GP Montreal 2017 Day One Highlights

Posted in Event Coverage on May 20, 2017

By Meghan Wolff

Meghan is one half of the Good Luck High Five podcast and an adjunct professor at Tolarian Community College. She loves Limited, likes Modern, and dips her toes into each Standard season. She's decidedly blue and is the #1 hater of Siege Rhino in the Multiverse.

Six short days ago, Pro Tour Amonkhet ended in a showdown between Mono-Black Zombies and Temur Aetherworks, two new stars of Standard. Today, 850 players showed up to battle on Day 1 of GP Montreal, piloting decks that are already Standard staples, decks that are still struggling to make their mark on the current format, and decks that are hoping to take an unsuspecting field by storm. In the aftermath of Day One, players with 18 points or more will return to test their skill on Day Two.

Mono-Black Zombies and Temur Aetherworks both had powerful performances in Nashville, but pro tour excellence doesn't always lead to Standard dominance. Tune in tomorrow at to discover the players and decks that will rise to the top in the wake of Amonkhet.

The Main Event

Beat Aetherworks Marvel, or Play It

That was the mindset coming into this weekend, as players chose to either sleeve up the powerful artifact from Kaladesh or to come prepared to beat it by whatever means available to them. Temur Aetherworks Marvel was the dominant deck choice amongst the top players at GP Montreal, with more than half of the players with three byes in the event selecting it.

Many players, however, didn't succumb to the temptation to sneak out an Eldrazi titan as early as turn four, and instead brought a suite of tools designed to beat the deck. Some chose control decks packed with counterspells, while others relied on hand disruption, artifact removal, or a lot of pressure from early creatures.

Aetherworks players weren’t immune to the need to combat their own deck when facing it down across the table, and a copy of Dissenter’s Deliverance wasn’t an uncommon sight in the main deck of Temur Aetherworks this weekend.

  • Dispossess
  • Dissenter's Deliverance
  • Negate
  • Transgress the Mind

Caupolican Lopez Yapor, the Dominican Republic’s 2016 World Cup captain – who is on track to retain that title – is playing Mono-Black Zombies. Game one, his strategy is to swarm the board and hope that his opponent stumbles, but in game two, he’s less at the mercy of Aetherworks Marvel.

“Game two we have Transgress the Mind, and we have Gonti, so we can play their Chandras and we can play their Marvels," he said. “Liliana, the Last Hope is really good too, because you can recur all your creatures."

These tools for combating Aetherworks Marvel weren’t his primary draw to playing the deck. Instead, he chose it because, “zombies are fun, and I get to eat brains."

Quick Questions: What is your most important main deck card?

With the above philosophy prevailing in the lead-up to Grand Prix Montreal, what cards were most important to players competing in this weekend’s tournament? We asked a few players about the most pivotal card in their main deck to get to find out.

Shaheen Soorani, playing Blue-Black Control, chose a Planeswalker whose popularity and prominence has fluctuated since her appearance on the Standard scene, but who is well-suited to challenge this weekend’s top decks.

Jennifer Crotts, of Team Badger in Calgary, played White-Black Zombies. Her most important card was a newly notorious one-drop with the power to take over, even in a lengthy game.

Team Hotsauce Games member Ray Perez chose Temur Control, a variation of Blue-Red Control with cards like Tireless Tracker to apply pressure to his opponents’ life totals. Like Crotts, his card of choice also costs a single mana, but its purpose is totally opposite Cryptbreaker’s.

Day One Undefeated Players

Maxime Auger, Shaun McLaren, Bradley Robinson, Paul Dean

Team Massdrop West player Paul Dean, from Toronto, played Zombies at Pro Tour Amonkhet last weekend. Going into the Pro Tour, Dean felt that Zombies could win against Aetherworks Marvel decks. He and his friends, however, thought the results of that tournament were fairly decisive. They hadn’t considered including Chandra, Flamecaller in Temur Aetherworks Marvel, but after Dean suffered a brutal defeat at the hands of a Team Genesis player and the six-mana Planeswalker, he quickly realized her value. It was enough to lead Dean to shuffle up Aetherworks Marvel for the first time this weekend.

Two-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Shaun McLaren played Black-Green Constrictor at Pro Tour Amonkhet last weekend, and spent the past week fine-tuning the deck for GP Montreal. His decision to play BG Constrictor this weekend came down to a combination of not wanting to lose the considerable time and effort he spent on the deck, and believing that it is more consistent than both Temur Aetherworks and Mono-Black Zombies.

McLaren’s inclusion of Traverse the Ulvenwald prevented him from missing crucial land drops in the early game, and game him ways to search out creatures in the late. McLaren spent the past week fine-tuning the deck, adding a fourth copy each of Dissenter’s Deliverance and Nissa, Voice of Zendikar. Dissenter’s Deliverance was a particularly key card, as it often limited his Temur Aetherworks Marvel opponents to a single activation of the deck’s namesake card.

Maxime Auger chose Temur Aetherworks because “it’s the best deck." Auger, from Quebec City, drove to GP Montreal with friends. While Auger stated with certainty that Ulamog was his best card in the deck, despite never getting to cast the titan on turn four, he also found himself bringing Tireless Tracker in from the sideboard in almost every match.

Bradley Robinson, from Philadelphia, rounds out the GP Montreal undefeated players, finishing his day at 8-0-1. Robinson also chose Temur Aetherworks Marvel because, piloting the version of the deck with Chandra, Flamecaller, he liked the deck’s match-up against Zombies. He also had twelve sideboard cards for the mirror match, transforming his deck into what he called “RUG midrange," to eke out an advantage.

Robinson’s undefeated streak almost ended in Round 8, when he had a particularly harrowing moment in a mirror match. His opponent stole his Ulamog with a copy of Confiscation Coup. Facing down the treacherous Ulamog, Robinson topdecked another copy of the Eldrazi and was able to cast it from his hand, exiling the one that had turned on him and ultimately winning the match.

Day One Deck Spotlights

Spotlight #1: Blue-Black Control with Shaheen Soorani

The Esper Professor was once again playing two of his three preferred colors in Montreal this weekend, bringing a Blue-Black Control deck that he called “a Team Liliana deck."

“Liliana, the Last Hope is the best reason to play Black control," Soorani said.

At three mana, Liliana is a low-cost Planeswalker that’s also easy to defend, thanks to her own +1 ability and to cost-effective removal like Grasp of Darkness and Fatal Push. According to Soorani, activating Liliana’s ultimate “is easier in this format that it’s ever been, due to the lack of Planeswalker removal."

Soorani’s Blue-Black Control build was influenced by his realization that, with Mardu a much smaller piece of the puzzle than it used to be, the Standard format slowed down. Countermagic and disruption prevents Marvel decks from running out their Legendary artifact on turn four, and Zombies is a deck that builds up its board before smashing in for a handful of big attacks. In the absence of red cards like Sweltering Suns, Yahenni’s Expertise does an adequate job keeping the board fairly clean.

“After a week of testing, I have not lost a match to Zombies, knock on wood," Soorani said. “If mana flows and I have a decent spell count, I feel beyond heavily favored against Zombies. My cards line up so well against them."

His match-up against Aetherworks Marvel is what he describes as “a true toss-up."

“Marvel is Marvel – if they have that draw where they’re able to sneak in a Marvel early on it’s tough," Soorani said. “I play three Negate main to stop it, but after sideboarding they have Dispel and they’re able to combat my countermagic."

Soorani’s answer to a resolved Aetherworks Marvel is a single Sphinx of the Final Word, which can’t be targeted by Ulamog’s exile ability and provides a consistent way to pressure his opponent’s life total in the face of a giant Eldrazi.

Soorani wrapped up today with a 8-1 record piloting his Blue-Black Control deck.

Decklist will be posted once Round 15 is in progress on Day Two.

Spotlight #2: White-Blue Vehicles with Donald Smith

Donald Smith, of Team Lingering Souls, made the Top 4 of Pro Tour Aether Revolt playing Mardu Vehicles, the breakout deck of that weekend. Today, Smith shuffled up a much more unusual take on the popular archetype.

Smith’s White-Blue Vehicles deck draws from the recent heyday of White-Blue, when Smuggler’s Copter was still in the format. Smith realized that the original White-Blue deck, which existed to fight a metagame of aggressive vehicles decks and combo-like Aetherworks decks, could be largely transplanted into the post-Pro Tour Amonkhet metagame, which also centers on an aggro deck and an Aetherworks deck.

“It’s a complete metagame decision," Smith said. “Spell Queller is good against Marvel, and a lot of people aren’t expecting it right now."

Smith’s deck borrows some from Mardu Vehicles’ aggressive plan, using Toolcraft Exemplars, Heart of Kirans, Scrapheap Scroungers, and four-mana Gideons to take big chunks out of his opponents’ life totals. His best draws mirror the great starts from Mardu Vehicles, curving Toolcrafts into Heart of Kirans. The deck also got an addition from Amonkhet in Glory-Bound Initiate, a two-drop that’s able to crew Heart of Kiran.

There, however, the two decks’ game plans begin to differ. Sometimes, Smith floods the board with creatures and tries to end the game as quickly as possible. Other times, he might begin to hold up Spell Queller or Metallic Rebuke.

Smith included Avacyn and Declaration in Stone to shore up the Zombies match-up, either of which has the potential to deal with a swarm of tokens. Smith also noticed that the Zombies deck is weak to fliers, meaning Avacyn and Spell Queller are able to attack the deck from multiple angles.

As for Temur Aetherworks Marvel decks, Smith feels like the match-up is favorable so long as his opponent isn’t quite sure what to expect.

“There’s a point where they can’t play around your Spell Quellers and counters because you’re hitting them for seven with Heart of Kiran and Toolcraft Exemplar," he said.

Smith finished Day One with a record of 7-2.

Decklist will be posted once Round 15 is in progress on Day Two.

Spotlight #3: Mardu Planeswalkers with Sebastian Tremblay

Our final deck spotlight of the day harnesses the power of a suite of cards from Amonkhet, including removal spells like Cut // Ribbons, Cast Out, and Sweltering Suns, as well as the as-yet underutilized Gideon of the Trials.

Sebastian Tremblay, from Quebec, originally wanted to play a White-Black version of the Planeswalkers deck, until a friend pointed him toward a Mardu version of the list. “I built the deck, and I played it against some of my friends, and especially against Temur Aetherworks Marvel," Tremblay said. “I saw that the deck has a good win percentage against Temur Marvel, so I chose to play it."

Tremblay’s two key cards are Nahiri, the Harbinger, and Gideon of the Trials. Nahiri can exile artifacts, creatures, and enchantments, an ability that comes into play against both Aetherworks Marvel and Zombies. Nahiri’s +1 ability also lets Tremblay churn through his deck for the key cards in a given match-up, because, as he noted, “the most played decks in the format are Zombies and Aetherworks, and they need different removal, and I have to pack both in the same deck."

“My strategy is pretty simple," Tremblay said. “If my opponent has not outpaced me by turn four, I will try to get the first Planeswalker I have in my hand into play and try to win the game with it. It’s just that simple. One thing that goes very well for me, is on turn three or four playing Gideon, and then following up with a Glorybringer, which clears the battlefield when it enters combat."

One advantage to the deck, and a reason Tremblay enjoys playing it, is the element of surprise.

“I like to play rogue decks," he said. “People are not expecting the cards you’re playing, and I saw a lot of people today who were reading cards. To have your opponent unprepared for you is, I think, the best thing about the deck."

Tremblay finished Day One with a record of 7-2.

Decklist will be posted once Round 15 is in progress on Day Two.

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