The Grand Prix returned to the Merseyside as 504 teams of three showed up to battle it out over a weekend of Team Unified Modern. We also had a few more on top eager to play side events with the newly released Ultimate Masters set. The event hall of the ACC Liverpool was packed with Magic players and more space was made available upstairs for side events.
It was great to see another surge in popularity for the game.
AN INFLUX OF WORLD MAGIC CUP TEAMS
One of the reasons for the bumper turnout was the upcoming World Magic Cup. That was taking place in Barcelona on the next weekend and brought some international teams that you wouldn't normally expect to see at a UK Grand Prix. This included the very scary one-two punch combo of the current Player of the Year, Luis Salvatto and the man he beat in the playoff match for that title, Seth Manfield on the same team!
Even though the formats were different (Team Unified Modern for GP Liverpool, Team Unified Standard plus some Limited for the WMC), we even had a few national teams getting some practise in over the weekend. Teams Mexico, Singapore and Finland all braved a wet and windy Liverpool to play here over the weekend.
Team Singapore: Tan Chin Heng, Kelvin Chew, and Teng Kong Chong
Team Mexico and Singapore both made the cut to Day 2 while the Finns just missed out at 5-3. Singapore finished in 54th place and Mexico... well, without wanting to spoil anything, you might see them mentioned later...
IT'S A TRAP!
One of the stories of Grand Prix Liverpool was Jason Chung and his Mill deck. The New Zealand team captain flew 36 (or 37) hours and then ubered his way here to arrive literally right before the tournament was about to start. He didn't get off to the best start as both he and his team (Alexander Hayne and Ondřej Stráský) started out 0-1. That was the only mark in the loss column on day one as they won out 7-1. They then started out Sunday 3-0 to put themselves within touching distance of the Top 4 cut, with Chung unbeaten aside from that first round loss.
I caught up with him after Round 11 to ask one simple question:
Chung told me it had come about when he'd spoken to a friend after starting out 0-2 at GP Melbourne. Blue-Black Mill has been an archetype in Modern for a few years, but only on the periphery of the metagame. His friend was wondering whether Mission Briefing was worth trying out in the list.
Chung tried it out and 10-0'ed his first league on MTGO. A hundred or so matches later and he had a very credible 73% win ratio.
He cited the new Guilds of Ravnica card Mission Briefing as the glue that holds it all together. The deck leans on various cards in different matchups. The matchup against Control and Combo decks is pretty good as the deck has multiple Surgical Extractions and Extirpate to disrupt opposing game plans. Against aggro decks with fetch lands, firing off 0-mana Archive Traps is more important. This is also where an interaction between Archive Trap and Mission Briefing is useful. Mission Briefing allows the card to be cast for the 0-mana trap cost whereas with Snapcaster Mage, the full cost must be paid.
Chung watched on by his teammate Alexander Hayne
His feature matches also produced some interesting and entertaining games. I liked the play of responding to a Surgical Extraction on Archive Trap with his own Surgical Extraction to protect the remaining copies of Surgical Extraction in his library. It's a simple play, but can be easily missed if a player blinkers themselves into thinking Extraction is only to be aimed at the opponent's graveyard.
If you want to try milling your opponents out at your next Modern tournament, this is the list Chung played:
But be warned, he also mentioned it's quite difficult to play optimally.
GUILDS OF RAVNICA IN MODERN
I've already mentioned Mission Briefing adding some versatility to the Mill deck. The most recent set, Guilds of Ravnica, has quietly added a few cards to the Modern format. Assassin's Trophy, as a Path to Exile for everything, was always going to find a home, although it's presence on the top tables was mainly as a sideboard option for Dredge. Also finding a home in sideboards was Knight of Autumn.
Moving back to Dredge, a big reason as to why this deck has returned to the top tiers was the addition of Creeping Chill.
When it was spoiled, Arclight Phoenix was initially dismissed as the chaff mythic red phoenix of the set. That proved to be somewhat of an error as the new Phoenix quickly became a solid mainstay of Standard. At Liverpool it also started showing up in various Modern archetypes, with Hollow One, Izzet and Mono-Red variants all seen over the weekend.
DAY 1 UNDEFEATEDS
After 8 rounds of hard-fought action on Sunday, there were two teams left at the top of the standings with perfect 8-0 records. These were the Axion Now-Polish alliance of Niels Molle, Piotr Głogowski, and Joao Choca, and the team of Mattia Rizzi, Francisco Sanchez, and Cristian Ortiz. Ortiz had already picked up one Team GP title in the past 12 months and was looking for a second. They were joined by a chasing pack of 65 other teams that survived the cut to Day 2.
Sanchez, Rizzi, and Ortiz, and Molle, Głogowski, and Choca
However, the end of Day 1 is just the halfway point of the tournament. With 6 more rounds to go, a Top 4 berth was not guaranteed for either team. And indeed, that was how it turned out. Unfortunately, neither team could repeat their stellar day one performances. Molle, Głogowski, and Choca picked up some early losses and had to be content with a final scramble into 6th. Rizzi, Sanchez, and Ortiz also slipped back into the chasing pack and a draw in the final round with the Mexican national team left them with 31 pts and an 11th place finish.
Oh, and that wasn't the mention of the Mexican team I hinted at earlier. You see, the trio of Dagoberta Silva, Marcelino Freeman and Daniel Becerra were paired down on 33 points going into Round 14. That draw was exactly what they needed to take 4th slot in the Top 4.
As for the other 3 slots... fans of UK Magic might want to look away.
SPANIARDS SEEK REVENGE FOR GP MADRID
At Grand Prix Madrid earlier in the year it was the relatively unknown British trio of Christoph Green, Ben Jones and Charles Eliatamby that managed to overcome some fairly illustrious opposition to win the whole thing. Well it looked like the Spaniards were out for revenge as the end of the Swiss portion saw Spanish teams in positions one, two, and three, to make it an all Spanish-speaking Top 4.
On the back table, the team of Sergio Garcia, Carlos Moral and Ricardo Sanchez quickly defeated Daniel Ballestin, Toni Ramis Pascual and Alvaro Sanchez.
The other semi-final saw Daniel Martinez Querol, Daniel Toledo, and Jose Luis Velazquez in their distinctive blue and white Show & Tell shirts face off against the Team Mexico of Daniel Becerra, Marcelino Freeman and Dagoberto Silva.
Two of those matches were relatively straightforward. Silva won the Ironworks mirror versus Daniel Toledo and the Storm vs Bogles match on the middle table proved stereotypically un-interactive as a rough mana draw let Marcelino unable to deploy his hate cards versus Velazquez's Storm deck.
The final match was a nailbiter and went to a deciding game. Becerra's Death Shadow deck had a Grim Lavamancer to control the board, but as he was at a precarious 1 life and facing an active Æther Vial, there was always a danger of a Spirit flashing out of Martinez Querol's hand to steal the match. A critical Settle the Wreckage came out of nowhere to put Becerra's heart in his mouth, but this would not be the second Settle heard around the world. It merely delayed the inevitable as Becerra crashed in with Gurmag Angler and a monstrous Death's Shadow to take Mexico into the final.
A FINAL SWARM OF THOPTERS
The final set up clashes between Becerra's Death Shadow deck and Carlos Moral's Izzet Phoenix. The flaming birds took that one.
If I had to pick a defining deck of the tournament, it would probably be Krark-Clan Ironworks. On the middle table we had the rare event of Bogles being the hero as Freeman's slippery bois found the hate to prevent Garcia's Ironworks deck from comboing off.
On the final table it looked like the tournament Big Bad would fall at the final hurdle for both teams as Sanchez's Humans deck took the lead versus Silva's Ironworks. Silva pulled one back and it came down to another tense deciding game for the whole Grand Prix. With Gaddock Teeg on the table to prevent the Ironworks deck's defining card from coming down, Silva switched to the backup plan of assembling a thopter army thanks to Sai, Master Thopterist. The flying, whirring army chewed through half of Sanchez's life total, but a crack back with his own large and buffed Human army caused Silva some anxious moments. Sanchez's Æther Vial had 3 counters and had the potential to flash in any number of awkward creatures to throw off Silva's combat math.
However, the Spaniard had only a redundant Gaddock Teeg and Cavern of Souls in hand, and another attack from Silva's swarm of Thopters was enough to give the Mexican team the game, the match and the winner's trophies of Grand Prix Liverpool!
In the end, Spain couldn't quite avenge Grand Prix Madrid. It was the Mexican team of Daniel Becerra, Marcelino Freeman, and Dagoberta Silva that emerged triumphant.
The Mexican team are here and have planted a flag. Watch out for them at the World Magic Cup!