There were plenty of great moments, decks, players, cards, and stories over the course of the weekend here in Prague. The following are our top five picks for things to remember from this Grand Prix.
5. A Monstrous Onslaught of Pros Descended Upon Prague
The main event featured an abundance of pros, many of whom flew in to Europe early 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. Sunday morning's Draft Pod #11, for instance:
Lee Shi Tian
Draft Pod #11 was dominated by Silver, Gold, and Platinum pros.
Many pros entered the fray with their full team; the one that they registered for 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, and although good performances at Grand Prix events do not count for the Pro Tour Team Series, the results of this Grand Prix could still pinpoint some early favorites.
Out of the seven teams that fielded full rosters in Prague—Almost Finnished, ChannelFireball Ice, Dex Army, Ligamagic, EUreka, MTG Mind Card, and MTG Bent Card—MTG Bent Card and ChannelFireball Ice scored the most Pro Points at this Grand Prix. ChannelFireball Ice in particular was spearheaded by No. 8 Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa's second-place finish.
4. Tight Games on Camera
Over 20 hours of Magic content was streamed over the weekend on the twitch.tv/magic channel, with the Day 1 stream archived here and the Day 2 stream to be found here. When I asked the commentators for their favorite games, Simon Görtzen and Riley Knight pointed out two.
The first highlight was game three of the Round 9 match between Polish Gold Level pro Grzegorz Kowalski and Hungary's Tamas Horvath. As Simon Görtzen explained to me, "It was high level Magic with a lot of decisions and a cool finish."
The game was great for three reasons.
First, both players knew what was going on in the early turns: Horvath had Invigorated Rampage in hand, so he kept his first-striking Aether Chaser on defense with two mana up to keep Kowalski's Ironthread Crusher at bay, but Kowalksi refused to attack into the obvious trick.
Second, Horvath used two premium removal spells, Walking Ballista and a Chandra's Revolution, to destroy a lowly 2/1 and 2/2 on Kowalski's side. It was a peculiar play, but his strategic decision paid off because it left Kowalski with three Vehicles and no pilots to crew them for a while.
Third, as shown in the above clip, Horvath swapped from a defensive use of Invigorated Rampage to an offensive one at the perfect moment. He chose to chump block instead of trading his pump spell for a big vehicle, which allowed him to set up a lethal attack for the win. "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 afterward.
The second highlight was game one of the Round 15 match between No. 8 Paulo Vitor "PVDDR" Damo da Rosa and Gold Level pro Christian Calcano. Don't just take my word for it. "What an absurd game. @PVDDR is one of the greats for a reason," @Joel_Doran wrote on Twitter. "Masterclass by @PVDDR right there. I'm in awe," @tomvdvel shared.
At the start of the game, Calcano used two Winding Constrictor and Fabrication Module to assemble an 8/8 Aetherborn Marauder. Damo da Rosa was making bigger and bigger Construct tokens with Oviya Pashiri, Sage Lifecrafter, but that wasn’t good enough to race the lifelinking flier.
To deal with it, Damo da Rosa enticed Calcano to trade for rather than chump-block a Construct token, which turned on revolt for Deadeye Harpooner to shoot down the flier.
Damo da Rosa then expertly navigated the subsequent combat steps, lining up his blockers and combat tricks to first keep him alive against Calcano's +1/+1 counter engine and ultimately set up a lethal attack. If you can only (re-)watch one game of this Grand Prix, then click on the link at the start of this moment and let Damo da Rosa teach you how to get better at combat.
3. Powerful Combos Assembled
The players in Prague showed that Aether Revolt was full of synergies, and a multitude of powerful combos was assembled over the weekend. Some of the standouts are the following ones.
While some players were winning in Standard by combining Winding Constrictor and Verdurous Gearhulk, players in Prague were…doing the same in Limited? Steve Bain's incredible sealed deck from Saturday, for instance, had two copies of each of these powerful uncommons. When combined, they can easily lead to dominating board states on turn five.
Florian Koch won his Round 14 match, which was crucial for his Top 8 advancement, by chaining Rishkar's Expertise into Baral's Expertise into Snare Thopter. Yeah, that's fair. Crazily enough, this wasn't even the first time this happened: Martin Jůza chained the exact same two Expertises (albeit with a different four-drop) yesterday as well.
Used to good effect by No. 8 Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa in his aforementioned Round 15 match against Christian Calcano, the combination was effectively a Slay that gave him enough time to stay alive and ultimately take the game.
Platinum pro Brad Nelson assembled the combo of Animation Module plus Metallic Mimic in the first draft on Sunday, allowing him to make a 2/2 Servo token for every mana invested. But Metallic Mimic was good on its own as well.
Reigning World Champion Brian Braun-Duin was spotted on Saturday morning as he tried to memorize the creatures types of his deck, and France's Elliot Boussaud assembled a mono-white Dwarves deck with as many as 14 Dwarves (not including Metallic Mimic) on the first Sunday draft.
The Copycat combo can also happen in Limited. Matija Vlahovic had a crazy sealed pool yesterday, with 2 Felidar Guardian, 1 Saheeli Rai, 2 Rogue Refiner, and 2 Cloudblazer. "I won on the combo 4 times," he said.
According to Vlahovic, one of his opponents could have disrupted the combo with Welder Automaton, but neither player realized it at the time. I'm not sure if this is good tech for Standard, but I'll just put it out here.
After all those sweet rares, let's end with an all-common combo that can transform an opposing creature into a +1/+1 counter. Fabian Dickmann, one of the three players who missed Top 8 with 39 match points—the other two were Alex Stok and Viktors Kazanskis—showed the power of Wrangle and Defiant Salvager by going 3-0 in the first draft with a deck featuring two copies of each.
2. Low-Land Improvise and Revolt Decks Galore
Aether Revolt introduced two new mechanics, and the players who knew how to draft and build around them often got the best draft decks.
For revolt, a good example was Peter Vieren’s Abzan deck from the second draft on Sunday. He started with a first-pick Aethergeode Miner, followed by a second-pick Call for Unity, and he didn't look back. "You should only go all-in if you have good uncommons or rares, but if you do, then you should take every enabler you see. It's enablers first and payoffs second," he explained.
For improvise, a great example was Top 8 competitor Ivan Floch's red-black deck from his second draft on Sunday.
Ivan Floch also drafted red-black in the Top 8, but didn't get the good improvise cards there, and he promptly lost in the quarterfinals.
With four improvise creatures and seven one-mana artifacts, this deck had it all. Floch didn't recommend to always take enables over payoff cards, however. "I judge it based on the power level of cards." But thanks to the large amount of cheap enablers, he was happy to put Foundry Assembler in the three-drop slot when he laid out his mana curve.
Another instructive aspect of Floch's deck was that it contained only 15 lands. "I was even sideboarding down to 14 on the draw," he claimed. Floch realized that when you have a lot of one-mana Implements, a low mana curve, and the improvise mechanic to pay for your expensive cards, it's fine to reduce your land counts. His thoughts were echoed by Lukas Blohon and Sam Black.
1. Yusuf Kemal Vefa Soared to Victory in the Finals
A bastion of Turkish Magic, Yusuf Kemal Vefa had already been the Turkish National Champion five times, but similar success at the Grand Prix level had eluded him. This weekend, however, he bested everyone else.
On the face of it, the green-white deck he drafted in the Top 8 was not the most powerful Limited deck ever seen. But what it lacked in revolt synergies, it featured in evasion. In his semifinals against Fabian Friedrich, he took to the skies with Dawnfeather Eagle. And in his finals against Pro Tour Hall of Famer No. 8 Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, he relied on Multiform Wonder and Aerial Modification to soar to victory, showing that flying is still one of the most valuable abilities in Limited.
When asked if he had any advice for Aether Revolt Limited, he offered two recommendations. First, "kill creatures as much as possible instead of adding more creatures to the field." According to him, preventing opponents from exploiting their pump spells or Prey Upons is particularly important in this format. Second, don't push synergies too much. "Synergies are important, sure, but if it's not working then you should realize that in the draft and not insist on building around them. I take what I get." These are wise words, and it worked out for him over the weekend.
Congratulations again to Yusuf Kemal Vefa, your Grand Prix Prague 2017 champion!