Congratulations to Eli Kassis the winner of Grand Prix Oakland!
Piloting his list of Izzet Phoenix past the competition, Kassis took down the tournament with his unique twist on the crowd favorite. While the Finals ended in an anti-climactic concession of Hunter Cochran to Kassis, Kassis is now locked for Platinum and the pair departed as friends, sharing a ride to the airport.
Kassis picked up the Phoenix deck after he saw Ross Miriam play it, while he was still on KCI. After running 20 leagues on MTGO and going 5-0 11 times with an 85% win rate, he was sold.
The only part of the deck he wasn't satisfied with was the sideboard. He kept tinkering with it, first trying a White splash, then Green for Ancient Grudge. "Discarding Ancient Grudge to Faithless Looting and flashing it back for value feels great," Kassis said. Finally he settled on a transformational sideboard including Young Pyromancer, which led him through a tournament filled with people seemingly ready for the graveyard strategy of Phoenix. Asked after the tournament he said, "I think that I'd still change it going forward. I need something better against combo, maybe a few Scab-Clan Berserkers in the sideboard and move the Young Pyromancer main over the Pyromancer Ascensions." Kassis provided an updated list to Matt Sperling to enter the Sunday Mythic Championship Qualifier tournament, in which he is currently playing in the Top 4.
What was his best play moment in the Top 8? Flame Slashing his own creature first to flip Thing in the Ice and kill Matt Nass for exactsies, then to kill his own Arclight Phoenix, but bring back that Phoenix and another from his graveyard.
Day 2 Metagame Breakdown
Day 2 saw 217 players compete with their archetype of choice; let's take a closer look at the decks:
|Archetype||# of copies in Day 2|
|Grixis Death's Shadow||12|
|Hardened Scales Affinity||10|
|Eldrazi & Taxes||2|
Despite the high number of copies of Bant Spirits in Day 2, it didn't manage to crack the Top 8, or even the Top 16, with the best finish being in 30th in the hands of Joseph Trojan and 31st Joey Johnson.
The second most popular deck was Izzet Phoenix; no surprise after the latest round of Modern RPTQs where all varieties of Arclight Phoenix decks were very popular. The newest innovation is the addition of the Thing in the Ice package, allowing players to buy time when it flips and bounced all non-horror creatures. Eli Kassis added a new layer of complexity with a transformational sideboard including Young Pyromancer, which allowed him to play through the field's plentiful graveyard hate.
What is difficult to capture in the metagame analysis, however, is how many variations there are on the Arclight Phoenix shell. The miscellaneous decks included Grady Cameron's Boros Phoenix, which leaned on Deafening Clarion and Risk Factor to out-value opponents, and Jake Flaczinski's Ascension Phoenix, which combined the many cheap cantrips of usual Phoenix decks with Pyromancer's Ascension. Richard Neal's Grixis Phoenix had a light black splash for Inquisition of Kozilek in the main and Collected Brutality and Unmoored Ego in the sideboard.
Burn, a long-time staple of Modern, just missed out on the Top 8, although it accounted for places 10th, 11th, and 12th in the hands of Johnny Daniel, Nathaniel Knox, and Minh Nguyen.
The miscellaneous decks included multiple flavors of Collected Company decks, such as Hunter Bolding's Bant Company, Arden Core's Abzan Company, and Justin Sand's Green-White Company.
The story of the weekend however, was the success of Krark-Clan Ironworks combo.
Player Spotlight: Matt Nass
Matt Nass, member of the inaugural class of the Magic Pro League, has been playing the game since middle school. If you're a combo player (Jonny or Jenny to the kids) Matt is your paragon: a player who will find a way to approach the game from a different (and usually repeatable) angle.
I first met Matt Nass at GP Denver in 2015 when I was paired against him Round 3 in my one and only feature match. I lost spectacularly to him comboing off with Astro Ascendancy, where my main job was keeping track of his floating mana and triggers. It was a memorable loss for me, mainly because the fun that Matt was having was contagious and I left thinking that I had just met a kindred spirit.
"I love Matt Nass, he's awesome," said Reid Duke, "one of the nicest guys on the circuit. He also has character; character in his deck choices, the way he plays, and how he approaches the game—it makes him interesting to watch. We're lucky to have him."
"So, I was doing interviews at Pro Tour Atlanta about how to become a better Magic player," Brian David-Marshall recalls. "Pro after Pro was giving the advice ‘don't reinvent the wheel' or ‘stick to the basics' and I could see it paining Matt Nass. He just wants to innovate; he loves to solve puzzles."
KCI, as it is known nowadays, was originally considered by Nass and his team for PT Rivals of Ixalan. "We wanted to try it," Nass explained, "but it was too slow to test online. Shaheen still played it anyway." After Soorani's experience with the deck the team decided to test it for the upcoming Grand Prix in Phoenix.
"I really associate KCI with four players," Matt Costa explained, "Matt Nass, Sam Pardee, Andrew Beckstrom, and Ben Weitz. They were the ones that played it at GP Phoenix." Nass piloted the deck to a third place finish, with Weitz and Pardee finishing in the Top 64.
The team tested the deck extensively on MTGO before deciding to run it for the tournament. Sam Pardee laughed as he remembered playing it in a Modern League and beating an opponent in Round 4 out of 5. His opponent couldn't believe that they lost to what was, at the time, a little known deck and to an opponent who didn't have a single trophy to their name. "What they didn't know, was that we had 4-0-dropped from the last five leagues! We dropped from that one too, right after."
To date, Matt Nass has won two Grand Prix titles with KCI: GP Hartford in April of 2018 and GP Las Vegas in June. He now adds a Top 4 finish. When asked, he admitted that he really wouldn't've minded making it a clean Hat Trick. "Make sure to mention that he just bought a house with his KCI winnings!" Costa added.
Sam Black, his fellow Top 8 competitor and friend, is also on KCI. "I started playing after Matt Nass won his latest Grand Prix... was it Las Vegas? One of the ones he won recently. He wins too much. I would like to win too much." On a more serious note, Sam talked about how interesting KCI is to play: "There are many small decisions; do you expose a combo piece without having mana up to sacrifice it? All the decisions are close enough to be interesting. Plus, I like decks that can change modes, and KCI can become a Sai control deck."
Nass credits some of the deck's continued success to the scarcity of players taking it up. "KCI hasn't been that popular, even though it's good. So, people don't seem to adjust to it." Perhaps that will change after this weekend.