Day 1 Highlights
It's the nightmare of players, judges and coverage staff alike. You have everything all booked and then a baggage handler bangs the loader into an aircraft door and you end up being grounded in Manchester for 26 hours.
Day 1 8-0 Undefeated Players
While I was in transit over the Atlantic on Saturday, 997 players battled it out in the Standard format. After 8 rounds of hard-fought action, 198 made it through to Day 2, and 7 of them managed to end the day with perfect 8-0 records.
They were Andrew Calderon, Luke Feeney, Jacob Tilk, Jonathan Vale, Vincent Daniels, Patrick Tilsen, and Kyle Cooper (not pictured). Red was well represented among them with 4 RB Aggro decks and 1 Mono-Red Wizards deck. Standard is not all about Chainwhirlers, though, as Calderon and Feeney managed their perfect records with Esper Control and Mono-Blue Storm respectively.
Standard Coming Into the Weekend
Various forms of red-black aggro have dominated Standard ever since the arrival of Goblin Chainwhirler with Dominaria. Since then we've had the release of Core Set 2019, with the notable new cards being Nicol Bolas, the Ravager and Nexus of Fate. The new instant-speed Time Walk had its coming out party at Pro Tour 25th Anniversary the weekend before, with the Turbo Fog deck being the new spice everyone wanted to try.
The thing about spicy new decks in Magic is they tend to lose their effectiveness once players are more aware of them. And there were answers available:
As expected, a fair few foggers got heavily Insult-ed this weekend, including two players with more on the line than just the Grand Prix.
Race for Pro Player of the Year
The other subtext to the Grand Prix was the Player of the Year race. Before the Grand Prix, the top of the leaderboard looked like this:
The relevant columns in this case are on the righthand side. Only the best 6 Grand Prix finishes count. The leader, Seth Manfield, who didn't play Grand Prix Orlando, did not have much room to improve his score. Nothing less than a Grand Prix Top 8 (Or a 13-2 record at a Grand Prix large enough for that to be not good enough to make Top 8) would add anything to his 79 points.
Reid Duke had a little more wriggle room. His two 2-pointers could be upgraded with a 12-3 record or better.
He was running the Fog deck with Nexus of Fate at Grand Prix Orlando, as were a lot of other pros. This surprised me as I thought the deck would be less effective now it was a known quantity. Players were prepared for it and Duke confirmed he had been Insult-ed once.
He also told me it had been a while since he'd last played a match of sanctioned Standard (he was in the Legacy seat for Pro Tour 25th Anniversary) and the deck looked both fun and good pick for the weekend.
At the time I spoke to him, that seemed to be borne out by his results. With ten rounds played, his only losses had been to RB and twice to the mirror. I caught the end of that second loss in the feature match area, when Duke ended up on the wrong side of a Karn Construct assault after struggling to find blue mana.
Unfortunately, a third loss left Duke needing to win all his remaining rounds to tie Manfield at the top of the leaderboard.
Below Reid Duke and third on the leaderboard was Luis Salvatto. Paradoxically, the Argentinean could be regarded as the current favorite for the title despite lagging Manfield by 3 points. This is because of his Grand Prix points. Salvatto only had a single point from his 4th best Grand Prix and no points at all for GP slots 5 and 6. This meant any kind of decent finish here and in the upcoming Grand Prix would see him start to catch up and maybe even creep past Manfield.
I caught up to him in Round 11 doing disgusting things with Rashmi, Eternities Crafter in play.
This, as he told me later, was tech he'd been given by a Chilean player. Most opponents board in cards like Negate against Turbo Fog. So Salvatto boards in Rashmi, gets her to stick on turn four and then buries the opponent in card advantage.
The game I saw had Salvatto take many extra turns, ultimate a Teferi, and then exile their permanents one by one. It was kind of like watching someone tear the legs and wings off a fly and very appropriate for a player that took down a Pro Tour with Lantern Control.
In the end, the weekend saw the top 3 of the Player of the Year race remain unchanged. Reid Duke didn't get the 12-3 record he needed and remained on 78 points. While Salvatto's 10-5 record was only good enough to pull him one point closer to both Duke and Manfield.
This race looks like it will get very interesting over the next few Grand Prix weekends. You would fancy Salvatto to be able to string the decent finishes together he needs to creep past Duke and Manfield. But then, Manfield and Duke are both very much capable of outright winning a Grand Prix and changing the equation again. I can see this one going right down to the wire.
The introduction of online decklists has been a massive boon to coverage. I doubt I would have been able to crunch my way through all 198 decklists without so many of them being online.
And crunch them I did. This was what the Day 2 metagame of Grand Prix Orlando looked like:
|Steel Leaf Stompy||20||10.1|
The red decks came in a few different flavors. The most popular was the red-black version. I generally looked for the presence of Unlicensed Disintegration to distinguish this archetype from the other red decks. Mostly-Red Aggro refers to the red decks that splash Dragonskull Summit to be able to use the black mana ability on Scrapheap Scrounger. Mono-Red Wizards is the much lower to the ground version that runs a lot of wizards and burn in the form of Wizard's Lightning.
Mono-Blue Storm is the Paradoxical Outcome deck that revolves around casting a lot of cheap artifacts. The deck can either combo kill with Aetherflux Reservoir, or just beat people to death with a horde of Thopters or Constructs.
Turbo Fog was also predictably popular after catching attention at the Pro Tour last weekend.
Despite being over 50% of the meta together, only one representative (the RB "anti-RB" aggro deck piloted by Greg Sokol) of the three most popular archetypes made it into the Top 8.
The Top 8
In contrast to the Standard Grand Prix earlier in the year, the Top 8 of Grand Prix Orlando was pleasantly diverse. Grixis Midrange was the only archetype piloted by more than one player (Adam Fox and Arseniy Egorov). The other six decks were Mono-Red Wizards (Kyle Cooper, who went into the Top 8 as top seed), UW Approach (Gabriel Joglar), Esper Control (Andrew Calderon), RB Aggro (Greg Sokol), GB Constrictor (Ian Plantz), and UB Midrange (Corey Burkhart).
Kyle Cooper quickly burnt his way to the final up one half of the bracket, while Gabriel Joglar had a tough slog on the other side, which included a long semifinal versus Adam Fox.
The final was also quick, but this time it did not favour Kyle Cooper. He got Joglar down to one life in the first game. He had a lot of possible outs to end the game, but didn't hit and Joglar eventually took control of the game thanks to Teferi and a lot of counterspells.
The second game saw Cooper's fiery deck finally blow out of steam in that cruel fashion that sometimes happens to red decks. Forced to mulligan to five, he then hit a run of unneeded mountains. On the other side of the table Joglar pulled ahead on cards with Teferi and then clogged the ground with knight tokens from History of Benalia. Regal Caracal, with its additional lifelinking felines, was enough to convince Cooper to extend the hand.
The champion of Grand Prix Orlando 2018 was Gabriel Joglar with his UW Approach deck!