Grand Prix Pittsburgh Day 1 Highlights

Posted in Event Coverage on February 11, 2017

By Corbin Hosler

More than 1,300 players arrived in snowy Pittsburgh to fire things up in Standard. After the unexpected dominance of Mardu Vehicles at the Pro Tour in Dublin last week, the metagame seemed ready for a change and players prepared for the trip to Pennsylvania with a clear target to aim for.

That would explain why the major buzz before the tournament didn't belong to the dominant Pro Tour deck or even the much-hyped "Copycat" combo of Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian. Instead, it belonged to the breakout deck of the week.

Black-Green Takes Top Billing

It's Winding Constrictor's world, and we're all living in it.

Much like White-Blue Flash at Pro Tour Kaladesh, it was a deck that didn't dominate the Pro Tour headlines that dominated in the week following. Black-green decks, from the energy-based decks relying on Greenbelt Rampager and Glint-Sleeve Siphoner to the delirium decks using Traverse the Ulvenwald, Ishkanah, Grafwidow and Mindwrack Demon to take over the long game.

All the versions rely on the same core – a bevy of removal spells, Verdurous Gearhulk, Walking Ballista and Winding Constrictor, which makes all of the other cards in the deck better. It's the deck that most of the pros in the room are playing (some begrudgingly), and is seen by most as the deck best positioned for the weekend.

"It's just the deck you should be playing right now," said No. 11 Brad Nelson, who got off to a 7-0 start with the deck. "Mardu Vehicles is still a good deck, but it's beatable."

While the metagame is far from a one-deck format, black-green variants were undeniably finding the most success this weekend, and many of the game's top players were riding the deck to the top tables as Saturday wore on.

As we head to Day Two, one of the major storylines to follow is how well black-green will hold up, or if some of the other decks finding wins will be able to put up a fight. And there are certainly some sweet off-the-beaten-path decks in the running.

Rogues Finding Success

While Black-Green Constrictor was undoubtedly the most represented deck in the room, it may not necessarily have been the best. At least, if Steve Rubin has anything to say about it.

The Pro Tour Shadows Over Innistrad champion arrived with an innovative and, frankly, wild Blue-Red Zombies deck that took full advantage of Fevered Visions with Constructed "standouts" like Advanced Stitchwing and Wretched Gryff. The world's seventh-ranked player finished Day One with an 8-1 record as his deck ground out win after win against Black-Green Constrictor, going 4-0 against the archetype on the day.

"It's a deck we tested for the Pro Tour, but it didn't have a good matchup against the Copycat decks, so I didn't play it then," he explained. "But I didn't expect many people to be playing the combo this weekend so I wanted to play this."

The decision worked out just fine for Rubin, who will enter Sunday with a clear path to the Top 8.

He wasn't the only one to find success off the grid. Eli Kassis met Rubin at the 8-0 table playing Four-Color Copycat, an energy-based deck that stretched its mana base but was paid off with a more aggressive overall game plan while also retaining the combo potential. There was even a Temur Aetherworks Marvel deck that finished the day undefeated in the hands of David Haass.

Will the surprising decks be able to combat black-green? We'll find out on Sunday.

Oh, and speaking of rogues...

The Team Series Comes to Pittsburgh

The Team Series made its debut at the Pro Tour last week, and the new initiative has raised the stakes when it comes to "team-based" Magic. Players have long congregated in testing houses and playgroups leading up to the Pro Tour, and with the formation of the Team Series more weight has been given to that than ever before.

For many, that goes beyond just the Pro Tour, as Team Cardhoarder was eager to show in Pittsburgh. The sprawling organization – with 10 regular team members playing and two members of the support staff on hand – is the most visible display of the new dynamic the Team Series is bringing to the game.

"We love to be able to come and represent Cardhoarder at these events," team manager Ken Crocker said. "We have a lot of players ready to do well this weekend."

Grand Prix Pittsburgh Has Something For Everyone

As fun as it is to follow the competitive aspect of the Grand Prix, it's important to remember that these events are a lot of different things to different people. You don't have to look any further than Dan Cannaday for proof of that. Cannaday works with the Yellow Breeches Education Center, which aims to provide a "life-altering special education for secondary school-aged students with emotional support needs."

Grand Prix Pittsburgh was an extraordinary field trip for Cannaday's group, and from the Two-Headed Giant Sealed event they played to an incredible meeting with their favorite player.

It was a meeting sure to make an impression on the group, as they traded questions and jokes with Nelson – who was more than happy to give back to the community – and it was a Grand Prix the kids won't soon forget.

Brad Nelson, the world's 11th-ranked player, 2010 Player of the Year and all-around good guy took time out of his tournament to meet with the kids from Yellow Breeches.

Single Card Spotlights

Winding Constrictor: You can expect to see this one for the foreseeable future. The basis of an entire archetype that has stolen the show entering Grand Prix Pittsburgh, Constrictor powers up multiple builds of black-green decks.

It does it all. In the energy-based decks, it not only increases the energy you gain from everything including Aether Hub, but it just goes wild with creatures. Rishkar, Peema Renegade produces a ton of power on the third turn, while Verdurous Gearhulk gets downright ridiculous with a Constrictor or two in play. Even Walking Ballista becomes a board-dominating threat when Constrictor is out.

Ballista is a defining card in itself. It helps to pick off the multitude of one-toughness creatures from the aggressive decks, while also enabling revolt on demand. Heck, it's even a pseudo-burn spell to finish off games from time to time.

Fevered Visions: A quirky enchantment that has come and gone from the metagame, it's truly a unique threat. Never has Howling Mine looked so good.

Just ask Steve Rubin, who used the card to great effect in his 8-1 Blue-Red Zombies deck. Not only does the card put incredible pressure by itself on the control decks of the format, it keeps the gas coming for his unique suite of creatures – providing plenty of fodder to feed the Stitchwing Skaab, which in turn fuels some explosive starts alongside Prized Amalgam and Elder Deep-Fiend. Rubin's deck is positioned well against the field of black-green, and how well Fevered Visions performs over the rest of the weekend will be a major thread to unravel.

Six Stand at the Top

For all the talk of Black-Green being the top deck this weekend, the six undefeated lists at the top of the Swiss following nine rounds told a slightly different story. After nine rounds of play, it's Matthew Long, Eli Kassis, David Haass, Hunter Nance, Adam Van Fleet and Edward Sockol sit atop the standings, and there's four decks between the six of them.

Just one Black-Green Constrictor deck made it through Day One unscathed, while a pair of Mardu Vehicle decks joined two Four-Color Copycat decks and Haass' Temur Aetherworks Marvel also pulled off the feat.

What will Sunday hold? Will Black-Green Constrictor dominate as many predicted, or will the rest of the field rise up? Will the six players in pole position translate that into a Top 8 appearance, or will the throng of strong challengers lurking just behind them make a move?

Join us at on Sunday to find out.

Eli Kassis' Four-Color Copycat

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Edward Sockol's Four-Color Copycat – GP Pittsburgh, 9-0

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David Haass's Temur Marvel – GP Pittsburgh, 9-0

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Hunter Nance's Mardu Vehicles – GP Pittsburgh, 9-0

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Adam Van Fleet's Black-Green Constrictor – GP Pittsburgh, 9-0

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Matthew Long's Mardu Vehicles – GP Pittsburgh, 9-0

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