from there—is a longstanding part of how top players attack events. Predicting opponents decks, and being prepared to handle how they’re prepared to handle you, is a powerful tool for success—if you’re right, that is.
“It’s good Baumeister plays Tron because it has good matchups against what other teams are likely to play." Burkhart said.
“There’s a lot of players on Humans here." Juza shared.
“I want to playing Tron rather than Krark-Clan Ironworks." Burkhart said.
Specific card choices mattered too. “Somewhere, you want a deck with white sideboard cards like Stoney Silence. You really can only assign them to a deck like Bant Spirits or White-Blue Control—you have think about where these cards go” Juza said.
“You’re warping your deck in such a way since it’s a different kind of tournament—I think [my] deck is a horrible list for Tron normally but here it’s ready for opponents." Baumeister said.
Identifying those edges—where small decisions can add up to greater advantages—doesn’t stop in Magic. The best players continue to learn every event, as the team explained with Baumeister’s crash course in using Relic of Progenitus.
“I taught him to play Relic of Progenitus today!" Burkhart said, pointing to Baumeister. “Specifically if your opponent is trying to Surgical Extraction your Tron land, you target yourself and choose your Tron land with Relic. And then if your opponent targets with Surgical Extraction again then you exile the Relic and your graveyard."
“You want to keep your Relic around. “Juza added. “It’s a defensive card."
“Now in three years I’ll use this against you in a win-and-in in a Modern GP." Baumeister grinned.
Shaking his head and nodding, Burkhart offered agreement. “Probably!"
Day 1 Undefeated Teams
Going undefeated on Day 1 at a Grand Prix is certainly no guarantee of making Top 8, but it sure is the best start to one you have make. In Detroit, two Rochester, New York-based teams clinched 8-0 to lead the pack into Day 2.
Anderson Lecair, Matthew Hoffman and Alex Hinkley were the first to hit the 8-0 record in Detroit.
“We played together in Montreal at the RPQT." Hoffman explained. “We’re all from Rochester. I have a big van so I can drive a lot of people. [Leclair] stayed at my house Thursday, and we drove up on Friday."
“This is my third Grand Prix." said Leclair. “It’s my second Day 2.”I’ve been playing Tron for three years now. I haven’t played anything else in Modern so please don’t ban Ancient Stirrings!"
“I’ve been playing Bogles six months." Hinkley said. “I Top 8’d a few PPTQs with it. I think it’s underrepresented and underrated. Nobody planned for Bogles this weekend."
Eric English, Christian Baker and Nick Dambrose were quickly followed the their Rochester players to the 8-0 mark.
“We are all from Rochester." Baker said. “We all played at the same local game store. Christian had one year where he was not playing paper Magic. And now he’s back, with a vengeance and we’re undefeated."
“We saw Nick’s deck on Magic Online and we loved it. Eldrazi and Taxes is how we’d describe it." Baker said.
Dam - “You use fast mana and Chalice of the Void to lock out your opponents." Dambrose explained. “I’m not here to have fun."
“Turn one Leonin Arbitor or turn one Thalia can just beat your opponents." Baker added. “I knew I was going to play Krark-Clan Ironworks so I just learned how to play it."
“I just switched back to Storm since it looked pretty good at Pro Tour 25th Anniversary." English said.
“Between the decks there wasn’t overlap. Nothing we couldn’t handle” Baker said.
With an 8-0 finish in the book for both teams, Day 2 would begin with the face-off between two Rochester crews to keep a perfect record.