Grand Prix Pittsburgh 2018 Day One Highlights

Posted in Event Coverage on June 23, 2018

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

With Pro Tour Dominaria and the double Grand Prix Las Vegas weekend in the rearview mirror, the Dominaria Standard season starting winding down in Pittsburgh. 936 players—including several top-ranked—joined in the Steel City showdown, and everyone had one card in mind: Goblin Chainwhirler.

The Main Event

It's Goblin's Chainwhirler's world, right?

Even among the top players competing—those with three byes—the not-so-little Goblin was well-respected:

But! It wasn't as dominant as the conversations would have you believe. From God-Pharaoh's Gift to Ghalta, Primal Hunger to The Scarab God and History of Benalia, 60% of the field was on a plan decidedly different.

While there was no avoiding the whirling in the room, plenty of players pushed at the boundaries of the format to find what edges remained in Dominaria Standard decks.

For example, you could have put Mirage Mirror onto the map like Matthew Barsody. Copying Sagas for their value, and showcasing a card that hadn't seen its Standard due yet, shows just what lurks beyond the top lists from tournaments.

Barsody didn't make it to Day 2, but perhaps you can pick up where he left off?

Matthew Barsody's Mono-Black Affinity; GP Pittsburgh 2018

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Ambitious crossovers are cool.

A Grand Prix wouldn't be complete today without the community making moves.

Magic's 25th Anniversary celebrations were underway around the world—focused over at Grand Prix Singapore this weekend—but one industrious judge brought a few souvenirs to share from the blowout event the previous weekend in Las Vegas. You can't have a party without a party hat!

Cosplay was plentiful—and varied—in Pittsburgh. Adam Barnello made the journey from hours away to bring his Garruk cosplay to life.

"I never saw anyone cosplay as Garruk," he said. "In the past I've made Halloween and some competitive costumes, and I've been making props for Dungeons & Dragons. It's a confluence of all my hobbies: powerlifting, crafting and Magic. As a big dude with a beard, Garruk made sense."

The attention isn't what Barnello anticipated. "I expected nobody to pay attention or care. Cosplay is becoming bigger but it's still small in Magic. A lot of people have asked for pictures and shared appreciation for the work that's been put in. I didn't know at the time but there's a whole cosplay community in Magic—we're following each other on Twitter and it's awesome to see this community within the community."

"Right now I don't have any plans to do anything else. We'll see what cards get released. Building it is 75% of the fun for me."

Day One Undefeated Players

To answer the question "Are Goblin Chainwhirler decks still the best decks in Standard?" is beyond the range of one tournament—and Pittsburgh's Day 1 undefeated results reflected a room full of people on—and against—the plan. Of the nine undefeated players on Day 1, four played Goblin Chainwhirler. The rest leaned hard into control.

Aaron Barich, a Grand Prix Top 8 contender earlier this year, was among the first to become undefeated in Pittsburgh. He made the run to Steel City despite a recent move to Orlando, FL. Why was he playing Mono-Red Aggro? "It's the deck I won the SCG Invitational with."—A pretty good reason indeed.

Grand Prix Pittsburgh Day 1 undefeated players, left to right: Jack Kiefer, Justin Terpening, Nicholas Brown, Xiaozhe Ma, Zach Allen, Alexis Ostrander, Tyler Hill, Ralph Betesh

Alexis Ostrander was another early-to-finish undefeated player. Hailing as a hometown here from Pittsburgh, she brought Black-Red Aggro because she felt "red-black was the best deck." She "loves red and aggro, and played a lot to test."—And her effort paid off.

Justin Terpening also played Black-Red Aggro. From Cape Coral, FL he tried to play something else in a Last-Chance Qualifier but was run over by the deck. So he switched—and was well-rewarded.

Zach Allen motored in from Motor City—Detroit, MI—with Esper Control because he "loves Torrential Gearhulk." His favorite card to cast again? Glimmer of Genius. Controlling Control to a Day 1 undefeated finish is something he loves too.

Ralph Betesh popped over from the over side of the site—Philadelphia—to put Blue-Black Midrange to work. With a Grand Prix victory and more under his belt, Betesh put in the work on Magic Online. "It was the only deck I liked playing."—And everyone loves being undefeated too.

Xiaozhe Ma came over from Wilmington, DE packing the Mono-Red Aggro flavor of Goblin Chainwhirler decks. Why did he end up playing a popular deck? "Nobody told me I could register anything other than red cards."

Jack Kiefer, one of the talented team Cardhoarder players alongside his brother, flew in from Boulder, CO with a specific angle on the format. Keifer played White-Blue God-Pharaoh's Gift for a simple reason: "I hate red." he said. "This is a deck I've played often and is well-positioned." (Pro Tip: Players like a good position in the tournament.)

Nicholas Brown, from Rochester, NY, took a look at Goblin Chainwhirler and felt Esper Control was the best call. "I thought it was well-positioned, with favorable matchups against odds and ends." Undefeated is a good place to end the first day at.

Tyler Hill, a representative of Ann Arbor, MI's strong Magic community, went all-in with White-Blue Planeswalkers, packing almost three full play sets of them. "I brewed and played it at the Pro Tour, but I didn't do well." Hill said. "I decided to play it again here since I like the matchup against red."

With nine sprinting out of the gate for Day 2, the race for Top 8 in Pittsburgh was ready—and Goblin Chainwhirler was there for the ride yet.

Day One Deck Spotlights

Black-Red Midrange with Corey Burkhart

If you're going to join the Goblin Chainwhirler army, you can still make it better. 25th-ranked Corey Burkhart knew exactly what to do.

"I played red-black at the Pro Tour and went 4-6." he said. "I found I didn't like the cheap cards—Bomat Courier, Soul-Scar Mage and Heart of Kiran. By now, people have figured out the answers to red decks and the format's adapted but not enough. People are still playing 1 toughness creatures in decks."

"In testing I saw Goblin Chainwhirler still kills enough things and buys you enough time, so rather than play it in an aggro shell I put it in midrange where it answers threats. As long as players are beating down with 1 toughness creatures, Chainwhirler is going to be good."

"It's a good card, with a target on its back, but players aren't overcompensating enough yet." Burkhart noted. "I feel like you shouldn't be playing things like Champion of Wits—except maybe Llanowar Elves since it's so powerful for green decks. Everyone's ready for red so I don't want to be top decking Soul-Scar Mage on turn six; I want Angrath, the Flame-Chained or Glorybringer or Chandra, Torch of Defiance or Vraska's Contempt. I want to void my deck of low mana, high variance cards."

"I'm comfortable playing those grindy games against blue decks. With enough Doomfalls and Vraska's Contempts you're not afraid of their mythic haymakers." he said. "I'm going to make you play Torrential Gearhulk when you don't want to: I'm going to tax their answers and be the last one with a threat on the battlefield."

Corey Burkhart's Black-Red Midrange; GP Pittsburgh 2018

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Sideboard (15)
1 Hazoret the Fervent 2 Cut // Ribbons 1 Vraska's Contempt 1 Angrath, the Flame-Chained 2 Arguel's Blood Fast // Temple of Aclazotz 2 Chandra's Defeat 2 Doomfall 3 Duress 1 Sorcerous Spyglass

Mono-Green Ghalta with Tim Wu

Imagine a Standard where you don't care if your opponent plays Goblin Chainwhirler. For Tim Wu of team Massdrop, they were living it already.

Armed with a big green Dinosaur deck, headlined by Ghalta, Primal Hunger, Wu paved a path with flattened Goblins. "The only 1 toughness creatures in the deck are Llanowar Elves," Wu said. "If you have a first turn Elf you're going to be able to deploy your three-drop before their Chainwhirler hits. When we were testing for the Pro Tour we assumed it was going to be a bad matchup. It is bad if they have Soul-Scar Mage and Chainwhirler and can just nerf a bunch of your guys—but if they don't have that combo we found we were winning a lot of games."

"Outside of Llanowar Elf, Goblin Chainwhirler doesn't do anything to our deck. I'm comfortable playing against them because Elf is the only thing they can hit and it's worth it to play." he said. "We have a bunch of 3/4 creaturess—Thrashing Brontodon, Greenbelt Rampager—which are a nice combo with Heartn of Kiran: You play the Rampager, then play the Heart, then play Rampager again, crew the Heart with the return trigger on the stack, Rampager goes back to your hand, attack with the Heart, then finally play the Rampager again and it sticks, all by your third turn."

"Greenbelt Rampager smooths things out. If you have open mana and don't want or need to bluff Blossoming Defense you can get it out there. Aethersphere Harvester in the sideboard gives you some energy tricks too. If you're at two energy you can give your Harvester lifelink, going to one energy, play the Rampager to add another energy and crew a Harvester like with the Heart trick, then return the Rampager. You can give your Harvester lifelink for as many turns as you need."

"And, sometimes, the deck just goes turn three Ghalta, Primal Hunger: Llanowar Elves, into Steel Leaf Champion on turn two, into Resilient Khenra on turn three—where you have two more mana and 10 total power on the battlefield—to cast Ghalta."


Tim Wu's Mono-Green Ghalta; GP Pittsburgh 2018

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White-Blue God-Pharaoh's Gift with Corey Baumeister

Some decks claim a good matchup again the Standard frontrunner red decks. When an elite Standard player like Corey Baumeister claims a deck is "supposed" to it, ears perk up.

"Leading up to Pittsburgh, I played Zac Elsik's God-Pharaoh's Gift list he made Top 8 with at the SCG Invitational." he said. "When I played it online I played against five red decks in a row—the deck it's supposed to beat. After testing some control matchups with [my brother] Brad Nelson, it felt fine against everything but Blue-Black Midrange. I felt confident—and Brad found some tech to put in too."

What makes Baumeister's deck so good against red decks? "God-Pharaoh's Gift is the only deck that goes so far over the top red's removal that it doesn't affect it." Baumeister explained. "You still have to deal with Abrade, but now you've got Settle the Wreckage and Sunscourge Champion to dance around them with. On a turn they're holding up Abrade you force them to use it before you play your Gift. The Scarab God is a little tough since Glint-Sleeve Siphoner on turn 2 is rough. Blue-black has card draw and counterspells—every one of their cards does something against you."

Of course, even in the face of a tough matchup Baumeister seemed undaunted for one good reason: "It's a freaking boatload of fun to play."

Corey Baumeister's White-Blue God-Pharaoh's Gift; GP Pittsburgh 2018

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Sideboard (15)
1 Fumigate 2 Angel of Sanctions 1 Forsake the Worldly 2 Jace's Defeat 1 Lyra Dawnbringer 4 Negate 1 Nezahal, Primal Tide 1 Search for Azcanta // Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin 1 Sorcerous Spyglass 1 Thopter Arrest

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