Grand Prix Metz 2017 Day 1 Highlights

Posted in Event Coverage on August 26, 2017

By Tobi Henke

On the desert plane of Amonkhet, the second sun may have set for the first time in decades, heralding the return of the deceiver, the trespasser, usurper, the self-styled God-Pharaoh Nicol Bolas. But while that world was plunged into unfamiliar gloom and chaos, our setting this weekend remained quite sunny indeed. And what better way to take a break from the scorching temperatures of the French summer than to stay indoors and sling some cards?

Players from near and far, from all over Europe and beyond, decided to do just that and descended upon the small town of Metz in droves. All in all, 1,485 competitors signed up for the event, including three of the world's 29 Platinum pros: 2015–16 Draft Master (2) Márcio Carvalho, 2016–17 Draft Master (8) Martin Jůza, and (15) Javier Dominguez.

Among the Gold pros in attendance were: Pro Tour champions Ivan Floch, Alexander Hayne, and Joel Larsson; Pro Tour finalists Andrea Mengucci and Pierre Dagen; Grand Prix champions Mattia Rizzi and Petr Sochůrek; also Thomas Hendriks, Liu Yuchen, Niels Molle, Niels Noorlander, Marc Tobiasch, Peter Vieren, and Ondřej Stráský; while Steve Hatto and Simon Nielsen were both looking for back-to-back Top 8s after finishing in second and eighth place, respectively, at Grand Prix Birmingham only two weeks ago.

A Last Hurrah for Hour of Devastation

Safe to say that Hour of Devastation/Amonkhet Limited was still popular, among pros and a broader audience alike. However, this event, along with the weekend's other Grand Prix in Indianapolis, marked the end of its run, at least where premier events were concerned. Of course it would remain the format of choice for countless tournaments across the globe for several weeks to come, not to mention innumerable drafts on Magic Online. But as for the Grand Prix circuit, this was it, the final hour for Hour of Devastation in Limited, possibly its finest hour yet and a worthy send-off!

The one person whose evaluation of the format I was most interested in, naturally, was Martin Jůza. Not only did he enter the Grand Prix ranked No. 8 in the world. Jůza had recently been inducted into the Pro Tour Hall of Fame and he had cemented his reputation as one of the planet's preeminent Limited experts by clinching the title of Draft Master for the 2016–17 season, earning an invite to the World Championship in the process.

When I talked to Jůza on Friday and opened with "So, final event in this format ..." he was taken aback at first. "It is?" he asked, equally unfamiliar and disappointed with the fact. "Oh."

It is rather sad, isn't it? I asked and Jůza agreed: "It is! It is a good format. I mean, it is in the sense that there's a lot of fixing and you can make use of all your good cards, which also brings about the problem of the [Hour of Devastation] Gods being a little overpowered."

But the Czech Platinum pro was quick to point out that it wasn't all about opening bombs either, no slug fest of one multicolored midrange monstrosity against another. "The big mana decks, the five-color green or let's say multiple-color green decks, there are a lot of things that have to go right for them. You almost always have to have some kind of sweeper. Then you still need specific removal for other people's bombs, or you will lose to their Gods or whatever."

Jůza himself was playing in a Sealed Deck tournament on Friday, along with several colleagues of his, and his pool then did include a God and a Manalith. Yet Jůza had built straight red and white beatdown without either, a fine example of an aggressive deck which could well compete over the long haul too. "It's not just about tempo. It's the fact that there's good removal. It's that I have four creatures with eternalize and some reach with Fervent Paincaster," he said. "If you're aggro it's important for your deck to have some form of reach, some plan for the late game."

Pro Tour champion Joel Larsson and 2016–17 Draft Master (8) Martin Jůza

Joel Larsson, champion of Pro Tour Magic Origins and finalist of Pro Tour Gatecrash, chimed in: "It was so hard to block in triple Amonkhet. Now that's become a real possibility."

"Yeah, right now the format is much slower," Jůza concurred. "In Amonkhet everybody played white. It felt like every other game began with Fan Bearer and Gust Walker. They ran out of Plains at GPs in like five minutes."

The two players also mentioned that there seemed to be way more sweepers around nowadays. With a little help from fellow pros Ivan Floch and Ondřej Stráský they managed to list: Hour of Devastation, Bontu's Last Reckoning, and Hour of Revelation as additions to the previous pool of Rags // Riches, Sweltering Suns, and Heaven // Earth.

Circling back to the original topic, Jůza said, "One of the main reasons I like the format, by the way, is cycling. Having spells with cycling and now also a meaningful number of lands with cycling is awesome. There are so few games which are decided on mana flood or screw, you almost always get a real game going. I've been saying for a long time that they should put a set of cycling lands, i.e. Forgotten Cave, into every set."

"And the cycling lands we have now are even better than that, because of all the Desert synergies," Larsson added. "In this format, they're often the crucial difference between a solid and a great deck. Cycling lands in general make for good decks, for good game play, and for interesting deck building."

Jůza picked up on the point and elaborated: "Like when do you play them and when do you keep them? Also, how high do you pick them in draft? After all, they don't count toward your spell total, so that's often a very hard decision to make. Getting to draft your mana base and not only your spells adds a completely different axis to a format, another challenge to test your skill."

Advice from the Wise

Playing Limited in a familiar environment did have its advantages. Knowing what to do, knowing what to expect; several people I spoke with mentioned that it just felt very comfortable. Then again, there's always the danger of developing a bad habit, a routine best avoided. I asked some proven experts about what mistakes they still saw people make regularly.

"People don't consider their curve enough," said Martin Jůza. "They think people run all of these five-color midrange decks and often disregard their mana curve because of it, at their own peril. I don't like playing a Grizzly Bear like Harsh Mentor or Mummy Paramount, but I will if I don't have a 2-drop otherwise, even if only to match an aggressive start from my opponent or to allow for some advantageous double blocks later on. People should still keep an eye on their mana curve—you can't just start on turn three with Manalith or Beneath the Sands."

So the current Draft Master warned against underestimating the speed of the format. The 2015–16 Draft Master and fellow competitor at the upcoming World Championship (2) Márcio Carvalho, on the other hand, cautioned against overestimating the same ...

2015–16 Draft Master (2) Márcio Carvalho

"The biggest mistake people make is to think that the format is more aggressive than it is," said Carvalho. "It used to be aggressive. In Amonkhet it was super hard to block. Now there are a lot of good blockers—and less exert."

Fitting in nicely with this assessment was his pick for a card he found to be commonly underrated: "Countervailing Winds! I think the card is really, really good."

Finally, I talked to the third Worlds competitor who was in attendance at Grand Prix Metz. When I asked (15) Javier Dominguez what players still got wrong about the format, he requested a little time to think about it—"It's a hard question," he said—but when he got back to me, his answer definitely didn't disappoint ...

2017 World Championship competitor (15) Javier Dominguez

"The most common mistake I see is that players evaluate cards purely on their abstract value. But in this format it's often not about stats or power level," said Dominguez, "it's more about what your deck needs. Take Rhonas's Stalwart and Feral Prowler for example. In a vacuum, the Stalwart is the stronger card, but not necessarily in context; some decks could benefit greatly from the addition of Prowler instead. I saw this first-hand with some of my friends this weekend. Sometimes they play better cards when a worse card would have been better suited for the deck."

Tormenting—and Conflicting—Voices

It's generally a good sign, of good design that is, if the world's best and brightest still don't agree on everything at the end of a Limited format's run. And one could hardly imagine a card which epitomized this better than Torment of Scarabs ...

When I posed the question—"Torment of Scarabs. Always/never/sometimes?"—I didn't realize how much of a hornet's nest, or nest of scarabs, I was going to stir up. Before I knew it, a couple of pro players were involved in a veritable argument. Some excerpts:

Martin Jůza: "People say I have extreme opinions. And the thing is, I don't even like black, I think it's the worst color by far, and I would avoid black unless it was for rares. And I would almost never play Torment of Scarabs. There are decks were it can be fine, a few where it gets good. But generally, this is like suspend ... seven for some great effect."

[Naturally, Jůza ended up with a black deck on Day 1. Admittedly, with rares.]

Joel Larsson: "I would play the card in almost all of my decks."

Martin Jůza: "It's either going to be great in a game or horrible. I want all of my cards to matter. I want to play a game where all of my cards do something, and when you're behind this does absolutely nothing. It's like Cruel Reality all over again!"

Joel Larsson: "You do have very strong opinions. Cards like this, they win games which you never could have won any other way. It's very powerful to have an effect like this, that attacks your opponent on a different level. For example, against control or in a stall situation between two midrange decks."

Martin Jůza: "Sure. I'll board the card in then."

Ondřej Stráský: "I'd like to go on record as saying that I'd play the card."

Martin Jůza: "And I'm glad you do. Because that means you'll have one less good card when you play against me."

Javier Dominguez later added: "I love Torment of Scarabs! I think it's a very good card. It's also such fun, having a player make a choice every turn. I would always play it, unless your deck has a win condition that operates on a totally different axis. Say, if you want to win by Approach of the Second Sun or milling. Other than that, the card is good when you're attacking, and when you're not attacking, well, it's still going to be a finisher later."

The 9-0 Players

After nine rounds, only five of the original 1,485 competitors still sported an undefeated record of 9-0. They would lead the field, cut down to 452, into the second day. Learn more about them, their decks, and their day below!

Name: Martin Jůza

Age: 30 :-(

Occupation: Professional tourist

Hometown: Plzen, Czech Republic

Byes: 3

Sealed Deck colors: Black-red

Previous Magic accomplishments:

I was voted into the Hall of Fame!

Which card(s) in your Sealed Deck performed the best?

2-drops and 3-drops. Also, Dreamstealer and Archfiend of Ifnir.

Which card(s) in your Sealed Deck performed the worst?

Hour of Devastation. I should not have played it.

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

All the matches were cool. Because I won!

Name: Francesco Fritto Hugony

Age: 37

Occupation: Gameification manager

Hometown: Milan, Italy

Byes: 2

Sealed Deck colors: Four-color base green with black and blue sides and white splash

Previous Magic accomplishments:

Some Pro Tour Day 2 and Grand Prix Top 16.

Which card(s) in your Sealed Deck performed the best?

Bounty of the Luxa.

Which card(s) in your Sealed Deck performed the worst?

All did their part quite well. Maybe Oasis Ritualist turned out to be the least necessary.

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

I was at 5 life with just one creature on the battlefield and one card in hand, with two mana open, while my opponent had two power 4 creatures. He topdecks Driven // Despair, plays a land, and slams it going for the win. I play my card which was Consign // Oblivion bouncing his Bitterbow Sharpshooters. So I go to 1, discard nothing, and my opponent only draws one card. In my turn I make him discard the card he drew and the creature I bounced with Consign // Oblivion and then I take control and win thanks to the Bounty of Luxa I had in play.

Name: Elias Klocker

Age: 23

Occupation: Magic: The Gathering trader

Hometown: Schwarzach, Austria

Byes: 2

Sealed Deck colors: Black-red aggro

Previous Magic accomplishments:

Top 8 Grand Prix Ghent 2012, Top 33 Pro Tour Hour of Devastation.

Which card(s) in your Sealed Deck performed the best?

Ammit Eternal.

Which card(s) in your Sealed Deck performed the worst?

Ruin Rat.

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

I killed a Liliana, Death's Majesty with Liliana's Defeat.

Name: Mitchell Manders

Age: 26

Occupation: Student/Magic Online grinder

Hometown: Dordrecht, the Netherlands

Byes: 2

Sealed Deck colors: Black-red

Previous Magic accomplishments:

Grand Prix Bilbao winner, Magic Online Player of the Year 2015–16, World Magic Cup competitor 2016.

Which card(s) in your Sealed Deck performed the best?

Deserts and Open Fires to the face.

Which card(s) in your Sealed Deck performed the worst?

Creatures that got brickwalled.

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

My opponent played the aftermath half of Commit // Memory with The Locust God in play. But gave me lethal burn that way.

Name: Cosmin Achim

Age: 37

Occupation: Engineer

Hometown: Cluj-Napoch, Romania

Byes: 2

Sealed Deck colors: Black-red-green

Previous Magic accomplishments:

Won a Game Day.

Which card(s) in your Sealed Deck performed the best?

Inferno Jet, Rhonas's Last Stand.

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

Lost first game to Hour of Promise ramp into Overwhelming Splendor, then switched to another deck with two counterspells, and won the next two games with it.

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