Team events are always a fan favorite. They don’t come around often, and they always generate excitement. That was even more the case in San Antonio, where the Team Unified Modern format made its Grand Prix debut. The format, in which teams of three can’t share anything other than basic lands between decks, brought out plenty of diversity and, more importantly, a cascade of excitement.
Here are the five moments that most stood out from Day One of the event.
The (second) Bonfire Heard ‘Round the World
While nothing will top the Bonfire that knocked Hall of Famer Brian Kibler and the United States out of the World Magic Cup, Sam Black’s came close in San Antonio.
Locked in a tense Round 6 battle against Shuhei Nakamura, Black’s Amulet Titan deck had a ton of lands thanks to Primeval Titan but couldn’t break through Nakamura’s defense of Eldrazi Displacer and Drowner of Hope. Fortunately for Black, the top of his deck yielded a miracle that had Brian David-Marshall nearly falling out of his chair as he called the incredible moment.
An exciting tournament, an exciting field, and an exciting moment to light the internet on fire, as it were. What more can you ask for?
The Wide World of Modern Delivers
It may sound difficult to play three decks that don’t share any cards in Modern, but if any format allows the opportunity to selected from a varied range of decks, it’s Modern. From the fast aggro to the fast combo to the grindy midrange to the prison control, the format has a lot to offer.
And players showed up with decks on every end of the spectrum. From the new “best” deck in Modern – Death’s Shadow variants make full use of the new premiere card on the block in Aether Revolt’s Fatal Push – to the completely unexpected in Krark-Clan Ironworks combo, there was plenty to go around in San Antonio.
Modern is a fan favorite for a reason, and we saw a wide array of decks make their way through the feature match area. The usual suspects abounded, but it wasn’t all Affinity, Jund and Death’s Shadow. We saw combo decks Ad Nauseam and Storm carve out a niche, and reliable decks like Merfolk and Abzan Company (with Renegade Rallier) weren’t an uncommon sight around the top tables.
And we saw the unexpected as well. Topping that list was Krark-Clan Ironworks Combo, also known as the return of Eggs. Utilizing Scrap Trawler and even Hangarback Walker as an easy way to produce mana, the deck appears to back in force, and players like Pascal Maynard were finding success with it throughout the tournament.
Nothing showcased the raw power and resiliency of the deck quite like Maynard’s midday match against a Tron opponent. Faced with the clock ticking down and his opponent sitting on Relic of Progenitus, Maynard faced quite the dilemma in trying to win. It took nearly 15 minutes and the combined efforts of Maynard and teammates Shaheen Soorani and Brian Braun-Duin, but the exciting final turn saw the team fight through the anti-graveyard spell and pull off the victory.
The Kids are All Right
In one of the more exciting storylines of the day, the team of Caleb Scherer, Nathan Steuer and Quinn Kiefer made an unprecedented run. With 14-year-old Steuer and 11-year old Kiefer on the team, they were undoubtedly the youngest in the room.
But that didn’t stop them from making plenty of waves. After knocking off the superteam of Martin Juza, Shuhei Nakamura and Joel Larsson (who won Grand Prix Orlando last weekend) in Round 4, they continued their impressive run with a Round 5 feature match, winning in three tight matches to push their record to 5-0.
They may be young, but they sure aren’t scared of the moment, and the trio will be back to compete on Day Two.
Bringing the Team Together
Team events are more than just an opportunity for friends to compete together in a meaningful way – they’re a chance for family to come together. San Antonio was the perfect illustration of that, and several tales of families at the event stood out.
At the top of that list is the Brakefield brothers: Brett, Konstantin and Erik.
Traveling for Grand Prix isn’t something the three brothers do often, if at all. But when they found out that San Antonio was a Team Modern, the happily hopped a plane from Minneapolis, Minnesota to Texas.
“Any chance to play together; we knew this was special," was the explanation.
Good enough for me. And they weren’t the only ones to attend the event with family. All three Kiefer brothers were playing, and Texas Magic fixture Jeff Zandi competed in the event with his son Lawson.
While Quinn Kiefer may have been the youngest competitor in the tournament, there was someone even younger with a DCI number. Say hello to Avery Nelson, whose parents Brandon and Melissa signed him for a DCI number just weeks after his birth. Talk about getting a head start.
Pikula Does It Again
As memorable as those moments were, nothing compared to the story that Chris Pikula is creating for himself. The borderline Hall of Fame candidate has been working his way back into Magic over the past few years, and that hard work is finally coming to fruition. He stood undefeated and the end of Day One last weekend in Orlando, and translated that into an eventual Top 4 finish.
Along with teammates Jarvis Yu and Ben Seck, he proved in San Antonio that it was no fluke, The trio finished the first day of the tournament atop the standings once again, with a perfect 9-0 putting them in prime position for a Sunday run, when all eyes will be on them.
That is, as they jokingly put it, what the kids call momentum.