Top Stories of Grand Prix Portland 2018

Posted in Event Coverage on December 10, 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.

Sunday was a busy day in Stumptown. From the 1,765 players that started on Day 1 a whopping 322 returned for Day 2—and the Modern field was wide open. While stars like Yuta Takahashi added to their Top 8 resume, there was much more to the day then just solid finishes at the top.

Here's a quick look at the best stories from Grand Prix Portland 2018.

Day 2 Metagame Check

A mammoth 322 players made the Day 2 cut in Portland—and decks were all over the spectrum. At the start of the day, here's what the top 100 players by standing were playing:

Archetype Count
Bant Spirits 14
Mono-Green Tron 8
Hardened Scales Affinity 7
Izzet Phoenix 7
Krark-Clan Ironworks 6
Burn 5
Dredge 5
White-Blue Control 4
Elves 3
Five-Color Humans 3
Hollow Phoenix 3
Storm 3
Abzan 2
Affinity 2
Green-White Hexproof 2
Grixis Control 2
Grixis Death's Shadow 2
Hollow One 2
Infect 2
Jeskai Control 2
Jeskai Phoenix 2
Merfolk 2
Abzan Evolution 1
Amulet Titan 1
Black-Green Midrange 1
Bridgevine 1
Eldrazi Tron 1
Esper Control 1
Jund 1
Mono-Red Phoenix 1
Proclamation Martyr 1
Red-Green Tron 1
Runaway Phoenix 1
Titanshift 1

While it's not a perfect breakdown of the metagame, the trends among players reflect what's been seen on Magic Online and recent events.

  • Bant Spirits is the deck of the weekend. The top-choice apparent for successful Day 1 players—including pros such as Sam Pardee and Wyatt Darby—it's not only been a larger slice of the pie but doing well against the field.
  • Tron continues to do what it does—namely things like a third or fourth turn Karn Liberated or some other powerful colorless play—and despite having a target painted on it from the community it's second most popular deck among top Day 2 players.
  • The Hardened Scales flavor of Affinity is now the dominant take for the artifact deck, though the vanilla version still pulls its own weight.
  • Arclight Phoenix is officially a multi-format all-star as Izzet Phoenix, and the splash-white-for-Rest in Peace-sideboard-tech Jeskai version, rises to the competition. It's also getting in on Hollow One action and mono-red twists with and without Runaway Steamkin. Is there any deck our Phoenix can't fit in?
  • Krark-Clan Ironworks—or the Matt Nass Special if you're generous—continues to outperform expectations. Somehow, players continue to expect this deck to not do well and every event it looks just as good as at the last.

  • Krark-Clan Ironworks
  • Spell Queller
  • Karn Liberated
  • Hardened Scales
  • Arclight Phoenix
  • Snapcaster Mage
  • Teferi, Hero of Dominaria

With the long tail of decks seeing play today Modern continues to be the format where you can play almost any kind of deck you want. Even Tron.

Are Spirits The New Humans?

"I brought Hollow One and Bant Spirits for this weekend, and was undecided on what I was playing. Decided I wasn't feeling nihilist enough to cast Burning Inquiry and decided to play Spirits."

Sam Pardee

Sam Pardee knows a thing or two about Modern Grands Prix. With several wins, a pair of Pro Tour Top 8s in the mix, and a finalist finish at the Team Modern Grand Prix in Detroit earlier this year, Pardee always knows what's going on with the format.

And since he was playing Bant Spirits it made sense to dig a little deeper about why this deck was among the most popular for the weekend.

"It's really good at doing the same thing every game. It's a really good sideboard—I've used every card in it this weekend," Pardee said. "And Spell Queller is a really good card."

Sam Pardee's Bant Spirits

Download Arena Decklist

Pardee had a little twist, however, for anyone considering thelists available to players. "My tech was that I added a fourth Æther Vial to my deck. To Æther Vial a Spell Queller is really good."

Rewind a few months and it's Five-Color Humans that's all the rage in Modern. That deck, too, can use Æther Vial and disruptive creatures to aggressively win games. So makes Bant Spirits the pick now?

"The big difference is Spirits is favored heads up: All your creatures fly," Pardee explained. "It's not the biggest deal because no one deck in Modern is so popular you should switch to another deck. The other reason is the mana and lands. Humans can't play Rest in Peace or Stony Silence. You get to play all these cards that are a knockout against a deck—like the Rest in Peace I played against Dredge earlier. In Humans you don't get to play as many cards that have such an impact on the game."

It took several months for players to iterate on Humans to arrive at the powerful five-color combination played today. Spirits have been in a Bant configuration for just as long, so is the deck locked in its final build? "It seems pretty close. The amount of Spirits that exist is a lot smaller than Humans," Pardee said. "One card I was thinking about was Spirit of the Labyrinth. It hasn't shown up but seem pretty powerful against anyone playing Faithless Looting, but I haven't tried it yet.

"Ravnica Allegiance might have some Orzhov Spirits. It wouldn't shock me if some were good."

Come January, it might be Four-Color Spirits. But for today, it's the Bant deck finding excellent success across the Day 2 metagame.

How Putnam Cast His Long Shadow

"Honestly, I've been playing for awhile but my biggest problem is I've never sat down and taken it seriously."

"For this weekend, I didn't know what I wanted to play going into it. A few days ago I thought Death's Shadow was well-position and it's where I wanted to be," Putnam said. "I've played it forever. I was playing Mishra's Bauble Shadow when it first got popular. I just played the deck I knew."

It's been a long journey for Putnam, who wasn't always committed to the competitive side of the game. "I started playing casually with Mirrodin, but I got competitive with Scars of Mirrodin. Here, I really just came to hang out and see my friends in Portland."

"It's a lame story because I didn't do a lot of prep for this Grand Prix," Putnam admitted. "I've played a lot of Modern—a lot of X-4 and X-3 finishes–but I didn't think it would be this weekend. It all kinda worked out."

Like most Modern players, Putnam's performance was built on playing his favorite—and now Grand Prix title-clinching—deck: Grixis Death's Shadow "It's probably my favorite deck I've ever played. I like it when I win games where I'm at like 2 life, they're at 3 life and we're going round and round thinking. You win by the skin of your teeth—or you just play three 10/10s and win."

"I felt really good this weekend."

Putnam was humbled by the experience, ready to celebrate with the friends who made Magic possible. "I was to shout out literally everyone—all my friends from Vegas. All my friends from Spokane. I love spending time with these guys. They're the reason I play Magic," Putnam said. "The biggest problem is I don't want to leave anybody out!"

Putnam put a powerful show on, defeating two of his three Top 8 opponents with 2-0 matches. His time to celebrate—and shine—with friends was well deserved. Congratulations to Tyler Putnam, champion of Grand Prix Portland 2018!

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