Ramunap Red players must have spent too much time in the Sunscorched Desert, because the wins seem to be drying up. After a commanding performance at Pro Tour Hour of Devastation, the over-reaching red deck came up against some overwhelming opposition in Minneapolis this weekend. While several decks vied for top billing, the finals would see a clash between the two most popular decks in the room: Black-Green Constrictor and Mono-Black Zombies.
Here Comes the (Second) Sun
Grand Prix Minneapolis showcased just how diverse the Standard format has become since the release of Hour of Devastation. While Snakes and Zombies were everywhere, we saw a variety of innovative decks in the feature match area. Fanchen Yang ground out value with The Scarab God, Jonathan Job brought Mono-White Eldrazi to the table, and Chris Botelho showed us that the Eldrazi and vampires of Zendikar can get along, after all.
One of the most fascinating creations to grace the top tables was an Approach of the Second Sun deck piloted by Daniel Ward. Approach is best-known as the finisher in the seldom-seen New Perspectives deck, but Ward tried it out in his White-Blue Control deck at the advice of Thiago Saporito. “I lost a lot of matches with the deck last week," he admitted, “but I couldn't see myself playing anything else."
Ward's plan turned out to be a solid one. Aether Meltdown and Cast Out proved to be flexible answers to the variety of threats he faced in Minneapolis, and his ten-card sideboard plan against Ramunap Red (including Authority of the Consuls and Regal Caracal) panned out. He finished in 10th place today, and he plans to put in some additional reps with the deck in the coming weeks.
Melissa DeTora and Maria Bartholdi
While the action unfolded in the feature match area, Magic R&D member Melissa DeTora joined our video coverage team to share her knowledge of the Standard format (and a few laughs). On Sunday, she and Maria Bartholdi became the first pair of women to commentate a Grand Prix together – and, to use their hashtag of choice, #MakeMagicHistory.
Together in the Top 8
Speaking of popular pairs, brothers Brad Nelson and Corey Baumeister both made it to the elimination rounds this weekend. While they're far from the first to accomplish this feat – Travis and Elliott Woo both made the quarterfinals of GP Oakland in 2013, and Antoine and Olivier Ruel have appeared in three Top 8's together – Nelson and Baumeister were electric this weekend, feeding off each other's energy as they powered through the tournament.
Corey Baumeister and Brad Nelson
The brothers came to Minneapolis with almost identical Black-Green Constrictor lists, utilizing old favorites Sylvan Advocate and Catacomb Sifter. Baumeister and Nelson finished Day 1 at 8-1 and 7-1-1, respectively, and after taking a second draw in Round 10, Nelson rattled off five wins in a row, determined to join his brother in the Top 8. He grew more exuberant with each victory, slamming his creatures on the battlefield as he sent his opponents packing, and he embraced Baumeister after dispatching Zachary Van Pelt in Round 15. We've seen many friends and teammates rejoice about sharing a Top 8 experience, but it's always a bit sweeter when you're family.
Locke Can't Lose
While Matt Sikkink Johnson defeated Brad Nelson with Ramunap Red, Corey Baumeister fought his way to the finals, where he'd face off against Mono-Black Zombies player Steve Locke. Locke, a veteran of the Iowa Magic scene, had a perfect run this weekend: After a 13-0 start (without byes), he drew with his next two opponents and locked a first-seed spot in the Top 8 with 41 points. He had a good feeling about Mono-Black's chances going into this weekend, but couldn't have predicted just how far his Zombie horde would carry him.
Locke identified Liliana's Mastery as his trump card against the decks that sought to beat Ramunap Red, and the five-mana enchantment was crucial to his finals victory over Baumeister. Baumeister tried to hold down the ground with Catacomb Sifters in Game 1, but two consecutive Masteries helped Locke flood the board and bulk up his team. Throughout the match, Baumeister was forced to trade his removal spells and creatures for Locke's tokens, and he didn't dare destroy Locke's recursive threats.
Locke did his best to give Baumeister a run for his money in Game 2 on a mulligan to five (“I thought you were gonna smash me for a second," Baumeister said after winning the game), and he powered through Game 3 despite being constrained on mana. Though he only had three lands in play for most of the game, a pair of 4/4 Diregraf Colossus helped Locke go wide and tall at once. He backed up his threats with efficient removal and cleared away Baumeister's blockers, smashing through for big chunks of damage. When he cast a Relentless Dead and added two more Zombie tokens to the board, Baumeister could only extend a hand and congratulate his opponent.
Locke is no stranger to the Pro Tour (he's been to a handful and boasts a Top 32 finish at Kuala Lumpur in 2008), and after a few years of focusing on school and work, he looks forward to making his return to the PT stage. In the meantime, he's thrilled to have won his first Grand Prix, and we'll have to wait and see what's next for him, and for Mono-Black Zombies.