Day 1 Highlights of Grand Prix Manila

Posted in Event Coverage on June 3, 2017

By Chapman Sim

After nine rounds of intense competition, the field of 757 was reduced down to 233. Before we step into Day 2 of Grand Prix Manila, let's check out the top stories of the weekend. Between the metagame breakdown, player interviews and deck techs, there's bound to be something interesting for everyone!

Day 1 Metagame Breakdown

Thanks to a pair of helping hands, we were able to look through all 757 decklists of all players here at Grand Prix Manila, save a few . Let's take a quick look at the top archetypes and a very brief synopsis of what today's metagame looked like!

The Aetherworks Marvel Decks

Certainly the top-represented archetype, to nobody's surprise, Aetherworks Marvel variants were played by 171 out of 757 players, which was 22.6% of the metagame. Most of them stuck to the Temur version, while the rest tried pairing blue and green with other colors.

Temur Aetherworks 153 22.60%
Sultai Aetherworks 12
Bant Aetherworks 4
Other Color Combinations 2
Total 171

The Vehicles Decks

  • Heart of Kiran
  • Toolcraft Exemplar
  • Scrapheap Scrounger
  • Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
  • Veteran Motorist
  • Metallic Rebuke
  • Spell Queller
  • Unlicensed Disintegration

These are the decks that are running Heart of Kiran, and usually Aethersphere Harvester, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, as well as Thraben Inspector, Toolcraft Exemplar and Scrapheap Scrounger. The main different is in the choice of their noncreature spells.

Mardu Vehicles players chose to run Fatal Push and Unlicensed Disintegration, while Mardu Blue players opted to swap out some of those cards for counterspells such as Negate, Metallic Rebuke and Spell Queller. As for Jeskai Vehicles players, they've chosen to cut out black altogether, splashing for only Scrapheap Scrounger's activation! At 15% of the metagame, Vehicles decks were sported by approximately one in seven players.

Mardu Vehicles 66 15.30%
Mardu Blue 33
Jeskai Vehicles 17
Total 116

The Blooming Marsh Decks

For convenience and ease of viewing, we've grouped all Blooming Marsh decks under one category.

  • Winding Constrictor
  • Hissing Quagmire
  • Fatal Push
  • Grasp of Darkness
  • Attune with Aether
  • Longtusk Cub
  • Greenbelt Rampager
  • Ishkanah, Grafwidow
  • Rhonas the Indomitable

Winding Constrictor remained popular, since it created quick kills in conjunction with Rishkar, Peema Renegade, Walking Ballista and Nissa, Voice of Zendikar. As for Black-Green Energy players, the distinctive cards were Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, Greenbelt Rampager and Longtusk Cub. There were also some players who opted to go with the best of both worlds, selecting the best two drops from each side to create a hybrid variant, which is similar to what Ken Yukuhiro had brought today.

Lastly, 14 players decided attacking wasn't their thing, and eventually preferred to close games with Ishkanah, Grafwidow, usually tutored from Traverse the Ulvenwald. Jund Gods was what Team EUreka brought to Pro Tour Amonkhet and the allure of playing with Rhonas the Indomitable, Hazoret the Fervent and Fatal Push was too much to resist.

Black-Green Constrictor 36 13.10%
Black-Green Energy 21
Black-Green Hybrid 10
Black-Green Delirium 14
Jund Gods 11
Jund Energy 7
Total 99

The Torrential Gearhulk Decks

  • Torrential Gearhulk
  • Disallow
  • Thing in the Ice
  • Dynavolt Tower
  • Negate
  • Censor
  • Glimmer of Genius
  • Hieroglyphic Illumination
  • Summary Dismissal

The rise of Aetherworks Marvel caused the popularity of control decks to increase tremendously. Censor, Disallow, Negate, Essence Scatter, and even Summary Dismissal were some of the tools in those arsenals. Regardless of whether they were trying to seal the deal with Dynavolt Tower, Thing in the Ice, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, Attune with Aether or Metallurgic Summonings, they all had an impressive suite of countermagic and removal spells, along with Glimmer of Genius to ensure their engine ran smoothly.

Blue-Red Control 49 9.60%
Blue-Red Tower 9
Blue-White Control 9
Temur Control 4
Temur Summonings 2
Total 73

The Rest of the Pack

Rounding off, there were a lot of Temur Energy decks which did not rely on Aetherworks Marvel. Instead, they chose to play a midrange "good stuff" deck (Harnessed Lightning, Bristling Hydra, Rogue Refine, Tireless Tracker and more) rather than hoping for a turn-four Ulamog.

Around 10% of the field decided upon Cryptbreaker, Relentless Dead, and Dread Wanderer as allies. Thanks to Gerry Thomson's victory at Pro Tour Amonkhet, the tribe remains a strong contender, especially when supplemented by Lord of the Accursed and Liliana's Mastery.

*Any archetype with 10 or less copies fall under 'others'.

Temur Energy 53 7.00%
Zombies (Mono Black) 45 5.90%
Zombies (White-Black) 30 4.00%
Red-Green Energy Aggro 28 4.00%
Red-Green Pummeler 14 2.00%
Esper Midrange 18 3.70%
Boros Humans 16 2.40%
White-Blue Flash 14 1.80%
Others 60 8.00%

Tzu Ching Kuo's Little Wish

The talk of the (Asian) town was weekend was how Joe Soh placed 2nd at Grand Prix Kobe 2015 and then improving upon that finish to come in 1st at Grand Prix Kobe 2017. Tzu Ching Kuo was in attendance at Grand Prix Kobe last weekend and he was 12-2 going into Round 15 of the 2800-man event. He lost that final round. If he had won, he would have had a shot at the Top 8, or at the very least earned an invitation to Pro Tour Hour of Devastation in Kyoto.

Tzu Ching Kuo, the man with a dream!

Heartbroken and disheartened by that loss, Kuo asked me if he should attend Grand Prix Manila. Owing to his busy schedule, it wasn't immediately apparent that he could afford the time to attend either. However, in the light of Soh's victory at Kobe, I gently reminded the former World Magic Cup Champion and six-time Chinese Taipei National Champion of one very important factoid.

Me: Didn't you come in 2nd place at the previous Grand Prix Manila in 2015?

Kuo: Yes. So?

Me: Don't you think you could pull off a "Joe Soh" or at least give it a shot?

All men dream, but not equally. Rather than be discouraged by the daunting prospect of winning a Grand Prix, Kuo was asking "why not" rather than "why". As the player with the most Grand Prix Top 8s – he's got a whooping 11, including three final appearances – he's never had the honor of claiming a Grand Prix title for himself. With his faith renewed, Kuo jumped onto the internet and confirmed his air tickets within the next day, and embarked on yet another quest to Pursue Glory. The only worse thing than starting something and failing, is not starting something at all.

Just this morning, he posted this on his Facebook page. Loosely translated, Kuo said that he "doesn't have any special expectations this weekend and I just hope that I can do better than the previous Grand Prix Manila!"

Regardless of what happens this weekend or how Kuo finishes, this is an inspiring story of courage, bravery, strength and heroism. No matter where you're from, or what you do, or what kind of Magic player you are, your dreams are valid. The future clearly belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.

Deck Tech: Jeskai Vehicles

Mardu Vehicles had been the boogeyman of the format for a while and while Temur Marvelworks became the new king of the hill, it did not mean that Heart of Kiran decks were falling out of favor. For instance, Platinum Pro (9) Kelvin Chew along with a few friends decided to combat the Marvel menace by running Metallic Rebuke and Spell Queller, because "clocks and counters" had traditionally been a tested and proven strategy against combo decks.

This variant eschewed black cards such as Fatal Push and Unlicensed Disintegration for countermagic, which gave rise to Jeskai Vehicles. Coincidentally, that was also what this Japanese duo had brought to the tables. Four-time Grand Prix Top 8 competitor Shota Takao shared his decklist with Pro Tour San Diego 2010 Top 8 competitor Yoshihiko Ikawa. Immediately impressed, he decided to register the exact same 75 cards as Takao.

Ikawa: "The deck is similar to Mardu Vehicles except that our black splash is only for Scrapheap Scrounger. Unlicensed Disintegration is a poor choice against Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger so if we swap it with Stasis Snare, we can play more blue cards instead of black cards."

Yoshihiko Ikawa and Shota Takao are "card for card" this weekend.

Indeed, the core of the deck isn't all that different, since it begins with Toolcraft Exemplar, Thraben Inspector and Heart of Kiran, before Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Archangel Avacyn can wreck havoc. In the meantime, Negate, Metallic Rebuke and Spell Queller improve the matchup significantly against Aetherworks Marvel, which both players have correctly identified as the most popular deck at Manila.

According to Takao, his modifications made the mana base more stable than Mardu Blue, a greedy, four-color variant of Mardu Vehicles.

Takao: "You can play a few less fast lands, and be less reliant on them, and still have the same game plan as Mardu Vehicles. You color screw less, which is important because you don't want to lose tempo during early turns. Most importantly, Spell Queller was a great maindeck no matter what you were matched up against and it is probably the best card against Marvelworks, since you could stop their combo while still adding a threat on the board."

Ikawa started off 5-0 but closed the day at 6-3, while Takao also squeaked into Day 2 with the same record. They didn't get paired against their ideal matchup – Temur Marvelworks – as much as they liked, but they hope that things will change for the better tomorrow!

Shota Takao & Yoshihiko Ikawa's Jeskai Vehicles

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Deck Tech: Black-Green Energy with Dread Wanderer

(11) Ken Yukuhiro is one of the most highly-ranked players in the room and in the world. He quickly gained respect from the Japanese community for being the "Black-Green master" after making the Top 8 at Pro Tour Amonkhet, and is perhaps credited for "making Bone Picker playable". In view of the dominance of Aetherworks Marvel variants, Yukuhiro had to reconsider his choice of cards. With fewer small creatures and more Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hungers in the metagame, Bone Picker was no longer viable.

"The most important thing now is to be faster than Aetherworks Marvel before they can combo off. Because of that, I decided to redesign my deck to win faster."

Ken Yukuhiro, back with Black-Green again!

Deciding that Bone Picker and Heart of Kiran were too slow, he replaced them with Dread Wanderer and Nissa, Voice of Zendikar. At first glance, it looked like a mishmash and hodgepodge of swirling chaos, but numbers don't lie. Of the forty nonland cards in his deck, only seven cards costed three and none costed four or above. The average mana cost of the entire deck? 1.2 mana. Staying low to the ground was vital in beating Aetherworks Marvel, explained Yukuhiro.

Winding Constrictor and Nissa, Voice of Zendikar were natural buddies but without sufficient one drops, you were unable to take full advantage of it. This was where Dread Wanderer came along. Despite not being a Zombie deck, Yukuhiro was pleased with the two-powered creature for just a single mana. Not only was the mana curve of the deck lowered, it improved Rishkar, Peema Renegade significantly.

Usually, the typical line of play was to open with Winding Constrictor and Rishkar, Peema Renegade to create a 4/5 and a 4/4. You then attack with Winding Constrictor for four damage, and then attack for eight more damage next turn. This constituted one of the strongest openings in Standard Constructed, but Dread Wanderer took it one step further.

"Turn one Dread Wanderer and turn two Winding Constrictor. Attack for 2. Then, Rishkar, Peema Renegade Leader on those two creatures allowed you to attack for 8 damage, which makes a total of 10 damage as early as turn three. If you followed that up with Nissa, Voice of Zendikar, it becomes lethal even before the Aetherworks Marvel player reached four lands."

Manglehorn, Dispossess and Transgress the Mind from the sideboard further improved the matchup. In view of Blue-Red Control rising in popularity to prey upon Aetherworks Marvel, Blossoming Defense and Tireless Tracker was Yukuhiro's plan.

While Black-Green Energy was nothing groundbreaking, Yukuhiro's modifications certainly were. This is a story of how you can change a few cards in an existing archetype to combat a shifting metagame. But of course, you could also just join them if you wanted to, but that was certainly not Yukuhiro's style!

"Winding Constrictor is so good!"

Ken Yukuhiro's Black-Green Energy

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Deck Tech: Alvanson So's Mardu Gearhulks

Alvanson So was a local player who has been playing Magic for over 15 years. As an avid deck brewer, he was extremely excited to attend Grand Prix Manila with a very interesting concoction. While most players who were playing Gearhulks sported the blue or green versions, So showed up with both Noxious Gearhulk and the full playset of Combustible Gearhulk!

Mardu Gearhulks in full force.

Using Cathartic Reunion and Tormenting Voice to get Prized Amalgam and Haunted Dead into the graveyard, So was very quickly able to set up his most unfair plays. Should he also manage to get one of his six Gearhulks into thee graveyard and then reanimate it with Refurbish or Liliana, Death's Majesty, things could get out of hand really fast. Since he had no blue mana to cast Prized Amalgam with (and he had no intent to do that), he further supplemented his discard outlets with Lightning Axe, as well as Fiery Temper to gain some value.

"I feel that Temur Marvelworks and Blue-Red Control were going to be the most popular decks, and that is why I decided to come with this deck. From the sideboard, I have Scrapheap Scrounger and Distended Mindbender, which are really effective against Blue-Red Control post-board. Kari Zev's Expertise is also pretty good against Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. Most of the time they have little to no creatures and I can usually attack them and finish the game off with Combustible Gearhulk."

Alvanson So is always happy to pilot his own brews!

He also shared that he went 4-0 in the Grand Prix Trials yesterday, but failed to win in the finals. He entered the fray with no byes, but made up for it by taking down his first two matches. As a matter of fact, he managed to deal 15 damage with Combustible Gearhulk early in the day, and also stole his opponent's Rhonas the Indomitable in another game! After those two wins, he drew twice against Temur Marvelworks, and he had a difficult time making it through to Day 2. Regardless, he wasn't disheartened and he was very glad to be able to share this deck with the community! If you're looking for an interesting deck for your upcoming Standard tournament, look no further than So's Mardu Gearhulks!

Alvanson So's Mardu Gearhulks

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The 9-0 Players

After nine rounds of intense competition, only three players managed to emerge unscathed. Ryoichi Tamada finished top in Swiss and was quickly whisked away by his friends to celebrate, so we missed out on a chance to speak to him. However, Tamada's presence will definitely be felt tomorrow, so we were not short on chances to put him under the spotlight.

Mark Anthony Biala was one of the 9-0's and he achieved the perfect score with Mono Black Zombies. Citing Fleetwheel Cruiser as his MVP, he explained that it was great tech against Aetherworks Marvel decks, because he was able to close games more quickly than usual. Biala is 30 years old and is a facilities engineer who had played Magic for nearly 15 years.

Mark Anthony Biala crushed Day 1 with a horde of Zombies!

"I remember that I started around Onslaught block, which was also tribal themed. Mono Black Zombies is my favorite aggro deck in the format and that was why I picked it. To adapt to the metagame, I decided to play Transgress the Mind in the maindeck. I hope it will serve me well tomorrow!"

Indeed, a well-timed discard spell was backbreaking against a combo deck such as Aetherworks Marvel, plus it is also decent against the Gideon in Vehicles decks as well as Torrential Gearhulks in the control decks, which made up over 50% of today's metagame.

As for the third and final 9-0 player, he crossed the finish line with a Black-Green Aggro hybrid. Combining energy and +1/+1 counter elements (a product similar to Yukuhiro's), Matias Monico Palu-Ay managed to defeat his Round 9 opponent despite mulliganing to four cards in the nail-biting match!

"I went down to four (cards) and I managed to cast Gonti, Lord of Luxury. My MVP was actually my opponent's Hazoret the Fervent, because I was able to steal it and cast it the next turn to attack immediately! That was extremely fortunate!"

Matias Monico Palu-Ay was having the best "first Grand Prix" of his life!

Palu-Ay first learned how to play Magic during Fourth Edition but then left the game to focus on Law School and to develop his career. Today, he is not only a successful attorney, but also the owner of a Gym and Fitness Center! With a little spare time on his hands, his old friends encouraged him to participate in Grand Prix Manila since it was merely a stone's throw away from home.

"My friends and I belong to Team Bear Wolves and they are the reason that I am back playing Magic again. In fact, this is my very first Grand Prix and I am quite overwhelmed by everything that's happening around me. Green is my favorite color so I decided to pick this deck. It has a good mana base and it is also very versatile in terms of game play. I hope to do well tomorrow so I don't disappoint my friends!"

Could Palu-Ay crack his first Top 8 in his very first Grand Prix appearance? Good luck!

Team Bear Wolves will be rooting for Palu-Ay all the way tomorrow!

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