Grand Prix Copenhagen 2017 Day 1 Highlights

Posted in Event Coverage on May 27, 2017

By Tobi Henke

A grand total of 1,815 players had traveled to Copenhagen to take part in this massive Modern Grand Prix, filling the hall to capacity. Such turnout wasn't entirely unexpected either, as this marked the first time the hugely popular Modern format returned to the European Grand Prix circuit in about nine months.

This tournament, together with the weekend's other event in Kobe, also marked the first time players could incorporate Amonkhet cards into their Modern strategies at the Grand Prix level. Most notably, the new addition of Vizier of Remedies combined with Devoted Druid to generate infinite mana; new cards like Horror of the Broken Lands cycled through decks in preparation for Living End; and As Foretold allowed players to cast Ancestral Vision and Restore Balance from their hands for free. At least, these were the Amonkhet cards expected to make the biggest splash in the format, although the odd Sheltered Thicket was used in conjunction with Life from the Loam as well.

THE ONE PERCENT METAGAME

Of the 1,815 players in attendance here in sunny Copenhagen, eighteen were Gold or Platinum members of the Pro Players Club. The world's current No. 1 Márcio Carvalho was looking to shore up his lead, while (17) Martin Müller and (18) Joel Larsson, both incidentally at 38 Pro Points going into the event, were chasing points to remain at Platinum, to reach the requisite 52.

Meanwhile, at Gold, we had Marc Tobiasch, Simon Nielsen, Magnus Lantto, Immanuel Gerschenson, Valentin Mackl, Michael Bonde, Aleksa Telarov, Pierre Dagen, Marco Cammilluzzi, Javier Dominguez, Thomas Hendriks, Ivan Floch, Mattia Rizzi, Shahar Shenhar, and of course (13) Martin Jůza, variously on the hunt for points to clinch Platinum or guarantee another year at Gold.

So what was the metagame among these eighteen, within the literal one percent? Well, a full half of them opted for Death's Shadow, usually employing a Jund base, although two people went with Grixis and Snapcaster Mage instead of the usual Tarmogoyfs.

Other than that, the format once again impressed with its vast variety of viable strategies. Two players each had brought Abzan Collected Company with the new combo of Devoted Druid/Vizier of Remedies, two others ran Eldrazi Tron. Then there was Blue-Red Storm, Elves (with four Devoted Druid, one Vizier of Remedies), a Goryo's Vengeance control deck in Esper colors, a Faeries deck in Grixis, Abzan Midrange borrowing the Mishra's Bauble/Traverse the Ulvenwald package from Death's Shadow, and one Jeskai deck based on As Foretold.

Well, this definitely was a metagame, wide open, and possibly a healthy one at that, but good luck metagaming against it!

THE MANY COLORS OF DEATH'S SHADOW

When I asked Simon Nielsen before the tournament what deck he was going to play, the always colorful Dane showed me three cards and told me quizzically that all three were in his 75—Stubborn Denial, Lingering Souls, and Ancient Grudge.

Naturally, that could only mean one thing: the 2014 World Magic Cup champion was playing yet another version of Death's Shadow. While said Ancient Grudge didn't make the cut in the end, red remained a fixture in the main deck, white an important splash in the sideboard, and blue ... well, blue was the big innovation his small crew had come up with.


Simon Nielsen, Magnus Lantto, and Immanuel Gerschenson all swore by going to the full five colors

I spoke to two-time Grand Prix champion Immanuel Gerschenson, the master mind behind this iteration of the deck. The Austrian Gold pro had built a number of succesful decks in recent years, and in doing so built quite a reputation as well. He had been tuning the deck for months now and declared that this was the way to go, at least for now.

"I have heard from lots of people who're not very fond of Temur Battle Rage anymore. Especially in the States, folks have been cutting the card. But really, Battle Rage is the main reason to run red in the first place, and essential to racing combo decks," Gerschenson argued. He decided he'd rather add another color to thwart opponents' attempts to interfere with his killing blow than pass on it. Stubborn Denial was the perfect fit, in both name and effect.

"The card is actually great all around. It shores up some weaker matchups and isn't dead anywhere," said Gerschenson and specifically pointed out the influx of Collected Company decks. He admitted that Stubborn Denial wasn't unheard of as a main-deck inclusion for Death's Shadow, of course, but that it usually wasn't found alongside all the other colors.

"I've seen people cutting white," said Gerschenson, with more than a hint of indignation. "They apparently don't expect to play any mirror matches. I don't know how you're supposed to win the mirror or grind out matches against Abzan/Jund Midrange without Lingering Souls."

When I looked at the decklist he, Lantto, and Nielsen were all playing exact copies of, I noticed a few other peculiarities. For example, Liliana, the Last Hope had replaced Liliana of the Veil. "It simply is the better card. Liliana of the Veil was always just a removal spell with a planeswalker tagged on you'd often rather see dead," explained Gerschenson. "Liliana, the Last Hope frequently is better removal and all three of her abilities are actually useful. I have won more matches via her ultimate than you'd imagine. So, yeah, I'd say Liliana, the Last Hope is the superior choice anyway, but especially when you're holding Stubborn Denial you don't ever want to plus Liliana of the Veil of course."

Meanwhile in the sideboard, Fulminator Mage had been replaced by the much sleeker Disdainful Stroke. "To be honest, the Mage had always been too expensive, considering that it cost four when searched for via Traverse the Ulvenwald. And against the big mana decks, Fulminator Mage maybe bought a turn whereas Disdainful Stroke definitely buys a turn."

Gerschenson also mentioned that Collective Brutality had become much better with the risen popularity of Collected Company, as killing a creature and discarding said instant was no rare occurrence. Finally, Gerschenson pointed out the Kozilek's Return in their sideboard. "Great versus, once again, all the new Company decks, against Elves unless they have two lords, and against Affinity. Losing against them usually involves either a big swarm rush or an Etched Champion carrying Cranial Plating. Kozilek's Return helps in either case."

Thus lifting the veil of mystery regarding the disappearance of Ancient Grudge, it really appeared as if Gerschenson had an answer to almost everything. Of course, this being Modern, not long after our conversation he lost to Valentin Mackl's Faeries of all things. Gerschenson protested, "To be fair, let's say I lost to Mackl. Not to Faeries."

Nielsen/Lantto/Gerschenson's Death's Shadow

FAERIES, YOU SAY?

Well, I can't possibly tease something like a succesful Faerie deck and then leave you hanging, can I? Valentin Mackl, who was looking to make his seventh Grand Prix Top 8 this weekend, was teased for his deck choice quite enough already.

After all, the current consensus top strategy in the format was doing crazy-powerful stuff for one mana, making Mackl's Bitterblossom, Spellstutter Sprite, and Snapcaster Mage look rather overcosted in comparison. The Austrian, unperturbed, replied, "And that's exactly what makes my Fatal Push and Spellstutter Sprite so great."

He elaborated, "Fatal Push really was the game changer here. The problem that Faeries had traditionally was that you had to be heavy in red for Lightning Bolt which wasn't where you wanted to be and which wasn't even that good. I mean, you could play something like Disfigure, but that was neither here nor there. Fatal Push on the other hand is basically stronger than the effect of many two-mana removal options!

"The matchup against Death's Shadow is, I guess, it's fine. I never lost against it so I don't know how they beat you. They probably can," Mackl admitted. "In the tournaments I played in for practice, I somehow had a hundred-percent win rate against everything except for Tron and Eldrazi Tron. I maybe won a quarter of my matches against conventional Tron decks and was at some point 0-8 versus Eldrazi."

Looking for a solution, Mackl again turned to red. "The plan is to bring in a full set of four Blood Moon and hope for the best. You don't do much under Blood Moon; with a little luck they'll do less."

The feasibility of this was yet to be proven. The power of Faeries as such, however, Mackl demonstrated with a swift 7-0 start into the tournament. "Plus, it's a deck I actually enjoy. I was just in the States for three weeks, playing one tournament after the other, still I was super pumped for this one. A final word of warning though: The deck is hard to play. Managing the tempo swing, figuring out the spot where you turn a game around is anything but trivial. Especially against Death's Shadow."

Valentin Mackl's Faeries

FORETOLD YOU SO!

One of the biggest stories on Day 1 of Grand Prix Copenhagen undoubtedly was As Foretold. The blue enchantment had been earmarked early on as one of the cards to watch for Modern, due to its interaction with Time Spiral's usually uncastable suspend spells. However, the card hadn't really lived up to expectations. Until this day.

Admittedly, it took us until Round 4 to notice Marcus Ewaldh's undefeated run. Ewaldh had entered the tournament with zero byes and with a deck quite unlike any other. Using As Foretold, he was drawing a ton of cards with Ancestral Vision as well as Wheel of Fate. Meanwhile, Time Warp and Temporal Mastery gave him turn after turn, enough to eventually win via Chandra, Torch of Defiance's ultimate.

He proceeded to lose his first match of the day in the feature match area, but not without "going off" in at least one spectacular game, which had the Twitch chat clamor to see more of the deck. List incoming!

Marcus Ewaldh's Wheel of Time

A decidedly different take on As Foretold was piloted by none other than two-time World Champion Shahar Shenhar. He had updated a version of Jeskai Nahiri featuring four Ancestral Vision with As Foretold as well as Restore Balance ...

"If you have a planeswalker in play or an Ancestral Vision suspended, Restore Balance can be just brutal," said Shenhar and recounted the story of one particular match against an unfortunate Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle player. "My opponent had seven lands in play by turn four, when I cast Restore Balance. I had to discard some irrelevant cards like Path to Exile, was left with a Mana Leak and a suspended Vision, but more important was that he lost four of his lands."

Usually, Restore Balance wasn't working as land destruction in his deck and Shenhar admitted that it wasn't really a Restore Balance deck designed to get the maximum benefit out of the card. "It's just that you sometimes go turn three As Foretold, Restore Balance, which is a catch-all type of card and an angle that other red-white-blue decks can't take. There are so many decks in the format which do unfair things whereas your turn-three play might otherwise be Remand or Mana Leak, when you're already losing on the board. Now you can do super busted stuff too; it creates that kind of dynamic that you can come back even if you're far behind."

So, quite literally, Restore Balance was helping to restore the balance. Shenhar had long been a fan of control strategies such as Jeskai Nahiri, though obviously not a fan of losing. "The deck is really fun now, and I think this is simply the correct way to build the deck going forward."

On the question whether this was the best use of the enchantment, conversely, Shenhar was not so sure. "There's a lot of powerful stuff you could do. There's Lotus Bloom, for instance. As Foretold may not have found its perfect home yet. It is a solid card here, but I wouldn't be surprised to see something else come along."

Shahar Shenhar's As Foretold, the Harbinger

THE 9-0 PLAYERS

Only five of the original 1,815 competitors sported a spotless record after the first day's nine rounds—and after the final match at table three concluded with an unintentional draw. Yes, Lantern Control was involved, how ever did you know!

These five would lead the field, cut down to 561, into the second day. Learn more about them, their decks, and their day below!


Name: Niklas Holtmann

Age: 24

Hometown: Walstedde, Germany

Occupation: Insurance agent

Byes: 2

Previous Magic accomplishments:

12-3 at Grand Prix Chiba, Top 8 MKM Series Frankfurt 2016, Top 8 at BOM Strasbourg 2016, all in Legacy.

What deck did you choose to play and why?

Jund Death's Shadow. I just think it's the best deck in the format, and I hate losing to Tron and combo. Also, it reminds me a little bit of the Legacy Elves deck.

Which was the most exciting/close/cool game you played today? What happened?

Closest game was probably in Round 8 when I didn't have white mana and was stuck with a lot of white cards in hand. Also, I played against Ninja of the Deep Hours/Phantasmal Bear/Delver of Secrets.


Name: Guillaume Perbet

Age: 32

Hometown: Besançon, France

Occupation: Maths teacher

Byes: 2

Previous Magic accomplishments:

Played in seven Pro Tours and the 2016 World Magic Cup. Member of Team Super Dry.

What deck did you choose to play and why?

Dredge. I already played the deck with good results. Good matchups against Death's Shadow, Arcbound Ravager.

Which was the most exciting/close/cool game you played today? What happened?

An opponent let me play first after winning the die roll—he cast Raven's Crime on turn one so I could discard Stinkweed Imp. So helpful!


Name: Cristian Ortiz Ros

Age: 23

Hometown: Murcia, Spain

Occupation: Magic Online player

Byes: 2

Previous Magic accomplishments:

Top 32 Grand Prix Lille 2016, Magic Online PTQ winner.

What deck did you choose to play and why?

Living End, because I feel it is very strong in the format right now.

Which was the most exciting/close/cool game you played today? What happened?

Versus Eldrazi Tron, I kept a hand with one land on the play, and I needed a different color.


Name: Toni Ramis Pascual

Age: 25

Hometown: Inca, Balearic Islands, Spain

Occupation: Accountant

Byes: 2

Previous Magic accomplishments:

Two Grand Prix Top 8s, third best player from Mallorca.

What deck did you choose to play and why?

Counters Company. I don't have cards for another deck.

Which was the most exciting/close/cool game you played today? What happened?

In game three against Living End, my opponent played first and cast Damping Matrix on turn two. I don't know how I won this.


Name: Teemu Halonen

Age: 25

Hometown: Lahti, Finland

Occupation: Tourist

Byes: 2

Previous Magic accomplishments:

None.

What deck did you choose to play and why?

Titan Shift. Had experience with the deck and all the cards for it.

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