Top Stories from Grand Prix Montreal

Posted in Event Coverage on October 8, 2018

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

More than 1,000 players battled it out to celebrate the Guilds of Ravnica release weekend, carrying the excitement of guild action all the way through the punchy—and explosive—finals. These are a quick look at stories from the floor on Sunday.

A Jump-Start On Drafting Guilds of Ravnica

While Day 1 at Montreal was all about Sealed Deck and the powerful ways to pull ahead with a random poll of cards, Day 2 is all about Draft. Every few months is a fresh start for picking cards from packs, and "what we know" gets a brief reset as the new set's quicks are discovered.

Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir winner and professional mainstay Ari Lax, like many pros, was quick to key on how Guilds of Ravnica tweaked the Draft formulas we've seen recently.

"If you drafted Ixalan you'd recall where you drafted Vampires and that's what happened: I am Vampires," said Lax. "In this format, there's some of the same things. You select some Selesnya cards and now you're on the Selesnya train. In Ixalan if you switched from Vampires you'd miss a lot of equity," referring to the "Vampires/Dinosaurs/Merfolk/Vampires-matter payoff cards in the set, "but here there's a lot of mono-colored cards that give you more leeway to change out of what you drafted and still use them."

"Hypothesizzle is a great example. If you move from Izzet ot Dimir you can splash it, but if you moved from Pirates to Dinosaurs in Ixalan you can't really use the Pirates cards."

Of course, color pairs and creature types aren't quite the same when it comes to how cards feel. A well-rounded et, like Core Set 2019, encouraged all colors somewhat equally. That obviously isn't the case in Guilds of Ravnica.

"In Core Set 2019 you have to pay attention to what color pairs were open," said Lax. "If you picked blue you could be blue-anything. Here, if you're blue you have to choose if you're blue-black or blue-red."

"It also makes it a little easier to see what's going on. I took a Luminous Bonds early [in my first draft] and a Skyknight Legionnaire. Because only Boros and Selesnya are reasonable for white it's 50-50 I'll be in either. In Core Set 2019 if you pick Luminous Bonds early you may not end up being able to play it at all."

Lax had a succinct summary for how the set feels: "This set is designed to make you want and take multicolor cards. There's a little more reward for being in the right colors, but there's less punishment for fighting over a color pair because the uncommons are so good. In Core Set 2019 you can play a random creature and it's not great, but here you can play a multicolor uncommon and it's pretty reasonable."

The Drive For Cosplay

How far have you driven to attend an event? Four hours? Six? While Pro Tour Hall of Fame elect Seth Manfield took on a massive twelve hour run for a weekend in Montreal, the illustrious @Purplerogue57 took nine to arrive from her Canadian home—Vivien in tow.

Reuniting with Adam Barnello (equipped as Garruk) after connecting in Providence earlier in the year, they formed a powerful Planeswalker trio alongside Erin Adams who also donned the Garruk mantle.

Of course, the Saturday Selesnya parade gave their Planeswalker personas a run for the money.



Making a seven foot tall Loxodon Cleric come to life is a process weeks in the making—one Barnello documented regularly.

With all the work that cosplayers pour into bringing characters to life it's little wonder driving "a few" hours is among the easiest parts.

Ian Barber's Thousand-Year Storm

Challenge: Defeat your opponent before their next turn.

Difficulty: You cannot attack with creatures.


While Ian Barber was firmly out of Top 8 contention, his deck wasn't going down without a few fireworks. Here's the set up: With his opponent at 17 life, Barber has Electrostatic Field and Thousand-Year Storm in play, plus a full grip of cards with Sonic Assaults.

The plan plays out like a combo dream:

  1. Untap with everything you need to win.
  2. Cast Maximize Altitude on your opponent's creature to put the storm count to 1.
  3. Cast Sonic Assault to get a copy and blast the opponent for damage, and put the storm count to 2.
  4. Jump-start Sonic Assault to finish the job, thanks to the two extra copies plus all extra damage from Electrostatic Field along the way.

Barber may have missed Top 8, but his incredible Izzet finish will go down as the dream made real by blue-red players the world over.

Leonard Huu Nguyen's Explosive Top 8 Draft

Christopher Leonard Huu Nguyen had a crew pulling for him. Throughout the Top 8 the cadre of Canadians kept watching, cheering louder each time he advanced to the next stage of the playoff. By the end, the roar of cheering as he unloaded a Sure Strike into Gravitic Punch for exactly lethal damage in Game 3 of the finals dwarfed everything else in the room.

It wasn't the path he planned on, however.

"It went better than I was expecting," Leonard Huu Nguyen said. "I was aiming at Dimir and had six picks for black cards early in the draft, and then it all went red. I couldn't see any black cards and had to switch colors, so I decided to go what I did in Sealed."

"It worked."

What he had done in Sealed was lean into the unexpected power of Gravitic Punch. A large creature with high power—say, Barging Sergeant—and tack on a pile more power with a cheap instant—say, Sure Strike—then pummel the opponent directly with Gravitic Punch.

It wasn't a plan on opponents radar, and dealing 7, 8 or more damage out of nowhere was key to Leonard Huu Nguyen's victory. His quarterfinal opponent, Andrew Abela, had a slower Dimir deck that just couldn't keep up.

"I was too fast for him, and I was able to finish him with Gravitic Punch. I went all in on the Gravitic Punch combo."

Similarly, the semifinal opponent Andrew Reesor had a Selesnya deck splashing black—but packed a surprise that made it tough for Leonard Huu Nguyen.

"I really didn't think I was going to win that match. He had a lot of life gain in his pool which hurt me the most."

The solution? "More Gravitic Punches! It surprises everyone. It was easy to get to since I have a lot of card draw and surveil—even if it gets in the graveyard I can use it with jump-start. And with Invert // Invent I can tutor it out of my deck."

Stretching to three games and exploding to the finals, Leonard Huu Nguyen met his toughest opponent, one who wasn't playing a slower deck. Michael Van Vaals's Boros deck had simiarly swung through opponents, and proved a blistered starting in their first game to put Leonard Huu Nguyen on the back foot immediately.

But a quick game to even things up an a slightly slower start in the rubber match let him put his plan into motion.

"In Game 2 I was too fast for him, and in Game 1 he was too fast for me. In Game 3 I was really glad he didn't have any two-drops—I could out-tempo him. After he put Luminous Bonds on Citywatch Sphinx I knew I had a shot."

That shot was to inch in an attack for 2 when Van Vaals was at 10 life. But Sure Strike plus a jump-started Gravitic Punch was precisely the last 8 he needed.

"It was in my Sealed deck. I knew it would work."

With a chorus of fist-pumps from his friends, Christopher Leonard Huu Nguyen claimed his first Grand Prix victory in Montreal!

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