Grand Prix Kyoto 2017 was just as eventful as any other, if not more. With a huge influx of international pro players combined with the enthusiastic local community, it was an weekend which generated more stories than we can share.
What were some of the top stories of the weekend?
Fushimi Inari Shrine of Kyoto, home to over 10,000 Torii Gates.
Jumping Through Hoopoes
When it came to Amonkhet / Hour of Devastation Booster Draft, there was common consensus that aggro strategies were the “go to”. The era of six Cartouches and / or quadruple Gust Walkers in the same deck might be over, but beatdown decks are still alive and well. White-Red Aggro and White-Green Aggro were popular, as well as Blue-Red Prowess and White-Black Zombies.
However, there was a lesser-known archetype that performed well and it revolved around a Blue-Green Ramp strategy, which took advantage of an assortment of mana ramp cards such as Naga Vitalist, Spring // Mind, Oasis Ritualist, Weaver of Currents, as well as Manalith, Hope Tender, and Beneath the Sands. And that's not even an exhaustive list!
What do you do with all that mana?
Ideally, you want Weaver of Currents to power out Scaled Behemoth, one of the strongest openings in the format. A 6/7 hexproof creature as early as turn four is almost always game-winning, especially when combined with Cartouche of Knowledge or Cartouche of Strength. However, since we lost two Amonkhet booster packs, we have to turn to Hour of Devastation for new frontiers.
Did you know? The hoopoe is named after its call! Hoopoe!
This is where River Hoopoe comes in!
A 1/3 flier for two mana is extremely solid, while its card-drawing ability not only keeps you alive but digs you deeper into your deck. With less Scaled Behemoth in the format, thank the gods we have got Striped Riverwinder in the common slot, thus enabling this concept!
This strategy was not without weakness though, but at least it wasn't difficult to mitigate. Defensive creatures, such as River Hoopoe itself, help you endure through early turns. Feral Prowler, Wall of Forgotten Pharaohs, Cunning Survivor, Seer of the Last Tomorrow, and even Ancient Crab can help you buy enough time to reach the end game you desired. The most important thing in drafting this deck is to ensure that you have good survivability. Why though?
This Booster Draft format is extremely fast and you can quickly get overrun (or Overcome) by early creatures, backed with removal or combat tricks. This is also why hexproof is so important. Your opponents cannot bounce your six or seven drop with Unsummon, or threaten it with Limits of Solidarity, just to cite a couple of scenarios. The game plan would not be possible if the win conditions were not reliable enough. Sandwurm Convergence or Approach of the Second Sun are also cards to look out for because they serve as good win conditions.
Indeed, powering out turn-five Striped Riverwinders via Oasis Ritualist was what Yuuki Ichikawa had been doing all of yesterday, while Mike Sigrist drafted Blue-Green deck which he piloted to a 2-1 finish.
Mike Sigrist might not have the hoopoe, but his Draft deck showcased the Blue-Green Ramp strategy.
According to Magic Online Champion Magnus Lantto, “River Hoopoe is worthy of a first pick, even though most players are discouraged to pick a Gold card right at the beginning. Sometimes you can get it a little later but it should almost always never table."
So, yes. River Hoopoe is as good as advertised!
Martin Juza and Brad Nelson
If you're looking for more hoopoe stories, something interesting happened in Round 12 between Martin Juza and Brad Nelson. Nelson ramped ahead with Naga Vitalist and Oasis Ritualist and was able to gum up the board. Then, he summoned River Hoopoe and proceeded to win the game with upwards of 25 life and a fist full of cards. Juza, who was playing White-Blue, had no solution and lost that match. This is a classic example of how an unchecked River Hoopoe can single-handedly win you the game.
Another benefit of this deck is that you can also splash a third color easily to support bombs or removal that come your way. Since the entire deck has so many mana fixing options, it is not unreasonable to play a single Mountain so that you can splash Samut, Voice of Dissent and one or two burn spells, for example.
The next time you encounter the majestic River Hoopoe, do consider giving the Blue-Green Ramp archetype a try. It may not currently be the most powerful or dominant strategy in the format, but it is certainly one of the most fun!
One person's craziness is another person's reality. Those were the famous words from critically-acclaimed film director, Tim Burton. In Brock Parker's case, his double Fraying Sanity White-Blue Control deck was probably one of the most interesting decks to be drafted this afternoon.
Parker's deck was defined by two copies of Fraying Sanity, a card which he embraced and drafted around. He went 2-1 with it, eventually finishing 11-4 for 2 Pro Points.
Hour of Revelation provided a board sweeper, while some spot removal such as Sandblast and Compulsory Rest offered some interaction. To gum up the ground, he had three copies of Seer of the Last Tomorrow, which could be activated in succession once he found Fraying Sanity! Two copies of Sunset Pyramid provided some card economy and card selection, while the single Compelling Argument has never looked scarier!
Three months ago, my buddy Marc Calderaro spoke to No. 16-ranked Martin Muller at Grand Prix Richmond, which was a few days prior to Pro Tour Amonkhet. At that time, the Danish player only had 14 Pro Points and he confided that he was having a terrible season. He sounded crestfallen, but of course he didn't give up. Muller picked up 2 Pro Points that weekend, moving up to 16 Pro Points.
Not to pile on the pressure but we certainly expected more from Muller. After all, he was a former World Magic Cup Champion and also a full-fledged Platinum pro. Anyway, 16 Pro Points isn't what you want to be at if you desired to pursue Magic as a career, especially when half of the 2016 – 17 season had passed and you only had a couple more Pro Tours to go. From that standpoint, one can understand why Muller was feeling a little desolate.
Still, he persevered. Even constant dripping can hollow out a stone.
I've always believed that the universe gives you what you ask for, especially when your actions are in line with your desires. Thankfully, things started to look up for him. Muller followed up with a Top 4 performance at Pro Tour Amonkhet in Nashville, netting 22 Pro Points. Then, at Grand Prix Copenhagen two weeks after, he cracked the Top 4 to gain 5 more Pro Points.
All of a sudden, he was back on the train for another year! As a matter of fact, his 3rd place finish this weekend was more than enough to lock him up for Platinum and now he even had a shot at the World Championships, which he qualified for in 2015 and 2016!
Going 13-0 this weekend, he was the first player to secure his berth in the Top 8! Men's best successes often come after their greatest disappointments. While there are always going to be ups and downs in life, Muller's story is a living reminder of one of Confucius's most famous teachings.
“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop."
The Magic is Back, Again!
If there were a “Most Memorable (Individual) Grand Prix Top 8 of the Century” award in existence, Jon Finkel would bag that with utmost certainty. The biggest story of the weekend was Finkel making his first individual Top 8 – this century. While he did reach the Top 4 at Grand Prix Amsterdam 2003 and Grand Prix Washington D.C. 2004, both of them were Team Limited events.
It didn't mean that Finkel was “inactive” or having "slow seasons”. From 2001, he made eight Pro Tour Top 8s, but only two Grand Prix Top 8. Finkel also has more lifetime Pro Tour Top 8s than lifetime Grand Prix Top 8s, which is perhaps an indication that he doesn't travel as frequently for Grand Prix in recent years.
But when he chooses to attend, you can be sure that he is working his Magic. He is the one and only Jonny Magic, after all.
Huey Goes Back-to-Back!
If you thought Jon Finkel's Top 8 appearance was the highlight, wait til you hear about William Jensen!
Grand Prix Cleveland 2017 Champions, Peach Garden Oath (Owen Turtenwald, William Jensen, and Reid Duke)
After winning Grand Prix Cleveland 2017 last month alongside comrades (5) Owen Turtenwald and (2) Reid Duke. What was most amazing was that he had only 34 Pro Points before that. Picking up the full 6 Pro Points – Jensen only had three Grand Prix Pro Point finishes at that time - as well as one of three Champion trophies, he inched closer towards Platinum but was still pretty far away.
This weekend, his victory allowed him to propel forward to 48 Pro Points, and including the 3 Pro Points guaranteed next weekend, Jensen went up to a virtual 51! This meant that he only needed one more Pro Point at Pro Tour Hour of Devastation for Platinum and he was also within reach of qualifying for a coveted seat at the 2017 World Championship!
One of the most memorable matches in the Top 8 playoffs was the semifinals match, where he got paired against Jon Finkel. Controlling both Archfiend of Ifnir and Nest of Scarabs, Jensen could wreck havoc on Finkel's board of four creatures.
And he did.
Cycling a card to put -1/-1 counters on all four of Finkel's creatures, he created four Insect tokens before drawing his next card. It happened to be yet another card with cycling, which was immediately cycled again to put four more -1/-1 counters and generating four more Insect tokens. This series of plays in a Limited environment is about as sick as it gets and it will forever be remember as part of Jensen's arduous path to victory.
William Jensen, Grand Prix Kyoto 2017 Champion.
This win puts him at 24 lifetime Grand Prix Top 8s and 6 wins, and is but one more win away from matching Kai Budde, Yuuya Watanabe, and Shuhei Nakamura for the highest number of Grand Prix wins. In addition, Jensen also unlocked the achievement of winning back-to-back Grand Prix, a feat of strength that even the best players in the world dream about.
Hearty congratulations to William Jensen, our Grand Prix Kyoto 2017 Champion!