It had been a full weekend of Magic here at Grand Prix Indianapolis, and team events are always fun to attend. 1542 players turned up to compete in the all-new Ixalan / Rivals of Ixalan Team Limited and here are the highlights that stood out to us this weekend!
In the Magic world, a "lord" is an informal term which refers to a creature that boosts other creatures of the same creature type. The etymology of this word - which was now deeply entrenched in our culture - originated in 1993. Lord of Atlantis, Zombie Master, and Goblin King appeared in Alpha, and that paved the way for the tribes. Since then, we've seen tribal themes take the spotlight in several blocks, such as the Onslaught block and the Lorwyn block.
Ixalan and Rivals of Ixalan revisited this concept, with four centric tribes on this brand new plane - namely Pirates, Vampires, Merfolk, and Dinosaurs. Since Team Sealed required you to build three decks, you could technically start by assembling four tribal decks and then shave away one after that. In particular, players have been looking out for these uncommons to bolster their entire army!
Merfolk Mistbinder is excellent, and you'll want Forerunner of the Heralds too. Jade Bearer is a toned down version of Vineshaper Mystic, but it's still cool since you're getting two power for one mana, or if you have Merfolk Mistbinder, the 1/1 body becomes much more relevant. Silvergill Adept and Mist-Cloaked Herald also rise in "threat value" with Merfolk Mistbinder on the table.
(Left to right) Shenhar-Austin-Tiu
This White-Black Vampires deck, in the hands of two-time World Champion Shahar Shenhar, was enough to put him in the Top 4. Not only did he have two copies of Legion Lieutenant, but he was also glad to see double Anointed Deacon. The Vampire Lord is also extraordinarily powerful when White-Black Vampires is an archetype that creates tokens. Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle and Call to the Feast looked very intimidating especially when enhanced by a pair of lords.
The Pirates of Ixalan got a slightly different "captain." Instead of +1/+1, Dire Fleet Neckbreaker gives +2/+0 to all attacking Pirates. That's like tossing a basket of Bonesplitters at your henchmen as they charge fanatically into the red zone. Imagine a sequence starting with Fanatical Firebrand, Kitesail Freebooter and Forerunner of the Coalition. Summoning the Dire Fleet Neckbreaker after that will knock ten life off your opponent's life total by turn four! By the way, this deck also had Rekindling Phoenix, Charging Monstrosaur, AND Angrath, the Flame-Chained too!
What about the Dinosaurs?
No love? No lord?
Have you ever watched a Magic-related video or stream? If so, there is a good chance you'll recognize Brian Lewis, better known as his alter ego, "The Professor." As a content-creator for around four years (an avid Magic fan more than half his life), Lewis became the number one Magic streamer on Youtube.
What's the life of the professor like?
"I work seven days a week, and I produce around three videos each week, and they're all about Magic. I love talking about cards and providing reviews for Magic-related products. I enjoy interacting with my viewers and fans, and I also play casual formats such as Commander and Pauper. Everyone has been supportive, and I hope to surpass the Official Magic: The Gathering Youtube channel regarding numbers of subscribers!"
The Official Magic: The Gathering Youtube Channel has 315,000 subscribers at the moment, while the Tolarian Community College was trailing by 20,000. We wish the Professor well in his quest to overtake us, but we would prefer it if you just subscribed to both channels anyway!
"The reason why I enjoy Pauper so much is because anyone can play. You can build a deck for as much as your lunch or dinner money because only common cards are allowed. The barrier to entry is low, and the format is fun! The metagame can change as new expansions are released, making Pauper a fresh and exciting format."
According to Lewis, "some of the best cards in the game are commons. For example, Lighting Bolt and Counterspell are commons. Gush is a common. A card being common doesn't mean it lacks power." Since you utilize the best commons from throughout Magic's history, the power level is quite high. In fact, some of these commons are so powerful that we even have a small Pauper Ban List. The metagame is diverse, and Lewis said that there were at least 15 - 20 Tier 1 Pauper decks during any given era.
Best of all, Pauper allows you to select a deck that suits your play style. If you like Legacy Elves, most of the cards are legal in Pauper. There are also other very competitive decks such as Tron, Faeries, Blue Control, Mono-Red Aggro, Affinity, or even Delver and Bogles! There's even a Tireless Tribe + Inside Out combo which kills on turn two! The possibilities are endless!
"New expansions can shake up Pauper considerably. Gurmag Angler was the biggest example. A common which is powerful enough to see Legacy, Modern, Standard, and Limited play? Great in Pauper too!"
So, Professor? What commons from Rivals of Ixalan should we be looking out for?
"My top five picks for Rivals of Ixalan would be Snubhorn Sentry, Dusk Legion Zealot, Martyr of Dusk, Frilled Deathspitter, Gruesome Fate. They have roles in certain existing decks, and I expect some of these cards to see play." Personally, I was also glad to witness Fanatical Firebrand making it to Mono-Red Aggro decks.
As Lewis announced in the above video, there was going to be a Pauper tournament held during every Grand Prix in the first quarters of 2018. They take place on Sunday and always begin at noon. "So far the results have been encouraging. There were almost 200 players in the Pauper Tournament held during Grand Prix Santa Clara, and there were over 200 players today. I look forward to having Pauper Grand Prix someday!"
Since Lewis had to dash for his Pauper tournament, I had to - sadly - bid him goodbye. Before ushering him towards the side event area, I asked the Professor for some final words of wisdom for the community and his supporters.
"Magic is not one game. It is many. Pauper is just one of the ways to play. The most important thing is to play with the cards you like and the people you love!"
Fight or Flight?
It's not easy to make the Top 8. Of the hundreds and thousands of players, only eight will reach the playoffs. Even for the best players, they can only boast a conversion rate of around "once every five Grand Prix" or "once every ten Grand Prix." Hence, it was not unreasonable to book a Sunday flight out on Grand Prix weekend. Not only will you save money by shaving away an additional night's hotel stay, but you'll also be able to snuggle up in your own bed! Others need to rush home to their families and freshen up to get ready for work the next day.
Every so often, players book evening flights out, but end up making the Top 8.This is not a new phenomenon. It's happened countless times before. We just don't "document" it. But, it is a prevalent issue for many tournament attendees.
Last month, at Grand Prix New Jersey 2017, seven-time Grand Prix Top 8 competitor Valentin Mackl had a dilemma. He made the Top 8, but he would miss his flight for sure if he made it to the semifinals. After weighing his options, he decided to change his flight to Austria to the next day, to focus on the quarterfinals and possibly the rest of the tournament.
Something similar happened to Eric Severson this weekend.
Anybody at #GPIndy have extra hotel space tonight? Missed my flight by making top 4— Eric Severson (@EricESeverson) January 22, 2018
"This is the first time that I actually missed my flight, and I've made several Sunday bookings in the past. I'm currently working on my Ph.D. and I usually need to return to school on Monday."
Expecting Day 2 to end at around 4 pm, he booked a 6.30 pm flight home. After receiving news that he and his teammates were secured for the Top 4, Severson wasted no time calling his airline. If he had failed to get a flight change, he could lose the entire booking if he was unable to reschedule. Since it was approximately 4.30pm when he received the news and the Top 4 Draft was about to begin, he was literally scrambling with time - so much so that he didn't even have time to tuck his cell phone away! In fact, he was still on the phone with a customer service representative while his Top 4 Profile photos were being taken!
Thankfully, Severson was able to get his travel plans fixed, and joined up with Benjamin Weitz and Neal Oliver for the semifinals draft, just in the nick of time! Oh, by the way, don't worry about where Severson would be crashing tonight. He's got a bunch of friends to help out and had even received an offer to stay at the Hilton! Worst come to worst, he earned $1250 today, and that is more than enough to pay for a luxurious suite in any part of this town!
In Teams, You Can Win Even If You Lose
At team events, your teammates matter!
Whether or not you're here to have fun, spend quality time with friends and family, or win a tournament, it is essential to show up with people you respect and trust. With honest communication and support, a trio can solve their challenges together. Or, in certain situations, if you've got a good teammate, you don't even need to win all that many matches to win the tournament.
At Grand Prix Detroit 2015, Jacob Wilson "went down in history" by going 1 - 13 and still winning the team Grand Prix. "Matt Nass and Sam Pardee won every match they needed to," Wilson professed.
When Eric Froehlich and his team won Round 12, they became the first team to lock up a spot in the Top 4. Despite not winning Round 11 or Round 12, Froehlich was glad that his teammates had reached the finish line.
Before the tournament even began, we identified the trio of Damo Da Rosa-Froehlich-Stark as the hot favorites so much so that they were the first names mentioned in the Day 1 Highlights of Grand Prix Indianapolis 2018! It was hardly surprising to witness them steamroll through the competition, highlighted by one particularly exciting game where Damo da Rosa managed to create a total of eight Polyraptors (one original, seven copies) with the assistance of a helpful Forerunner of the Empire!
Dinosaurs aside, what is the moral of the story?
Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. But in team events, you can win even if you lose. Today, the trio came in 2nd place, one match short of taking it all down? If they did fall, then who ascended to the top?
The Unrivaled Underdogs
Although three star-studded teams make the Top 4, it was the first-timers who took it all down. Despite never making the Top 4 or Top 8 at a Grand Prix before, the Chinese trio had little achievements of their own - including a Top 8 at the MOCS, winning Pro Tour Qualifiers, and also cashing in numerous Grand Prix. Combined, they had 21 years of Magic experience.
Fei Xinyu, Yeh Chih-Cheng, and Zhou Ziruiwere international students and took advantage of their shared native language.
Fei: "We were communicating in Chinese (Mandarin) all weekend, and we did not expect our opponents to understand us. However, if our opponents spoke out in English, we could hear it. That is the biggest advantage we have, to be able to speak freely while tying up our opponents tongues a little."
Yeh: "However, saying too much could give us away. Our opponents will know that we've got a trick or something. I try to focus on my own game as much as possible. The other two, they're chatty. Unlike me."
Enroute to the finals, they had to dispatch Severson-Weitz-Oliver. After the hard-fought battle, their opponent had nothing but praise for them. For three players who had never made the elimination rounds, they were much better than most people thought they were.
"In the finals, we were up against the Hall of Famers. I thought that being hyper-aggressive was the best bet," Zhou shared. He ended up with six Grasping Scoundrels in his deck and dispatched Ben Stark in a blink of an eye, all three games having a turn-three Ruin Raider. He even played Hijack in his main deck, and that told us a lot about the team's strategy.
Congratulations once again to Fei Xinyu, Yeh Chih-Cheng, and Zhou Zirui for winning Grand Prix Indianapolis!