With 1,485 players, Metz's was actually the biggest of the weekend's two Grand Prix events, and a number of big stories came out of it too. For the most part, the talk of the tournament was the swan song of Hour of Devastation Limited, an environment universally beloved and a format that would sorely be missed. Time to share some of our fondest memories from this final weekend of devastation!
Having Fun in Sealed Deck
The following came courtesy of one Anders Thiesen who presented his Day 1 deck with a flourish and a tongue firmly in cheek and said, "I call it 'Le Tour de France.'"
(And yes, this wasn't the first time I heard the joke either. First time probably was around Onslaught, if only because Urza's block didn't so much have a cycling deck as, at best, a Fluctuator deck. Bonus points for actually being in France, though.)
Thiesen admitted that he would have needed another couple of strong cards as well as some cycling lands for this to be a real contender. But, boy, did he have fun! With twelve cyclers plus Tragic Lesson and Trial of Knowledge as well as Hollow One, Drake Haven, Archfiend of Ifnir, Abandoned Sarcophagus, Vile Manifestation, and two Grisly Survivor to take advantage of them, the deck definitely had a theme, and ran with it.
Thiesen retold the story of facing lethal damage while controlling both Archfiend of Ifnir and Drake Haven: "When I drew for my turn I was praying for any card with cycling. I drew Compelling Argument, then cycled into Scarab Feast. I'd been dead on board. Now my opponent had no board at all, especially since his main threat had been Majestic Myriarch."
Meanwhile, Jan van der Vegt was also pretty fond of his Sealed Deck. The Dutch player who had been an avid streamer had long made a name for himself as someone who'd reliably bring wacky brews to tournaments, and do well with them too. In Constructed at least. Talking Fist of Suns level of wackiness here. This weekend, he immediately had my full attention when he tweeted: "Had no byes, but my deck is terrific. The most Jan deck you could think of. 8-0 in games."
Incidentally, it could have been more Jan, should have been constructed slightly differently, even more audaciously following its themes, as van der Vegt admitted. "I only run six creatures, including one that cycles and one Feral Prowler which doesn't do much else. But I should have gone down to five and cut the Tenacious Hunter. It's the only creature against which regular creature removal has any real value.
"I should have played Strategic Planning instead," van der Vegt said. "I usually don't like the card in decks like these because decking is a real problem. But here it would have been great, especially with Approach of the Second Sun."
The first match van der Vegt played in the feature match area he lost to Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh unfortunately. But not without putting on a great show in one of the games: At one point he even almost used a sideboarded Refuse // Cooperate to copy Hour of Devastation (against Sifter Wurm and Rampaging Hippo) and only didn't because he ended up not needing it. Likewise, he later almost reached the point where it would have made sense to copy a massive Cut // Ribbons. Alas, he didn't need that either and simply won off the one aftermath spell alone.
"That was kinda sad," van der Vegt agreed. "I was really looking forward to that!"
Having Fun in Booster Draft
Once we got to the Booster Draft rounds, there was a noticeable uptick in the number of cool decks even. For instance, I got to witness a match between Grand Prix champions Arne Huschenbeth and Mattia Rizzi, a veritable brawl which just barely avoided coming down to decking.
It involved, among many things, a Pull from Tomorrow for six, a Gate to the Afterlife, and a God-Pharaoh's Gift on Huschenbeth's side; three copies of Bitterbow Sharpshooters and a very, very crucial Crook of Condemnation on Rizzi's. The latter only succumbed to Angel of Condemnation when Huschenbeth had gone down to a single card in his library.
Most of Huschenbeth's deck either resided on the battlefield or in exile by this point. But I wanted to get a good look at the full extent of it, reproduced here for your viewing pleasure:
The champion of last year's Grand Prix Rimini argued that it really wasn't a great deck, saying, "I do have an awesome late game; unfortunately not much else. And the mana base is kinda shaky too. I think the guy next to me was drafting five-color green as well."
That said, Huschenbeth did go 3-0 with the deck. Then, a couple of rounds later, I was told that Huschenbeth had apparently drafted yet another 3-0 deck, or two copies of Hazoret the Fervent in any case, with a solid blue-red tempo build to support them.
"I didn't even open any of them," Huschenbeth tried to downplay his luck. "Joel Larsson passed them to me as my second and fourth pick in Amonkhet. If anything, it's his fault," he joked.
Another fun little story about Booster Draft was provided by Hall of Famer (8) Martin Jůza, when I asked him whether he was still undefeated after Round 10. The answer: "Yes! I just beat the Angel of Sanctions, Angel of Condemnation, double Overwhelming Splendor deck. I believe there were at least four Splendors at our draft table!"
The actual story here, however, focused more on the drafting process itself, and the information gathered during it, than its end result. Jůza had passed two copies of the mythically rare Curse himself and, after the draft and deck construction, he was curious to know where they might have ended up. So he asked his friend Petr Sochůrek who had been sitting at the same draft table just a couple of seats away from Jůza, whether the two copies of Overwhelming Splendor had made it past him as well ...
The two members of Team ů later faced each other in the feature match area
"He told me, 'Yes, I saw two of those.' So I thought I was safe when I was paired against a player who had been sitting between us. You can imagine my surprise when he had Overwhelming Splendor after all, and two even," Jůza recounted. "So after the match I was like, 'Dude, you told me you had seen them!' Only then did we figure out that Petr must have seen two different Splendors."
You have time for one more spicy deck, don't you? This question was almost literally posed to me and now, dear reader, I pass it on to you. If you do, take a look at the following beauty:
Doom was immiment! Daan Pruijt was able to walk away with the above deck from the second draft at Grand Prix Metz, and his games didn't disappoint either. "I was able to get an Imminent Doom to deal a total of 10 damage in a game, that is, to trigger it four times!"
The Draft Master Striking Again
Let's talk about the elephant in the room. Maybe not the best metaphor, seeing as the proverbial elephant's a topic rather not discussed, whereas we're obviously glad to talk about Martin Jůza again and again. Also, not a fair description otherwise, since fellow Top 8 competitor Christoffer Larsen offered to lift Jůza off the floor for a more interesting Top 8 photo.
(8) Martin Jůza filling out his Top 8 profile questionnaire before the start of Round 15
But at least there was no denying that Jůza, as a recent member of the Hall of Fame and as the 2015–16 Draft Master with 26 previous Grand Prix Top 8s to his name, was the biggest heavyweight, so to say, in the room. He also was among the first two players to secure a spot in the playoffs this weekend, easily converting a 9-0 start from Day 1 into his 27th career Top 8. He was the Draft Master, after all, and proved it once again.
Not Forgetting About the Rest of the Top 8
For one thing, one really should highlight the performance of Christoffer Larsen, the good-natured giant, who quietly made his sixth Grand Prix Top 8 this weekend, before losing to—who else?—Martin Jůza in the quarterfinals. None other than (3) Brad Nelson chimed in on Twitter to say that "Christopher Larsen is easily one of the best players no one knows."
Christoffer Larsen, definitely one of the strongest players
Elias Klocker and Mitchell Manders meanwhile earned the second Top 8 of their respective careers and would surely be seen again.
Finally, a special and personal shoutout to Heiko Lehnert. At 43, he was the oldest player in the Top 8 and that's kind of what this is about. When I began to enter the local tournament scene back in the last century, Lehnert was already a well-known member of the community. When I began to travel to most of the European GPs to do coverage, I more often than not noticed Lehnert's familiar face somewhere in the crowd. Wherever there was Magic, there was Heiko Lehnert.
That was true since ... when exactly? "When was Ice Age again?" replied Lehnert, who also couldn't exactly pinpoint when he played his first Grand Prix. "I believe it was in Amsterdam, and I vaguely recall that Phyrexian Processor was a big deal in the format then."
In other words: a long time ago. And his first Grand Prix Top 8 was also a long time coming. For him, this was the hour of promise—when perseverance and an undying enthusiasm for this hobby of ours finally paid off. Congratulations!
Finals Going as Expected
Well, on the one hand, Martin Jůza was the clear favorite in the battle against Francesco Fritto Hugony, vastly more experienced, with basically all accomplishments one could possibly accomplish already accomplished, including a membership in the most exclusive club of the game: the Pro Tour Hall of Fame.
On the other hand: It wouldn't have been a proper battle of David versus Goliath if Goliath had won, right? Which is exactly what I wrote a little more than three months prior when Jůza lost the finals of Grand Prix Bologna. To imagine that Jůza managed to lose another Grand Prix finals inbetween is mind-boggling! But it's true; he did.
The first game of the finals was all Jůza's however. When Hugony missed a land drop, Jůza's white-blue tempo deck was quick to capitalize on it with an army of Sunscourge Champion, Aven Reedstalker, Sacred Cat, and Dauntless Aven, backed by Unsummon and Shefet Dunes.
Left to right: Francesco Fritto Hugony, winner's trophy, and (8) Martin Jůza
The curse which followed Jůza from Grand Prix Top 8 to Grand Prix Top 8 was not to be denied, though. In the second game, Jůza drew way too many lands, a problem only exacerbated by the fact that Hugony seemed to have a removal for each and every creature. In fact, with three copies of both Lethal Sting and Torment of Venom, this was the main selling point of Hugony's deck. Jůza himself later admitted that from what he had seen of it Hugony probably had the better deck.
The Hall of Famer fought valiantly, but even his Gideon of the Trials could only delay the inevitable, as he kept drawing lands. Jůza did nothing but play lands and activate Gideons +1 ability during his main phase for six consecutive turns. Literally. I counted. In the meantime, he played a Decision Paralysis and a bounce spell, which kept the planeswalker, and by proxy himself, alive that much longer. But without any meaningul board presence, these spells accomplished nothing.
Soon it was: "One more game."
"I actually drew a game in the finals of a GP once," said Jůza while they shuffled. "With the, what's its name, Howling Banshee. I was losing the game and we were both at 3 so I just killed both of us."
This got Hugony excited. "So you got to play a four-game final!"
Jůza had to disappoint him here. "Nah, I drew that one game and won the other two. But still."
This time, Jůza was missing lands, failed to find a third until turn six. Hugony's first play, meanwhile, was the aptly-named Dreamstealer. Granted, it didn't look completely hopeless for Jůza at first. It only did once Hugony cast Splendid Agony on Jůza's Spellweaver Eternal and Seeker of Insight.
Dreamstealer had already been the rare with the most copies among the first day's 9-0 decks. In a cruel twist of fate, Jůza had been among the people who had been dreamstealing then; now he lost more and more of his hand to the menacing 1/2.
The card didn't play a huge role in the technical end of the game. It was bounced at some point and Jůza's hand was empty at some point too. But lack of lands and Dreamstealer, those were the factors which decided this game long before Jůza extended his hand in concession.
Jůza was first to congratulate Francesco Hugony, champion of Grand Prix Metz 2017!
Once again, Jůza was a good sport about it. He was used to coming in second by now and preferred to look at it from the bright side. "I'll take second any day; second's great!"