This weekend in Richmond, we've been hanging with a new hepcat in town—an Amonkhet! (Thank you, thank you.) This first Grand Prix outing for the hot-off-the-presses Egypt-inspired set has been a grand success the full way through.
Not only are many people still hailing this as one of the best draft formats in recent memory (some have been saying "all time"), but on top of that, some even like Sealed more than Draft! Combine two of the best Limited formats ever, and then multiply that by three with the Grands Prix in Bologna and Beijing and you've got one heck of a Magic weekend.
There were a lot of lessons we learned over these two days—here are just a few of the things we learned at Grand Prix Richmond:
Five-Color in Sealed is Good to Go ...
On the first day, Pro Tour Aether Revolt Top 8 finisher (18) Eduardo Sajgalik went 9-0 playing the full five colors in Sealed. "Well, it was really just Mono-Green splashing for everything else," he said humbly. Either way, he had tons of fun that led to his great Day 1.
Remarkably, this style of build is actually commonplace in the format—with Pro Tour Hall of Famer Ben Stark saying that his average number of colors in Sealed has been around 3.5, maybe higher!
The trick is the Gift of Paradise. This double-color fixer allows you the ability to throw in anything you could want. Just pair that with an Evolving Wilds or two, and you've got yourself a brew. You can go simple, and cast the back half of "Aftermath" cards like Spring // Mind, or go bigger with straight double-off color cards like Lay Claim.
Builds like that one are why people have been singing the praises of Amonkhet Sealed. It's so open, thanks to cycling, you can shoot for the moon and you might actually land right where you aimed.
... Just Don't do it in Draft
However, don't go tooooo crazy and think that philosophy extends to three-pack limited. Though people have been trying to suss out just how fast to go in Amonkhet Draft, if this weekend is any indication, the answer is pretty darn fast.
Over in Beijing, the winner Kelvin Chew played five, count 'em, five, Cartouche of Zeal! It's five-zeal fast.
In the Top 8 draft, eventual semifinalist Martin Dang second-picked Bloodlust Inciter. It sounded like commentator Jacob Van Lunen ("JVL") was about to blow a gasket when he saw that happen.
Dang won his quarterfinals match with his Red-Green deck that excelled in acceleration, starting his draft off with a card that rarely makes the cut in a non-aggressive draft format.
Two-color aggression works, and has JC Tao, for one, found out, super-multi-color Green doesn't so much. In direct contrast to the style of decks rewarded in Sealed, when Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch winner Tao did a Gift of Paradise–style ramp deck, it didn't go too well. "It can beat all the midrange decks, but Red-White is an auto-loss," Tao said dejected.
This weekend we learned how divergent the Amonkhet Draft and Sealed formats can be.
Brian Braun-Duin Went for the Gold, and Landed Somewhere around Bronze
"The dream is dead once again," Paul Cheon said on Twitch when World Champion, 24th-ranked Brian Braun-Duin, lost in the quarterfinals to Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir winner Martin Dang. The dream to which Cheon referred was a mythic pinnacle in Grand Prix Magic that has never been reached—18-0, the perfect score. You'd think after all the Grand Prix over all the years that it would have happened by now. In fact, because it's so surprising it hasn't happened yet, it's the subject of a well-known curse.
It's the 15-0 Curse. Every time (with one exception), every player who's won all fifteen rounds in the Swiss portion of the tournament loses in the Quarterfinals. And this weekend we learned that even Braun-Duin is no exception.
In the third game of the fateful match, with victory seemingly within his grasp, Dang had a Spidery Grasp of his own—along with every other out he needed.
"I had so many outs, at so many points," Braun-Duin said of the game. "I had three Spidery Grasps in the deck; I just needed one of them." But the curse kept the cards well out of reach, and the game for Braun-Duin got out of hand.
It was an amazing game that was caught on camera, and worth returning to Twitch to check out.
The good part about the curse is that you have to first make the Top 8 to have it affect you, so Braun-Duin still had a great weekend, even if cards like Blazing Volley from Dang helped kill his dream.
Amonkhet's Early Release on Magic Online was Huge (and will change the Pro Tour)
Often at the first Grand Prix of a new format—the Limited event five days before the Pro Tour—it's like the Wild, Wild West out there (not like the Will Smith movie with the giant steam-punk spider or whatever, the other one). People haven't had access to the cards for any real length of time, so it feels like a test drive with the new cards—a prelude to a more experienced Pro Tour.
Now THESE are like that Wild Wild West
But this time things were completely different. Amonkhet was released on Magic Online about two weeks ago and this Grand Prix felt much more practiced, more experienced. Multiple players this weekend said they had played upwards of 70 drafts. 70 drafts before the pre-Pro Tour Grand Prix!
This has had huge ramifications in how people play and speak about the Limited format. The color archetypes are much more defined—Green-Blue is ramp, Green-White is exert, White-Black is Zombies, etc. And people were much less surprised by anything their opponents could muster. Multiple players in their Top 8 profiles revealed that there was no card that performed differently than they expected.
This will certainly raise the level of the draft rounds of the Pro Tour, and as people have said, will have a huge effect on Constructed as well.
Mike Baraniecki (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
This guy. What to do with this guy. Mike has this fantastically aggressive nonchalance to him, that's both endearing, and plays exactly into his Magic persona. He's so Philly, it exudes from his pores.
How nonchalant, you ask? Well, after 9-0ing yesterday (and shrugging his shoulders about it), he admitted that he hadn't drafted the set until today. How did he do as well as he did?
"I just draft what comes to me," he said.
Although his friends made him admit that they did 4-0 a Two-Headed Giant in a Friday side event, so he was probably prepared enough, right? Riiiight.
Well apparently a few Two-Headed Giant games and just drafting what came to him was good enough get Baraniecki to the Top 8, and what came to him in the Top 8 wasn't half-bad either. Liliana, Death Majesty; Neheb, the Worthy; Bontu the Glorified and to add insult to injury ... Insult // Injury!
I think Luke Greene on twitter summed it up well:
Baraniecki played fantastically throughout the elimination rounds in his maiden voyage in Amonkhet draft, and was rewarded with the trophy, the sweet winner's interview, an invite and plane ticket to the Pro Tour in Kyoto, and $10,000!
The first Grand Prix weekend for Amonkhet has been both a raucous celebration and a valuable learning experience for next week's Pro Tour. It's only a few short days until Pro Tour Amonkhet. So take these lessons to your local game store and Magic Online and then join us all in Nashville!
We'll see you there!