Top Five Moments

Posted in Event Coverage on March 27, 2017

By Corbin Hosler

Nearly 1,300 players arrived in the Sunshine State to visit the bright world of Kaldesh one last time, and it didn't disappoint. Taking part in the final individual event for Aether Revolt, the field was pared down to eight competitors who fought for the title.

But plenty else happened along the way. Here are the five moments that stood out.

The Nalaars Visit Orlando

What's a Grand Prix these days without some cosplaying? No one does it better than beloved community member Christine Sprankle, and she was joined this weekend by Vanessa Martin and Justin Rix to reunite the Nalaars once more as the Grand Prix kicked off Saturday morning.

It didn't end there. The trio was back on Sunday, and so was Liliana, more than happy to dance her way across the Grand Prix floor to the delight of visitors.

Bradley Breaks the Format

The fixed-seating format, that is.

Popular Magic artist Noah Bradley has recently been dipping his toes into the waters of competitive Magic. He played in his first Grand Prix last December, and has been diving in even deeper since. He hit a new high in Orlando, getting a fixed-seating assignment at his artist booth while playing in the main event.

It was a hit not just with observers, but with those who played against the prolific artist, including Hall of Famer Willy Edel, who enjoyed the unique match.

Bradley didn't just play in Grand Prix Orlando – he played well. So well, in fact, that he advanced to his first-ever Day Two. It's been dubbed (by this reporter, at least) the Bradley Feature Match. Will it return? We can only hope.

Mantilla Catches a Top 8

Many Magic players have interesting backstories. Corporate jobs, wacky ways of finding the game, inspiring tales of perseverance to find success.

But no one has a story quite like that of Top 8 competitor Jorge Mantilla. Also known as Jorge Mantilla, professional spear fisher.

A Florida resident, it wasn't a far drive to Orlando for Mantilla, who prior to casting spells from a world of skywhaling was catching plenty of fish on his own. Magic may be a world away from spear fishing, but Mantilla's unique background taught him many of the skills he credited with his incredible run to the Top 8 in just his second Grand Prix appearance. Patience, timing and just a little bit of good fortune.

"I couldn't believe it," he said of his Top 8 run. "The first Grand Prix I played in, I made Day Two but I finished the tournament in last place on Day Two. This time, I finished Saturday sitting at Table 1. And then I made the Top 8. It's been great."

Mantilla background before finding Magic is one-of-a-kind, and so is how he found it. While doing a light show for a band in his hometown, he watched them play Magic during their breaks. A week later the band took him to his first draft.

"That was the moment everything changed," he explained. "From then on I was hooked."

It certainly worked out well enough for Mantilla, and we enjoyed watching his run this weekend.

Jorge Mantilla

Pikula Makes a Long-Awaited Return

As Grand Prix Orlando unfolded, all eyes were on Chris Pikula. The old pro has made his return to the game over the past few years, and while it has been a success in many terms – he earned enough Pro Points to get back onto the Hall of Fame ballot, for instance – he lacked any significant finish.

That all changed in Orlando.

Pikula stormed to a perfect 9-0 record in the first day of the tournament, and entered Day Two sitting atop the leaderboard. But the great start wasn't without its own issues – namely, some bad memories. Pikula's last 9-0 start came at Grand Prix Baltimore in 2015, where he entered Sunday in prime position to make a run to Top 8 but instead faced an 0-5 collapse that drained momentum and spirit from his return to the game.

No such problems existed in Orlando. Pikula was the last player to fall, not dropping a game in the first 12 rounds on his way to the Top 8. Once there, he was able to advance to the semifinals before falling to the eventual champion. It was a welcome finish for the man on a long-running mission, and Pikula's first Grand Prix Top 8 in 12 years is a loud statement for everyone to see.

Welcome back to the Pro Tour, Chris Pikula.

Chris Pikula

Larsson Shakes Off the Rust

Joel Larsson has been one of the best players on the Pro Tour in recent years. The Pro Tour Magic Origins champion and two-time Pro Tour finalist had been in a rut recently, even as he's accumulated enough Pro Points to remain No. 22 in the world.

"My last seven or eight Grand Prix Day Twos, I've just crashed and burned," he explained. "It's been hard."

Things turned around for the Swedish pro in Orlando. He entered Sunday at 8-1 and refused to lose, dropping just one game in the Top 8 with his blue-black deck. His victory in the semifinals over Pikula was decisive, and he followed it up by cruising past finalist Noah Walker in the third game after splitting a pair of tight games.

"It feels really good after how it's been going," he said after his finals victory, the relief evident on his face. "This meant a lot."

Consider the losing streak ended. Congrats to Joel Larsson, your 2017 Grand Prix Orlando champion!

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