Top Stories Grand Prix Hong Kong 2017

Posted in Event Coverage on October 29, 2017

By Chapman Sim

A total of 731 players gathered in Hong Kong for this Ixalan Limited weekend. Since the expansion's release a month ago, the format had matured considerably and with Pro Tour Ixalan taking place next weekend, there were still a lot of lessons to be learned.

With so many great adventures to share from the heart of the action, we only hope you'll be intrigued by these interesting tales!

Prepare for Trouble, Make it Double

Six-time Grand Prix Top 8 competitor Huang Hao-Shan and Pro Tour Journey into Nyx finalist Nam Sung Wook made it through to Day 2 and were placed in the same pod. This didn't bode well for them at all since both of them were on the bubble and at most one of these players could 3-0 the table.

Regardless, the duo understood the ancient adage of "may the best man win" and wished each other good luck before they headed for their seats...

... only to find out that they were seated next to each other!

Huang was to the left of Nam which meant that Huang was "downstream" from Nam. The tension began as soon as the first booster was opened. Nam found Vona, Butcher of Magan staring at him. Naturally, he went with the most powerful card but he had his own unsettling concerns.

"After taking Vona, I passed Territorial Hammerskull which is the best common in white. There is a chance that Huang might take it and we will end up playing the same color. But it was a risk I had to take."

And as fate would dictate, Huang selected Territorial Hammerskull out of Nam's booster, but little did Nam know that Huang's first pick was also Vona, Butcher of Magan!

Now, what were the odds of that actually happening? For both players to end up with similar records and similar tiebreakers and to be seated next to each other, and for both players to open the exact same mythic rare? The probability was just extraordinarily low. Also, where was Frank Karsten when you needed him to do the math?

Then, the player to Nam's right opened Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle and shipped it to Nam. "Marvin Fein is probably the strongest card for White-Black Vampires and I was very happy to get it. But, I had to pass Bishop's Soldier..."

... and of course, that was the very exact card which Huang chose!

Within the first three picks of the first booster, both Huang and Nam were locked in White-Black Vampires and both ended up forcing the archetype. After the thirty-minute power struggle, they were surprised to end up with very solid White-Black Vampire decks (and even had two copies of Anointed Deacon each). In addition, I was also told that there was a third White-Black Vampires deck at the table. Also, they did not end up getting paired against one another because it would have been heartbreaking for one to eliminate the other.

Despite the disastrous clash which could have caused both players decks to deteriorate severely, Huang eventually went 3-0 while Nam went 2-1, which was more or less a fairytale ending for the two close friends and teammates.


Huang Hao-Shan and Nam Sung Wook couldn't have asked for a better ending.

The Most Memorable Train Wreck Ever

On the other hand, Ryan Luo's draft didn't go quite well at all. The Singaporean player previously made the Top 8 at Grand Prix Bangkok 2009 Grand Prix Taipei 2014. He also has two Nationals Top 8s and also participated in the inaugural World Magic Cup as a member of Team Singapore. With the wealth of experience under his belt, we did not expect him to be mentioned in a story titled "The Most Memorable Train Wreck Ever".

In Magic culture, players often use the term "train wreck" as a euphemism for a booster draft - or Sealed Deck - went wrong. It could refer to one ending up with insufficient creatures or insufficient spells, or it could also refer to a deck with a poor mana curve or a lackluster - or nonexistent - game plan.

In layman's terms, a "train wreck" simply referred to "an utterly horrible deck".

"This is probably the worst deck I've ever drafted in my life, and yes, I've drafted quite a few bad ones. I have some good cards here and there but when you put them together it looks like a pile."

The story began in the first booster, where Luo kicked off with some great cards such as Tilonalli's Knight, Lightning Strike, Vanquish the Weak, Mark of the Vampire, Swashbuckling, and Anointed Deacon. He also received Star of Extinction pretty late which was a nice option just in case you needed to unleash a meteor shower upon your opponent. These black and red cards paved the way for an excellent aggro deck.

Then, in Pack 2, he first picked River's Rebuke out of a relatively-weak booster. "River's Rebuke is very powerful. There is a chance I could play Black-Blue or Blue-Red if Black-Red didn't work out. Plus, I also had New Horizons, so... you never know."

Things seemed like they were going well but metaphorical beads of sweat began to roll down Luo's forehead as the draft progressed. As they say, all good things must come to an end and it would appear that picking Lightning Strike was the high point.

By the end of the draft, he felt like he was going 0-3 the draft. This was what Luo ended up submitting.

Ryan Luo's "Naya Train Wreck"


The infamous "Naya Train Wreck"

Long story short, Luo started out Black-Red and ended up in Red-Green-White (Naya).

He did not pick any black cards in Pack 2 and Pack 3, and he only gained 5 red cards during that time. After discarding all his black cards, he was forced to play every single white card as well as every single red card he had - except Star of Extinction - and still had to scrape up five more playables.

"I was this close to playing Gilded Sentinel. I have no two-drops so I'm really 'splashing' for Drover of the Mighty and Ixalli's Keeper. The other green cards were New Horizons, Crash the Ramparts, and Grazing Whiptail. A double-green card in my deck with only three Forests and Sunpetal Grove. The mana is truly terrible."

In addition, the only removal spells Luo had were Lightning Strike (hands down the best card in his entire deck) and two copies of Slash of Talons, which meant that he was unable to kill bigger creatures. Rallying Roar and two copies of Dinosaur Stampede were subpar and to make matters worse, some of his cards had downright no synergy with the rest of his deck.

Resigned to his fate, Luo turned in his decklist and showed his decks to all his friends around him. The "kind and encouraging" or "patronising" ones motivated him not to give up and inspired him to do his best. Others just threw his deck across the table and asked Luo not to waste his time. Some other remarks and comments were not words that I was allowed to publish.

Well, every story has a plot twist.

At the end of the first booster draft, Luo crushed his draft pod and WON ALL THREE of his matches!


Ryan Luo and the "3-0 Naya Train Wreck"

"I couldn't believe it when I won my first two rounds and nobody could believe it when I won the third."

To summarise the key moments, Luo won his first match by building up a massive board and then crashing in with a lethal Dinosaur Stampede. In another game, he opened smoothly with a turn-two Drover of the Mighty into a turn-three Thrash of Raptors, followed by Kinjalli Sunwing to hinder blockers. And once, his opponent mulliganed into oblivion. It was also suggested that his deck had the potential of going turn-one Kinjalli's Caller into turn-two double Raptor Companion!

Was this what a 3-0 deck should resemble?

I guess the moral of the story was to start by doing what is necessary and then do what is possible. Suddenly, you could just be doing the impossible. Start where you are. Use what you have. And do what you can.

Ryan Luo (and the rest of the world) will remember this dramatic tale for all of Magic eternity. And perhaps one day, he'll learn to draft. #justkidding

Stick to a Color, Not a Tribe

Tzu Ching Kuo had been a circuit fixture for almost two decades and he led the Chinese Taipei team to victory at the 2012 World Magic Cup. He also had 11 Grand Prix Top 8s to his name, in addition to a slew of other enviable achievements.

Having taken some time off to focus on expanding his Magic hobby store in Taipei, Kuo managed to find time to attend Grand Prix Kong Hong, just to hang out with old friends and take a breather from his busy schedule.

Early today, he drafted a nearly mono-red deck which caught the attention of everyone around him. Once I heard the news, I decided to sit him down and hear what he had to share about the Ixalan Booster Draft format.

"The format is very fast. There are a lot of cheap creatures and good combat tricks and it is possible to be very aggressive."

However, that was not the most important tip Kuo had to share. After hearing about Ryan Luo's train wreck story, you'll understand that regardless of the format, any booster draft can go wrong - even if he did go 3-0.

Kuo offered us some words of wisdom. "Sometimes, it is very powerful if you draft according to the tribes. You can pick a green Merfolk, a blue Merfolk, and then another green Merfolk and another blue one. Then, you take one River Heralds' Boon but after that no other Merfolk come along. Then, you switch to picking green Dinosaurs or blue Pirates. This is something that can cause your deck to suffer greatly."

Kuo's strategy for the weekend was to stick to a color instead of focusing on a tribe... and he did!


Tzu Ching Kuo showcased his innovative strategy.

By focusing off a single color, he would end up being able to play most of his cards no matter how horribly the draft went. Also, if you cut off a single color, you could also get rewarded handsomely in the second pack.

The red two-drop creatures, in particular, were very efficient. Red was also abundant in cards which helped to push damage, such as Swashbuckling, Sure Strike, Hijack, as well as an assortment of burn spells. And if you needed extra support in combat, you could also pick up some equipment such as Pirate's Cutlass, Prying Blade, and Cobbled Wings, all of which Kuo was able to secure.

Utilising this strategy, it was possible to ignore creature types and still end up with a coherent game plan that works.

Tzu Ching Kuo's "Mono Red Aggro"


The only white cards in Tzu Ching Kuo's draft deck, which are also red!

In this particular case, he also picked up a trio of Sky Terrors, which he was happy to splash. In the end, Kuo started out 2-0, before stumbling on lands and flooding out in the third round. Regardless, we believe his words of wisdom were worth considering and it was refreshing to learn about one of the numerous strategies in the world of Ixalan Limited!

The Underdrafted Tribe

On the other hand, Thirawat Chaovarindr had a different opinion. The Thai player recently placed second at the National Championship, meaning that he would be representing his country at the World Magic Cup later this year. Going into the format, he had a strategy in mind before the day even started.


Thirawat Chaovarindr was hooked on Black-Red Pirates.

After observing recent trends through his practice, Chaovarindr felt that the way to go was by choosing the archetype which he felt was the most underdrafted.

"I like Black-Red Pirates. It is my favorite way to draft. It is underrated but it can be one of the best decks," Chaovarindr revealed. Indeed, while other players were overzealous about and preoccupied with White-Black Vampires, Blue-Green Merfolk, or Dinosaurs, Chaovarindr chose a less popular combination to stay under the radar. There was a lot more synergy in the other tribes compared to Pirates which probably why it tended to be overlooked.

"Black and red have removal. Blue has bounce - which isn't good," he put it simply, "Vanquish the Weak and Skulduggery are great and red has nice burn spells." Drafting (very) cheap creatures such as Blight Keeper and Rigging Runner, Chaovarindr made sure he was able to attack early in order to trigger raid. Having pressure on the board as early as turn one meant that any upcoming threat was incrementally difficult to deal with.

In today's case, Chaovarindr opened his first booster to come face with face with everyone's favorite dinosaur, Charging Monstrosaur. Since he was happy to draft Black-Red, he took that card and followed up with the usual staples while assembling a sub-theme with triple Thrash of Raptors.

"Thrash of Raptors followed by Charging Monstrosaur is impossible for any deck to race. This pair of cards complements each other very well." In addition, Chaovarindr singled out an under-appreciated card which shone in this archetype.

"I think March of the Drowned is great in Black-Red because you tend to trade more. In the correct deck, you can 'draw two cards' for just one mana. Many Pirates also have 'enter the battlefield' ability (like Deadeye Tormentor and Storm Fleet Pyromancer), which creates more value."

Let's check out his deck which he played to a 2-1 finish! Aye, aye, Captain! Perhaps you can give it a try during your next Ixalan Booster Draft!

Thirawat Chaovarindr's "Black-Red Pirates"

Lee Shi Tian Takes Ten!

Over the past decade, (14) Lee Shi Tian proved to the world that he was one of the greatest forces to be reckoned with. Since his very first Grand Prix Top 8 in Birmingham 2008 - which he won - he had come a long way. From a relative unknown to a regular Grand Prix fixture, he had since transformed into a Pro Tour machine, making five Pro Tour Top 8s since 2012.


Tenth time's a charm!

Today, when he reached the Top 8, he bumped up his number of lifetime Grand Prix Top 8s from nine to ten. Double digits. Must be a great feeling. To make this occasion even more momentous, he became exactly the 50th player to reach 10 or more Grand Prix Top 8s, creating a piece of history which will forever be remembered in the annals of time.

For him to do it in his hometown, around his beloved community, made the accomplishment an even sweeter deal. If I could whet your appetite for more Lee-related trivia, he participated in around 60 lifetime Grand Prix, which meant that his Top 8 conversion rate was approximately 1-in-6, a truly remarkable statistic that can only be rivaled by few others.

Lee: "I couldn't have done it without the support of my friends and family. It has been a great ten years and I have loved every step of the way."

Rei Sato, the Ultimate Explorer

Perhaps the most amazing success story of the weekend was how Sato made Top 8 together with Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar Champion Kazuyuki Takimura. They were roommates this trip and had spent a great deal of time discussing how to draft the format - on the plane, during commutes, over a meal, and before bedtime. For them to sneak into the Top 8 in 7th and 8th seed brought joy to the Japanese community.

When Lee Shi Tian took down Kazuyuki Takimura in the quarterfinals, Rei was hoping to avenge his countryman in the finals, but Lee Shi Tian failed to advance, losing to Ferand Lee in the semifinals.

Taking full advantage of the "explore" mechanic unique to the world of Ixalan, Sato assembled a Blue-Green-Black deck with double Wildgrowth Waker and a splashed Lurking Chupacabra. With those, he was able to literally explore his way to victory with triple Siren Lookout and triple Tishana's Wayfinder!

In the third and final game of the entire tournament, he curved out beautifully with Siren Stormtamer, Shipwreck Looter, double Tishana's Wayfinder, before summoning Lurking Chupacabra to clamp down Ferand Lee's ability to recruit small creatures. This series of plays was sufficient to overwhelm Ferand Lee's White-Black Vampires deck, which - to be honest - was one of the best Vampire decks we've seen all weekend.

Sato's previous best result was a Top 4 finish at Grand Prix Shanghai in 2015, and today, he bettered his own record by winning it all!


Congratulations to Sato Rei, your Grand Prix Hong Kong 2017 Champion!

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