Grand Prix Rimini marks the start of the 2016-2017 premier play season, and it gives Magic enthusiasts an opportunity to test their mettle at Standard in the wake of Pro Tour Eldritch Moon. So let's set the scene with an overview of what to expect this weekend in terms of schedule, decks, and people.
Schedule and Prizes of the Main Event
On Saturday, there are nine rounds of Standard, with any player reaching at least 18 match points (that's 6 wins and 3 losses) advancing to the next day. On Sunday, there are six more rounds of Swiss competition, followed by a Top 8 cutoff and playoffs. In the end, one victorious player will hoist the trophy and the first-place prize of $10,000 and 8 pro points.
Any player who clinches a 13-2 or better record will earn an invitation and airfare to Pro Tour Kaladesh in Honolulu in addition to prize money and pro points, and prizes go down to $250 for the 64th-place finisher.
Besides the main event, there are plenty of other things going on at the event hall. There are artists signing cards and painting live, there are shops with cards and accessories, and there loads of different side events. Although we'll be mainly focusing on the main event where Pro Points and cash prizes are up for grabs, Grand Prix weekends celebrate all aspects of the game.
The Evolution of Standard
Bant Company was the deck to beat going into Pro Tour Eldritch Moon last weekend, but the competitors in Sydney showed that there are plenty of ways to beat it. If you play Magic Online, then you can test drive some of the best and most interesting new decks in the Pro Tour Gauntlet events. Plenty of exciting decks were unveiled at the Pro Tour, amongst which several delirium, emerge, and/or ramp decks. Most of them are working towards the biggest Eldrazi on the block: Emrakul, the Promised End.
This weekend, the metagame is set to warp around Emrakul, so we can expect an uptick in cards that attack it, and we'll be tracking down the best Emrakul stories around the hall. Here are a few ways to deal with Emrakul that we may see this weekend:
- Force the opponent to sacrifice their Emrakul with cards like Oath of Liliana and Blighted Fen, which cannot backfire during a Mindslaver turn
- Counter Emrakul and its trigger with Summary Dismissal
- Exile Emrakul with Transgress the Mind, Infinite Obliteration, or Pick the Brain. Distended Mindbender works too, but it doesn't exile, which means that Grapple with the Past can recur the 13/13.
- Shrink their graveyard with Day's Undoing or Learn from the Past. (I can confirm that two there are at least two competitors at 3-0 playing either of these cards!)
- Deny them the mana to cast Emrakul via Elder Deep-Fiend chains.
- Play your own Emrakul, shrink their Emrakul with Jace or Liliana, and then have them attack into your bigger Emrakul.
- Play an aggro deck with Kozilek's Return-resilient threats, such as Thermo-Alchemist Fevered Visions.
That last option represents the blue-red deck that Pedro Carvalho took to a 9-1 record in the Standard rounds at the Pro Tour. According to early rumors, it is poised to be a popular choice for many Grand Prix competitors.
"It's easy to beat if you want, but it's broken in the Pro Tour metagame," No. 23 Ivan Floch told me. We'll see this weekend if the deck is for real, and we'll probably also be able to settle the question of how to call this unique brew.
Day 1 started with approximately 900 players, amongst which 14 Gold or Platinum pros and 5 players from the global Top 25. Three of them (Blohon, Mengucci, and Yasooka) are warming up to compete at the 24-player World Championship in Seattle on September 1-4. Here is the full list of the 14 players with three byes:
- (3) Lukas Blohon
- Marco Cammilluzzi
- Martin Dang
- Javier Dominguez
- (23) Ivan Floch
- Martin Jůza
- Grzegorz Kowalski
- (12) Andrea Mengucci
- Simon Nielsen
- (23) Oliver Polak-Rottmann
- Mitta Rizzi
- Petr Sochůrek
- Aleksa Telarov
- (11) Shota Yasooka
All of them live in Europe, except for one surprise guest from Japan: Hall of Famer Shota Yasooka.
Yasooka took full advantage of the Grand Prix location by combining it with a sightseeing trip to nearby Venice and Firenze. Together with his friends Yuki Uchida and Naoaki Umesaki, pictured behind him, they are making the best of their visit to Italy. That said, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Yasooka add Grand Prix Top 8 number 20 to his resume.
Other notable players who made the trip to Rimini include:
- Francesco Bifero and William Pizzi, the two remaining members (besides Cammilluzzi and Mengucci) of the Italian team that was victorious at the 2015 World Magic Cup.
- Silver level pros Eliott Boussaud, Andreas Ganz, Steve Hatto, Julien Henry, Wenzel Krautmann, Matteo Moure, Marc Tobiasch, and Ruben Perez.
- Pro Tour San Diego 2010 champion and commentator Simon Goertzen.
- Jan Ksandr, who made his premier event debut in Sydney with a 2nd place finish at the Grand Prix and a 31st place at the Pro Tour.
We'll keep an eye on all of them throughout the weekend.
What's the 3-Bye Metagame Like?
We can't tell you about the whole of the Day 1 metagame, but the archetype breakdown of the 14 players with three byes is as follows:
Bant Company – 6
U/R Alchemist - 3
R/G Ramp – 2
Jund Delirium/Midrange – 2
Four-color Emerge – 1
So U/R Alchemist (the name we'll go with for now in favor of U/R Thermo-Thing since some of the players actually cut Thing in the Ice) is indeed a popular choice as a foil to the Emrakul decks. But if Emrakul decks are Level 1 and U/R Alchemist decks are Level 2, then it looks like several players have taken their metagaming efforts to Level 3. Bant Company may not have a good matchup against most of the Emrakul decks, but according to some of its pilots, it does sport a good matchup against U/R Alchemist. Partly for that reason, it is the most popular choice amongst the 3-bye players.
That said, talking with some of these players, U/R Alchemist was at the forefront of their minds, as they mentioned the craziest tech to beat Fevered Visions to me. How about Call the Bloodline, Avaricious Dragon, or Peace of Mind? Going deep. Love it.
It'll be a great weekend here in Rimini.