2,005 players from all around the world entered Day One of this event, making Grand Prix Prague 2017 the Czech Republic’s largest tournament of all time. After building a Sealed Deck with two boosters of Kaladesh and four boosters of Aether Revolt and after battling through nine rounds of Swiss competition, only 629 players reached the minimum of 18 match points required to advance to Day Two.
I had been scouring the tournament hall for insights and anecdotes, talking to players and getting the latest on this brand new Limited format. Let’s dive into it; here’s Day One in a nutshell.
The Big Stories
Prague had a couple of stories that sparked discussions all day: yesterday's fire, the abundance of pros, and the Sealed pool that towered above all others.
Yesterday around noon, one of the venue’s catering stands caught fire. "To get everyone outside to safety, we immediately evacuated the event hall," Michael Milis from tournament organizer Tournamentcenter said. "Two event hall employees, who tried to extinguish the fire, suffered light burns, but they are doing okay given the circumstances. No one else got injured." Several players and judges shared their experiences; the general feeling was that the evacuation went smoothly, and everyone was glad that no one got seriously hurt.
Milis praised everyone for their calm and apt behavior in the face of a potentially dangerous situation. "The players followed the instructions from staff members and judges, and I would like to thank everyone who was there for doing what they had to do to get everyone to safety." Reddit user DepalaIsMyCopilot agreed: "Shout out to the judges for their amazing work of getting everybody out without any panic."
The damage from yesterday's fire
As a result of the fire, the main event hall had to close down, and all Friday events were cancelled. "After we got everyone to safety, our second goal was to try and allow the event to continue with as little inconvenience to the players as possible," Milis explained. “We found a solution by hosting the main event in a different hall." Indeed, the event started as announced at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday. Kudos to the event staff and judges who got everything set up in the neighboring hall overnight!
So what did players do all day on Friday? Some went sightseeing and had a lovely day in beautiful Prague. Others moved to local game stores, which got rather busy all of a sudden, to get some much-needed Aether Revolt Limited practice. And in the end, nothing could stop Magic players from enjoying their Saturday and Sunday at Grand Prix Prague.
A Stacked Field
The player list of the main event featured an abundance of pros, many of whom flew in to Europe early to get some high-level Limited practice before next week's big event: Pro Tour Aether Revolt in Dublin. As many as 54 players with three byes competed in the main event, an incredible amount, and the top tables were filled with talent. The drafts tomorrow were going to be hard.
Many of the pros in attendance came together with their team mates of the Pro Tour Team Series, a new program that would debut at Pro Tour Aether Revolt. More information and team rosters can be found here, but players already felt the hype. Although good performances at Grand Prix events do not count for the Pro Tour Team Series, seven teams still sent full rosters to Prague: Almost Finnished, ChannelFireball Ice, Dex Army, Ligamagic, EUreka, MTG Mind Card, and MTG Bent Card.
From left to right: (11) Mike Sigrist, (14) Joel Larsson, (8) Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa, (10) Ondřej Stráský, Ben Stark, Eric Froehlich.
Team ChannelFireball Ice rented out a small pension in Prague last week to prepare together for the upcoming Pro Tour, and they were using the Grand Prix as an opportunity to flex their Limited muscles. Hall of Fame members Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa and Eric Froehlich shared the best record of their team, with both ending the day at 8-1.
An Amazing Sealed Deck
At every Sealed Deck tournament, you can hear excited gasps as people show off their decks to each other throughout the day. Grand Prix Top 8 collector Martin Jůza, for instance, had a deck that could go Rishkar's Expertise into Baral's Expertise—an amazing sequence. We also heard that in one game today, Wurmcoil Engine faced off against Platinum Angel.
But the prize for most impressive Sealed pool of the day went to Englishman Steve Bains. His Sealed Deck came with Smuggler's Copter, Nissa, Vital Force, Rishkar, Peema Renegade, Yahenni, Undying Partisan, Hangarback Walker, and two Lifecrafter's Bestiary, which is already impressive enough, but it didn't stop at the rares, mythics, or Masterpieces. His creature base was rock-solid with multiple Scrounging Bandars, Thriving Rhinos, and Peema Outriders, and he even had two Winding Constrictor and two Ridgescale Tusker for a devastating combo.
The Deck registered by Steve Bains: good deck or greatest deck?
"The pool was so bonkers, it was unreal," Bains said. "It's the best pool I've ever opened in my life. I even left Longtusk Cub and Renegade Freighter in my sideboard because I didn't know what else to cut. I was spoiled for choice."
Still, even with good pools there are difficult deck construction decisions to make, and Bains admitted that he had misbuilt the pool by several cards. He told me, for example, that he should have focused on a more consistent mana base, given that his card quality was already so high. He had been boarding out Gifted Aetherborn and adding a Swamp every game.
Bairns lost early on to a team member with too many fliers, which his deck was weak to, but he kept winning afterward and ended the day at 8-1. If you want to see his deck in action: His Round 7 match was featured on the twitch.tv/magic stream. “We saw Smuggler’s Copter, we saw Nissa, we saw counters being multiplied—it was like a Constructed deck," commentator Simon Goertzen remarked afterward.
Day One’s 9-0 Players
Seven players reached the end of Day One with undefeated 9-0 records. None of the pros with three byes got there, making it an even more impressive accomplishment of the players who did go undefeated.
Left to right: Michael Meier, Dominik Konieczny, Ryan Sandrin
Up first on the list is Michael Meier, a 26-year-old player from Switzerland. The highlight of his deck was Aethersphere Harvester, which he could fetch with Trophy Mage. “I had it almost every game," he said.
Dominik Konieczny, a 31-year-old player from Poland, found his 9-0 success today with a strong red-green deck that included multiple double strike creatures and several ways to beef them up, most notably Rishkar, Peema Renegade.
Next up is Ryan Sandrin, a 20-year-old player from Toronto, Canada, who will also compete at Pro Tour Aether Revolt next week. The standout card of his white-green deck was Wildest Dreams. “My card quality wasn’t very high, but getting back my removal spells for a second use helped me battle my opponents’ rares," he said.
Left to right: Tamas Horvath, Eli Gammaitoni, Haokang Wang, Andrea Bignami
36-year-old Tamas Horvath from Budapest, Hungary, arguably had to overcome the toughest opposition in Round 9, when he faced Gold Level pro Grzegorz Kowalski. But between his haste-granting Spontaneous Artist and his Invigorated Rampage he found a line which led to victory after all. "I had only one chance. I chump blocked and kept the combat trick. That was the hardest play I had to make all day," said Horvath.
Eli Gammaitoni, a 27-year-old hailing from a place near Rome, Italy, attributed a lot of his 9-0 run to Noxious Gearhulk. "That was my best card. The coolest moment was when I was able to make copies of it with Cogwork Assembler ..."
22-year-old Haokang Wang from Shenzhen, China, after a moment's deliberation, listed Herald of Anguish as his MVP. To be fair, his deck had quite a few cards competing for the top honors. When asked for any play which stood out in his memory, Wang came up with summoning Herald of Anguish on turn five, but also mentioned the sequence of Yahenni's Expertise into Smuggler's Copter.
The second Italian among the 9-0 group, Andrea Bignami, 28 years from Bergamo near Milan, was fond of Walking Ballista. "By far the strongest card for me today. Although Rishkar, Peema Renegade did a lot of work as well. In the first round, I had Ballista on turn two, Rishkar on turn three, and when I cast Hunt the Weak on turn four, my opponent scooped on the spot."
Congratulations to all seven 9-0 players!
Day One Card Spotlights
Earlier today, I asked 2016 World Champion Brian Braun-Duin, commentator Matej Zatlkaj, streamer Jan van der Vegt, and Platinum pro Andrea Mengucci for their picks of the best Limited common and uncommon from Aether Revolt in each color. You can find their answers in video form at the very bottom of this article. But if I had to pick three cards that were particularly impactful or instructive about this Limited format, then I would put the spotlight on the following three.
Spotlight #1: Ridgescale Tusker
When I asked the aforementioned players what the best Aether Revolt commons and uncommons were, I got a variety of opinions for most colors. But there was unanimous agreement here: Ridgescale Tusker is the best green uncommon, and potentially the best uncommon in the set.
"It's basically Verdurous Gearhulk," Brian Braun-Duin explained. Indeed, it's a big body, it pumps your squad, and it's not uncommon to get 8 power and 8 toughness for 5 mana—an incredible rate for an uncommon. Braun-Duin, whose deck did not contain any copies of Ridgescale Tusker, wrapped up today with a 6-3 record, squeaking into Day Two.
Spotlight #2: Airdrop Aeronauts
"I probably shouldn't have blocked there," was a phrase I overheard several times throughout the day after someone blocked a chump-attacking Servo token. As players gradually learned, there’s a real cost to blocking in this format: killing one of your opponent's creatures turns on their revolt cards.
The effects can range from two +1/+1 counters to a free card draw, but letting your opponent gain 5 life when the race is close can easily swing a game. Airdrop Aeronauts is one of the best white uncommons for a reason.
Spotlight #3: Caught in the Brights
My final card is one that was considered good, but that several players felt was overrated: Caught in the Brights. Traditionally, Pacifism effects are pretty strong in Limited, but they do have two major downsides in the current format: The enchanted creature can still crew vehicles, and the creature’s abilities can still be activated.
"Caught in the Brights didn't do much against my Herald of Anguish," Pro Tour finalist Craig Jones told me. "I could kill stuff and force my opponent to discard, and the Demon was even able to crew a Sky Skiff every turn. The card is all right, but you really need to swoosh it with a vehicle." Half of the players I interviewed agreed and felt that Dawnfeather Eagle was a better common than Caught in the Brights.