1,999 players registered for the warmest Grand Prix of the summer in the Czech Republic this weekend. Modern was on the menu and the format continues to prove it's popularity and ability to surprise viewers with new innovative decks and games with exciting conclusions. Blue-White Control was the weapon of choice for most pros, but in the end a different deck stood at the top of the winners stand. Here are the highlights that stood out in the Modern weekend of Grand Prix Prague 2018.
Hardened Scales Takes the Title
Hardened Scales popped up as a deck that finally broke into the metagame on the first day of competition. Quite the numbers also made Day Two and in the end Finnish Lauri Pispa took his deck all the way to victory. Arcbound Worker and Arcbound Ravager have stuck together like peas in a pod ever since Mirrodin and now they are certainly back in the spotlight.
Onneksi olkoon Lauri Pispa - winner of Grand Prix Prague 2018
Lauri Pispa's victory makes him the second only Finnish Grand Prix winner, and funny enough, the first Matti Kuisma was among the spectators and the first to congratulate his countryman after winning. We chime into the choir and congratulate the happy winner in his native tongue: Onneksi olkoon!
Ondřej Stráský, Retirement and a 61 Card Deck
For once the biggest story of the tournament might not be the actual winner, but the story of Ondřej Stráský's tournament. The Czech pro had been trying to convince the Twitterverse that he is in fact quitting pro Magic and made a clear statement about it a few weeks before the Grand Prix.
It's been a lot of fun these past couple years, but I think it's time to retire from professional Magic. I'll play one more GP (Prague) and unless I win it's going to my last tournament in a long time.— Ondřej Stráský (@OndrejStrasky) August 5, 2018
The MTG Wiki even lists him as a “Czech former professional Magic player” so it seems like he might actually be quitting the game. He did however show up to play the tournament, even if things could have started better.
Turns out I submitted 61 cards so I'll start this tournament with a gameloss. Genius at work here #GPPrague— Ondřej Stráský (@OndrejStrasky) August 25, 2018
Suddenly Strasky found himself in the awkward position of either play with a 61-card deck for the entire tournament or suffer a game loss in the first round. He chose the latter.
Took the gameloss, took the match. Deck is broke #GPPrague— Ondřej Stráský (@OndrejStrasky) August 25, 2018
And the winning didn't stop there. He kept winning round after round as at the end of Day One he was one of the 13 undefeated players.
The winning continued on Day Two, and nothing seemed to be able to stop the Czech youngster. It even looked like he might have to postpone his promised retirement, since he suddenly found himself in the Top 8 and within striking distance from the trophy and the title.
Top 8 #GPPrague— Ondřej Stráský (@OndrejStrasky) August 26, 2018
In the quarterfinals he quickly dispatched his opponent Kenneth Pletinckx and it looked like the called shot of winning might actually for once be fulfilled. He looked to be winning the third game against Lauri Pispa in the semi-final as well as he had lethal damage with several spirits and his Finnish opponent only had a Walking Ballista with one counter, an Animation Module and some artifacts. An Arcbound Ravager from the top of Pispa's library however, had both the Finn and Frank Karsten counting frantically to see if it could deliver lethal. In the end though, even if Stráský was at at "safe” 19 life, the Walking Ballista could deliver lethal damage and Ondřej Stráský had to accept his defeat. And perhaps, also his retirement.
Stráský might not have won the tournament, but he put on the most entertaining Twitter feed of the weekend and will be thoroughly missed if he does decide to take a break or even retire from pro Magic. His last tweet of the night displayed both grace in defeat and a bit of mystery of what will follow.
Thanks for all the support. All the messages mean a lot to me. My phone is almost dead, so I'll get back to everyone later #GPPrague— Ondřej Stráský (@OndrejStrasky) August 26, 2018
Ok, I might have mentioned this deck both on Twitter and in my article with highlights from Day One. But Camillo Lukesch's Blue-Green artifact deck has been the talk of the tournament both in the Twitch chat and among us in the coverage team. It all started when I saw an odd looking deck on the top tables in round four.
It turns out I wasn't the only one who had no idea what the deck was all about. So in between rounds on Day Two I sat down with the 24-year-old Austrian to see what the fuss was about.
Camillo Lukesch was living the dream - bringing a home brew to your first Grand Prix and crushing the competition
It turns out that not only was this the biggest finish we've seen by an entirely new deck since god knows when. It was also Lukesch's first Grand Prix. And even though he considered other decks leading up to it. In the end he stuck to a home brew that he originally created years ago.
“I built the deck a long time ago when the combo just consisted of Astral Cornucopia, Filigree Sages and ways to put counters on Cornuponia lika Corescrapper and Surge Node. It wasn't until Inventor's Fair and Whir of Invention was printed that the deck actually came together though”, said the happy Austrian after winning his 13th round and finding himself at a 11-2 record suddenly playing for a Top 8. The match he had just finished displayed exactly what crazy sort of things his deck can do. In game three against a Burn opponent he went off in quite a different way on turns one and two. Turn one started with Buried Ruin, Mox Opal, Surge Node and a Welding Jar turning on the Mox Opal. He followed with a Chalice of the Void on zero, and tapped his Surge Node to add a counter to it, stopping his opponent's potential turn one plays. On turn two Lukesch followed with a second Chalice, this time set on one, and a second copy of Mox Opal granted him the mana he needed to add another counter to it with Surge Node, totally locking down his Burn opponent, who could only smile in disbelief and extend his hand in defeat.
Not a bad board against burn with only one and two mana spells in it
“Well, that's one way to win the game. But burn is actually a tough matchup and I'm super happy to win this one," Lukesch said after the game. When asked to elaborate a little bit about how someone who usually only plays limited on Magic Online takes a deck that noone has seen before to a potential Top 8 at his First Grand Prix, he had a million stories to tell.
“I've always played Modern with my friends so I do know the format even though I haven't played it competitively. Some of the inspiration to the deck also comes from a Blue-Red Prison deck that I saw someone do well with at the Star City Games circuit. And the last addition was to add green, just for Ancient Stirrings. A really good card, but sometimes I have to board it out since it doesn't go well with Chalice of the Void." He also had several anecdotes about weird scenarios with the deck. Like how he beat a Red-White Prison opponent who cast a Chalice of the Void on zero of his own. Only to see Lukesch cast Coretapper and immediately sacrificing it, setting the Chalice to two and stopping a copy of Stony Silence in his opponents hand. But whether the deck wins due to the element of surprise or because it's actually strong by it's own merits remains to be seen.
“I don't even know myself, since I only have anecdotal evidence. But if more people start to play it maybe we will see if it is good in the format." A very academic master, which is no surprise from someone who has spent the last six years studying game programming. Also despite his young age, Lukesch said he had played the game since the age of seven, adding up 17 years of experience to his resume. Which other than a mere Top 8 in a PTQ online was quite blank. The one question he couldn't answer though was what name he had come up with for his deck. “You tell me! There are so many combo cards in it so I can't come up with one. Is it a prison deck? Is it a combo deck? I just don't know what the deck should be named," he said with a big smile. Oh, you skipped past the text and just wanted the decklist. Of course:
More Modern decks than ever(?)
It feels like every time I cover Modern tournament the variety of decks that people play and do well with surprises me. A whole 1,999 players here in Prague proved that the format is as popular as ever, and the metagame proves that there is an endless variety of decks among them. Among the 377 players who made two I count over 50 different archetypes among them. Sure, Blue-White Control (44 copies), Humans (30) and Burn (26) made up for about a fourth of the metagame combined, but decks like Infect (15 players), Hardened Scales (16) and Grixis Shadow (13) proves that any number of decks can make Top 8 or even win a Modern Tournament. It was also fun to see some really fringe decks like Blue-Red Wizards, White-Black Smallpox and Hedron Crab Mill make Day Two.
A deck that stood out by doing well for me was Spirits. Both the Bant version and straight Blue-White did quite well this weekend. Two of the four players making Day Two with Blue-White started the day at perfect 8-0 records. And two players took the Bant version to the Top 8, proving that the archetype is here to stay. It might have been around for a while, but it feels like the constant tuning of the deck and the printing of Supreme Phantom might have been what has finally allowed it to be considered a top deck. Add the fact that Blue-White control was the most played deck in Prague and Geist of Saint Traft is suddenly looking better than ever.
(most represented among others were Death and Taxes (5 players), Bogles(4) and Elves(4))
Happy pros reaching new levels
As the professional season draws to an end several pros had a lot on the line in terms of Pro points. Some of them were delighted to achieve their goals and some were disappointed to miss. I'll let these pictures speak for themselves.
Immanuel Gerschenson locked gold, wheras Christian Hauk was still lacking one point for Platinum
Aleksa Telarov was happy to become Gold as was his supportive girlfriend Hristina Soskan
Piotr “Kanister” Głogowski secured Platinum and was happy enough to put on a funny hat for his photo.
And the Player of the Year Race Continues
Luis Salvatto came to Prague with one goal - to finish 12-3 or better to pass Seth Manfield in the race for player of the year. He made Day Two with 6-2 after losing two rounds quite early. In Day Two however it looked like he might just get there, finding himself at 10-3 with two rounds left. His dreams were crushed in the 14th round however, as he took his fourth loss in the hands of German Arne Huschenbeth. A fifth loss in round 15 meant a 10-5 record, not even picking up a single point in the race for Player of the year.
An exhausted Luis Salvatto kept his spirits up even after losing the last round to finish 10-5s
“I've had some tough games this weekend and it ended with keeping one land hand in game one and two lands and a Search for Azcanta in game two and I didn't see another land in either games”, he explained after falling to Elias Klocker's human deck.
So there you have it - even the best players of the game sometimes find themselves losing to those pesky one or two land opening hands. This means only three Grand Prix remain for Luis Salvatto to try and overthrow Seth Manfield and Reid Duke who are ahead of him in the race for Player of the Year. Grand Prix Richmond next weekend and then the team Grand Prix in Detroit and finally Grand Prix Stockholm September 14-26. The Argentinian Salvatto still had high hopes after suffering his fourth loss in Prague. “I have a really strong team for Detroit and I hope they can carry me if I keep getting this unlucky," said Salvatto.
And finally ... a shout-out!
You might have seen Bogles to well at a Grand Prix or two. But a little- known fact is that one of the first players to build the deck is Swedish store owner and all around good guy William Ljungberg. You have probably never heard of him unless you're Swedish, but he was here in Prague piloting the deck and put up a respectable 12-3 record. So I figured he's worth a shout-out. Good job William!
With zero byes the grandfather of Bogles put up a respectable 12-3 record