Grand Prix Miami not only reinforced how critical some cards are in the current Standard, but the event also showcased the unseen power of a select few.
Out fifth card on this list is not one that made a huge impact this weekend, but rather a card that many lamented not playing more of or at all. Perilous Vault offers an expensive, but powerful way to rid the battlefield of all permanents, but with the direction the metagame was headed, it did not seem like Perilous Vault was going to be the right call to cast.
This weekend certainly proved how wrong that assumption was. Devotion strategies rely heavily on developing a board of creatures, and Whisperwood Elemental has offered them a form of sweeper protection...but only from sweepers that destroy creatures. Perilous Vault is somewhat inexpensive to deploy, and once it’s on the table, no player can commit too much to the board without paying for it. As players seek to take down the new boss on the block, Perilous Vault is likely a card that the community will gravitate towards as the metagame shifts.
It’s certainly something we’ve heard discussed on the tournament floor more than once this weekend.
Picture this: you’ve stabilized at a shaky but healthy 10 life. Part of this was thanks to a Siege Rhino, which will also provide a solid blocker against your opponent’s incoming goblin tokens. It should also do a fairly good job of holding back Goblin Rabblemaster. What could go wrong?
It turns out the answer to that question is “Goblin Heelcutter”. The dash goblin has done a great job of wrecking combat math in Limited for the last few weeks as one of red’s top Limited commons, but the Heelcutter also made its way into the Mono-Red Aggro decks we saw this weekend. When green has access to so many large creatures, or at least ones with big toughness, Heelcutter allows the red decks to punch through for those remaining points of damage that let burn spells finish the job. We witnessed this in a very fast Game 1 of the quarterfinals between Ryan Grodzinski and Ralph Betesh, where a Goblin Heelcutter left Betesh without many options in a game that lasted mere minutes. While the match didn’t go quite as well as Grodzinski hoped after that, it certainly did showcase why the Heelcutter makes a big impact.
The name of the game this weekend was manifested creatures, and few cards (except for the MVP of the Grand Prix) are able to make manifest matter as much as Whisperwood Elemental. The card first made its big Grand Prix debut at Grand Prix Seville, where it warranted attention for its ability to provide a recurring source of creature advantage in Devotion strategies, and we’ve seen this effect in true form, such as in winner Daniel Cecchetti’s own decklist.
However, as time has gone on, it has become more clear that this was only one part of what makes the Elemental so good. Its ability to also grant a creature-laden strategy such as Devotion the ability to protect itself in some way against sweepers such as End Hostilities has also made the Fate Reforged mythic shine. It not only provides creatures, but also provides protection for them once they’re turned face-up. This effect was crucial in the Round 4 Feature Match we witnessed between eleventh-ranked Samuel Black and twenty-fourth-ranked Chris Fennell, where multiple Whisperwood Elementals trumped multiple copies of End Hostilities.
Sweeper protection and card advantage was all bundled up into one package, making Whisperwood Elemental the gift that Devotion players have been waiting for.
Heading into their finals match, Daniel Cecchetti and Corey Baumeister joked that the most likely way for their games to end was with one or the other decking himself. The Green-White Devotion mirror had led to inconclusive Game 1s—yes, Game 1s—throughout the weekend, since the matches tended to consist largely of life gain and board stalls. If the players were to avoid death by milling, one of them would need a mirror-breaker.
Enter Temur Sabertooth. There was a lone copy of the Limited all-star in Cecchetti's deck, but it made all the difference in the world. After flooding the board with manifest creatures, the Sabertooth's activated ability meant that Cecchetti was able to return key non-creature spells to his hand. Whether it’s a Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx to generate massive amounts of mana, or a copy of Banishing Light to deal with a problematic permanent, the Cat often offered Cecchetti his pick of the litter.
But where Sabertooth really shined was in enabling the Green-White Devotion deck to put its massive mana engine to to use by returning and recurring creature cards for value. The Sabertooth allowed Green-White Devotion pilots to play and immediately buy back silver bullet threats, such as Reclamation Sage, or to reset a Polukranos, World Eater to, yet again, wrath their opponent's board, as Cecchetti demonstrated en route to his victory in Miami.
Mastery of the Unseen
While this 2-mana enchantment may have been a hidden gem for many, the power of Mastery of the Unseen was not missed by eleventh-ranked Samuel Black. A huge proponent to building around the card, it is impossible to discuss a card that was more defining to this weekend’s Standard metagame. Sorry, Polukranos. Your monstrous for 26 in Game 1 of the finals was impressive, but the real reason you got to that stage was because of this engine-starter.
Originally a card out of the R/W Aggro sideboard, Samuel Black--and shortly after that, Gerry Thompson and Brad Nelson--discovered just how good the card was when slotted into the Devotion strategy. The two play-groups, one hailing from Madison and the other from Roanoke, ended up with slightly different variations on the 75 cards, but four Mastery of the Unseen was a guarantee.
The deck was so powerful that the two different versions ended up meeting against each other in the finals of the Grand Prix! The life-gain it represents in the Devotion deck is insurmountable, allowing its user to gain literally hundreds of life in a game, more than enough to allow big cards like the previously mentioned Polukranos, World Eater to clean up the game.
After this weekend, this innocuous-looking enchantment is far from Unseen in the Standard metagame going forward. It’s under the spotlight, and now at the top of everybody’s list to be ready for. While there are plenty of nods we can make to powerful creatures that make up the Devotion deck, is truly was Mastery of the Unseen that stole the spotlight. It was, without question, the MVP of Grand Prix Miami.