More than 800 players turned to Grand Prix Omaha, but just under 250 will return on Sunday in what is Standard's last hurrah before the release of Hour of Devastation next month. It's Temur Marvel's world, and the rest of us are just living in it.
At least, that was the narrative going in. Was it the reality? This is what stood out from Day One of Grand Prix Omaha.
The Standard Metagame Expands
From Crush of Tentacles to Electrostatic Pummeler to Ulvenwald Hydra to Kari Zev, Skyship Raider, the Standard metagame appears to be more open than previously expected. While there was still a heaping of Temur Marvel decks alongside the also-expected Zombies and Blue-Red Control builds, things seem much more open in Standard than expected coming.
Take the results from Grand Prix Manila and Amsterdam, playing a few hours ahead of us in Omaha. All five of the undefeated decks in Amsterdam were non-Aetherworks Marvel decks, while Manila was largely the same story.
The feature match area at the start of Round 9 perfectly illustrated the current Standard metagame. On one side sat three players piloting Aetherworks Marvel – the top dog in Standard and a deck infamous for its fourth-Turn Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hungers – while on the other side sat a trio of challengers: Temur Energy, Black-Green Constrictor and Mardu Vehicles.
When the dust settled, two Marvel decks stood at the top, in the hands of 10th-ranked Brad Nelson and John Rolf. Joining them was Matthias Hunt, who defeated Marvel in the final round to finish undefeated with Black-Green Constrictor.
As the day closed, the pair of Marvel players were eager to gang up on the lone Constrictor pilot…
The Snake Rises Again
The newest challenger seems to be Black-Green Constrictor. A force when it first debuted with Winding Constrictor, the deck floated in and out of the metagame while the Copy Cat combo was dominant. It seems the snakes may have only been biding their time.
With Temur Marvel seen as the boogeyman of the format, players have tried a lot of strategies. Fast aggro with Zombies or Humans, slow control with Blue-Red or simply trying to go over the top in the mirror with cards like Ulvenwald Hydra or Oblivion Sower.
But it seems that the Black-Green Constrictor players like Matt Nass may have found the right combination. While the deck can go wide like Zombies thanks to Nissa, Voice of Zendikar, unlike the other aggressive decks Black-Green Constrictor also has the ability to make those creatures large. Too large, in fact, for Chandra, Flamecaller or Radiant Flames to easily sweep away. While Zombies or Humans could still lose to a sweeper from Marvel after amassing a huge board, the black-green decks could shrug off Chandra and simply swarm around Ulamog.
"In game one, you have such a fast clock plus Dissenter's Deliverance, it puts a lot of pressure on them to Marvel into Ulamog," Nass explained. "After sideboarding, the black-green deck has Dispossess to take them off Marvel, and the deck is so good at fair you just never lose to their fair game plan. Zombies can lose the fair game to a bunch of Harnessed Lightning or Chandra, but black-green just never will."
"Temur Marvel is a good deck, but it has holes," explained Shaheen Soorani, who brought Blue-Red Control to Omaha. "A lot of the decks here this weekend have figured that out."
One of those holes is a weakness to cards that attack Aetherworks Marvel directly. Dispossess and Transgress the Mind are cards that many players took to playing in the main deck, with some like Joe Lossett cutting removal in order to be more prepared for the Marvel matchup. Dissenter's Deliverance was another easy add thanks to cycling, and the strategy paid off on Saturday, with many Aetherworks Marvel pilots struggling mightily against a field prepared to beat them.
Some Marvel players fought back by making a rather bold move: cutting Aetherworks Marvel entirely. The resulting deck – Temur Energy – lacks the explosive Marvel-into-Ulamog plan of its forebears, but as a result also suffered fewer draws that sputtered out by drawing into multiple uncastable Ulamogs or underwhelming Woodweaver's Puzzleknots.
Replacing those cards are Bristling Hydra, Longtusk Cub and Glorybringer, as well as turning big Chandra, Flamecaller into the less explosive but still-potent Chandra, Torch of Defiance. It's the perfect strategy to punish decks for cutting removal, and it carried players like Steve Locke to an 8-1 record and a strong position heading into Day Two.
Nelson Leads the Field
While other players were getting tricky by warping their gameplans around either attacking Marvel players or cutting Marvels from their Temur deck, Nelson took a much simpler approach.
Determined to not overthink things and simply play the best deck, Nelson showed that despite all the dancing players can do around Marvel, sometimes it's best to simply play the most powerful deck. It's what he did to success last weekend in Baltimore, playing the consensus best deck in Grixis Death's Shadow to an Open Series victory, and the same straightforward approach is paying dividends yet again.
Long seen as a Standard guru, Nelson was a force all day, rolling opponents over with a Marvel deck built for the mirror. Cutting on some of the anti-aggro cards, Nelson ran the full four Glimmer of Genius, as well as three Dissenter's Deliverance in the main deck. Like many successful Marvel players, his sideboard contained more cards that helped to ramp to 10 mana, the all-important number in post-board games that often come down to hard-casting Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger.
As the curtain closes on Day One and we look toward the Sunday march to the Top 8, it's clear that Standard has room for the best players to rise to the top with a strong deck and sound plan. Lurking just behind the leaders is Paul Dean, fresh off a Top 8 appearance at Grand Prix Montreal two weeks ago, as well as Steve Rubin, Donald Smith and Sam Pardee, all of whom finished 8-1 and stand ready to make a run to the Top 8 on Sunday.
Brad Nelson, Matthias Hunt and John Rolf lead the field at 9-0 after Day One of Grand Prix Omaha.