Over 1600 players arrived at the Meadowlands Exposition Center this morning, ready to either commit to their choice in the Rock-Paper-Scissors decision between 4-Color Copy Cat, Mardu Vehicles, and Black-Green Constrictor, or to break the current Standard mold and gain an edge on unsuspecting opponents.
While Grand Prix Trial winning decklists hinted at the potential for renegades and outliers, the standings at the end of Day 1 were headlined by both familiar names and familiar Standard powerhouse decks. Things weren’t always so certain, however, as a swarm faces and cards cycled through the top tables.
The 9-0 Players
Nine rounds into GP New Jersey, seven players – Paul Rietzl, Ari Lax, Brad Nelson, Jarvis Yu, Peter Maginnis, Charles League, and Nate Sturm – stood undefeated, their decks a sampling of Standards most well know, and most powerful, cards.
Ari Lax, a member of Massdrop West, played Mardu Vehicles thanks to friend and teammate Jarvis Yu, from Massdrop East, who also finished the day undefeated.
“He and I are playing the same deck because I talked him into it," Yu said. Lax agreed, noting that his preparation included Yu testing a bunch and then Lax taking a look at his list and deciding it looked great.
That’s not entirely true, however, as the two players first picked up this build of the powerful Mardu deck at Grand Prix Pittsburgh. While other players have made changes to the original Mardu list, Lax and Yu see the strength in the original. It performed so well for them in Pittsburgh that they submitted essentially the same deck for New Jersey.
Peter Maginnis, from Champagne, Illinois, traveled to the Grand Prix with friend and fellow players from the Champagne and Chicago area. Also piloting Mardu Vehicles, he described the deck’s flexible sideboard plan and powerful cards as his favorite things about the deck. While he spent a lot of time practicing the deck on MTGO, he made sure to get in-person reps in before the tournament so that he would remember his card triggers.
Rounding out the players on Mardu Vehicles was Hall of Fame player Paul Rietzl, a member of Team PuzzleQuest. Rietzl named the deck’s best cards, including Heart of Kiran, Scrapheap Scrounger, and Gideon, as his reason for playing the deck. Before settling on his list, Rietzl talked with teammate Owen Turtenwald, and tested multiple versions of the deck, including ones with Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Veteran Motorist.
Team Genesis member Brad Nelson chose 4-Color Copy Cat for the tournament because he saw power in pressuring opponents with a midrange deck while also putting them in fear of being combo-ed out. It puts opponents between the proverbial rock and a hard place, asking them to both deal with efficient spells and leave up mana to prevent dying to the combo.
Nelson prepared for this event as part of helping teammates Lukas Blohon and Brian Braun-Duin test for the Magic Online Championship last weekend, and helping his brother Corey Baumeister and friend Ross Merriam get ready for an RPTQ.
Charles League, from Richmond, Virginia, settled on 4-Color Copy Cat after reading an article Brad Nelson wrote about the deck a week ago. In his testing leading up to New Jersey, League said he played a lot and lost a lot. The 4-Color Copy Cat deck provided something of a breakthrough for League, who finally broke that losing streak on day one of the GP.
Nate Sturm was the only outlier in terms of deck choice, piloting Black-Green Winding Constrictor to an undefeated record. Storm traveled to New Jersey from Columbia, Maryland with three fellow players from the area. He chose Black-Green because of the deck’s explosive draws. An ideal start for the deck included cards like Winding Constrictor, Rishkar, Peema Renegade, and Nissa, Voice of Zendikar to capitalize on counter synergies, and a card like Fatal Push for interaction.
The Decks that Dominated
To no one’s surprise, huge numbers of players made either Mardu Vehicles or 4-Color Copy Cat their deck of choice for GP New Jersey. This included the bulk of Gold and Platinum pros at the event, who, by numbers, slightly favored the vehicles over Saheeli and her cats.
For Team ChannelFireball Ice member Mike Sigrist, the draw of Mardu was the opportunity to play with cards he appreciated the power level of, or outright loved.
“Gideon is the most powerful card in Standard right now. I realized I made mistakes in the past not playing it," Sigrist said. “Shortly after they banned Emrakul, I wanted to play Gideon, and I love Avacyn, so I wanted to play a deck with Avacyn. Mardu is the best shell for that."
Players weren’t initially in agreement on a build for the Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian combo decks. Some opted for Jeskai, others for four-color. In recent weeks, consensus seems to have landed on 4-Color Copy Cat as the best build of the deck, supplementing the deck’s core with a suite of cards with enter-the-battlefield abilities.
“The boat," Brad Nelson said without hesitation (meaning Skysovereign, Consul Flagship) when asked which card was his favorite to flicker with Felidar Guardian. “The best thing is for your opponent to hold up mana to kill your Skysovereign, and to flicker it somehow
“I’m under the impression that at the highest skill level, Saheeli has the greatest advantage over the mirror and Mardu," Nelson also said of 4-Color Saheeli.
The deck takes practice before it can recognize its potential, however, and Nelson warns against going into a tournament at anything less than peak preparedness.
“When players aren’t playing as well, Mardu is going to have the advantage over 4-Color."
The Decks that Surprised
For players uninterested in playing other of the current hits above, at least two alternatives arrived ready to battle this weekend, both featuring Aetherworks Marvel.
Level 2 judge Chris Landsdell didn’t call his deck an Aetherworks Marvel deck, however. He called it an Inspiring Statuary deck, as it included two of that particular namesake card to turn Puzzleknots and Prophetic Prisms into tools to ramp into Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger.
“I just wanted to play something that would let me trade off my mediocre play skill for my somewhat-above-average luck," Lansdell joked. “Having both Inspiring Statuary and Aetherworks Marvel lets me do that."
“Ulamog is definitely the best card in the deck. Turns out, if you cast that on turn four, you’re probably just going to win. Fumigate has also been amazing."
Lansdell once cast the sweeper off of an Aetherworks Marvel after his 4-Color Copy Cat opponent made four hundred eighty-five million cats.
“Turns one through five your game plan is ‘don’t die.' You’re playing things like Rogue Refiner, Prophetic Prism, Attune with Aether, and Woodworker’s Puzzleknot, just drawing cards and gaining energy," Lansdell said. “Then you’re either going to cast Aetherworks Marvel or Whir of Invention to find Aetherworks Marvel, activate Marvel, hit Ulamog, and win the game."
His 6-0 start to the tournament – only his second Grand Prix played – proved that the deck had promise, even if its bad draws were punished by the aggressive Mardu Vehicles decks.
Team Massdrop West member Jiachen Tao’s 4-Color Aetherworks Marvel deck takes an approach more in line with traditional control decks, killing opponent’s creatures and drawing cards. The deck’s best draws can still end a game very quickly, however, as it can have six or more energy by turn four, when Aetherworks Marvel comes into play.
That’s when things go well. “When things don’t go well you’re trying to play a control game, deal with their threats and then Anticipate or Glimmer of Genius into a Marvel and then go from there," Tao said.
“It’s just fun," Tao said of the deck. “GPs are supposed to be fun. I like playing a deck that maybe not a lot of people have heard of but that I find interesting."
The Dominican Republic Makes a Big Showing
Eleven players from the Dominican Republic came to New Jersey to show their love for Standard competition.
Eleven players from the Dominican Republic traveled to compete in New Jersey, driven by their love of Standard and their determination to prove that their community is full of talented and dedicated players.
“We decided to come to Grand Prix New Jersey because in the Dominican Republic we love Standard," said Jose Sajour. “We are a Constructed country. New Jersey is close to us, so we decided to create a big group to come and play and represent the Dominican Republic. We prepared almost every day playing Standard." - Jose Sajour
Jayme Castellanos agreed. “That’s what we like – Magic, all day long!"
The Dominican players see the size of their community as an asset when it comes to developing skill and passion for the game.
“We are a small community. We are like, one hundred and eighty some-odd people, and FNMs are like, thirty people," said Hector Valencia. “We feel very comfortable. There are lots of prizes, and we play for boosters. It’s great for moving further in Magic”
“In the Dominican Republic, we are a small country, but we are proud players," Sajour said. “We were Top 16 World Magic Cup this year."
According to Caupolican Lopez, who captained the Dominican Republic’s World Magic Cup team last year, competitive drive has driven a lot of Dominican players to show up to more and bigger events.
“Us traveling to GPs and showing the community that the Dominican Republic community can have good records at big tournaments, it has pushed everybody that can actually travel to come to events," Lopez said.
“Last year at this GP we were only four people, now we’re eleven. Next year we hope to have twenty or twenty-five, and see if we can put somebody in the Top 8."
Craig Wescoe and Brad Nelson Answer the Important Questions
Quick questions help us get pro insight on the most pressing issues at any given tournament – for instance, whether it’s better to battle one Emrakul-sized gremlin or 100 gremlin-sized Emrakuls.
It’s also an opportunity to put difficult questions and decisions to players, which in this case means asking Craig Wescoe to choose between white one-drops.
That’s a small slice of the action that swept through the hall in New Jersey on Saturday. Well-known players pack the top of the standings, a testament to the skill needed to navigate the current environment. Tune in tomorrow to see exactly how it all shakes out, and to see which deck, and which player, will emerge victorious at the end.