What We Learned from the Grinders

Posted in GRAND PRIX OAKLAND 2016 on January 9, 2016

By Corbin Hosler

With any format as explored as the current Standard, the innovation comes at the edges. The major archetypes — Dark Jeskai, Abzan, Atarka Red, Dragons of several flavors — are all known as players compete in the last Grand Prix before Oath of the Gatewatch releases. What makes Grand Prix Oakland unique is just how that information impacts the decisions players make as they approach a known format. It's ultimately those small edges — individual card choices and sideboarding plans — that will make the difference as the room full of players seek the secure the first Grand Prix title of 2016.

The first hint of what those edges comes on Friday, as hundreds of players vie in the last-chance, single-elimination grinders to earn byes for the main event. Here's what we learned from those winning decks.

The Breakdown
3 Dark Jeskai
2 Black-Red Dragons
1 Mardu Midrange
1 Jeskai Company
1 Esper Dragons
1 Atarka Red
1 Abzan Aggro
1 Naya Eldrazi Ramp

The first thing that becomes clear is that the format is still very diverse, even at the end of its lifetime. With eight different decks winning 11 grinders, the grinder snapshot is a near-perfect representation of the diversity of Standard, something noted player and commentator Patrick Sullivan was quick to highlight as a positive of the format so late in the season.
Still, one deck must lead the way, and on Friday Dark Jeskai. While the deck is ostensibly the same that broke out at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar, players arrived in Oakland with a variety of different lists. From the decision process regarding Mantis Rider vs. Monastery Mentor to the counterspell suite they run, players who found success in grinders came in all over the spectrum.
Dark Jeskai isn't the only deck to undergo evolutions. We'll be diving deep into these throughout the weekend, but the traditional Abzan decks have found success by going aggressive, while Savage Knuckleblade has even found a place in Standard alongside Mantis Rider thanks to Collected Company. The green take on Jeskai took Sam Kikes to victory on Friday, and he hopes to ride the deck deep into the weekend.

Sam Kikes — Jeskai Company

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Even the dragons are making noise in Oakland. While the Esper Dragons archetype has been around for months, it turns out that's not the only way to breathe fire on opponents this weekend. Two players took down a grinder with Black-Red Dragons, using staples Draconic Roar and Murderous Cut alongside their Thunderbreak Regents and Kolaghan, the Storm's Fury to present a lot of quick pressure to opponents. The advantages offered by a two-color deck in a world of three and four-color concoctions aren't to be overlooked, and it turns out those two colors may just be best as black and red.

Jordan Duron — Black-Red Dragons

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With so many decks represented in Standard, it truly is a wide-open field at Grand Prix Oakland, and it will take the rest of the weekend to see who is able to stake claim to the first title of 2016.