Grand Prix Santa Clara Day 1 Highlights

Posted in Event Coverage on January 7, 2018

By Corbin Hosler

Welcome to 2018!

The last year has been a busy one for Magic, but with a fresh year on the way there's sure to be more of the best Magic can offer – and quite a lot of it is on display this weekend at Grand Prix Santa Clara. Nearly 1,500 players turned out for the first Grand Prix swing at the Team Trios format, where each of a team's three competitors battle in a different format, from Standard to Modern to Legacy.

Here are the highlights from the first day of competition.

Team Trios Makes a Grand Prix Debut

The Team Trio format has reinvigorated team competitions that traditionally feature Unified Constructed formats or, commonly, Team Limited. But for the first time the combination of Standard, Modern and Legacy makes up the three seats of gameplay.

It makes for a dynamic and engaging format, with something different happening at every table – and often much different. It was enough that almost 500 teams braved the weather – at least those who were able to make it to sunny California amidst a deep freeze that canceled flights all across the United States – to take part in the first Team Trios Grand Prix event.

The structure allowed format specialists from across the spectrum to team up. No longer are weaker Limited players forced to team up with others – now they can focus on their preferred Magic medium while contributing equally to team success.

With so much variety of Magic on the table, there's no telling how things will turn out, but there's one thing we know for sure – it's a lot of fun to watch.

The Long Road to Santa Clara

The travel stories that come out of Magic events can be legendary, from players making long, late-night drives to make up for a canceled flight to hours-long taxi rides to international itineraries that would make even the most hardened world traveler balk, there's no question Magic players will go a long way to make sure they're sitting at the table when the clock starts on Round 1.

But even considering all that, some stories this weekend stood out.

At the top of that list must be the team of John Rolf, Jacob Nagro and Allen Wu – the team that was never meant to be but at the same time destined to be.

Wintery and bitterly cold weather grounded flights across the United States this week, as subzero temperatures made escaping to the sunny west coast an impossibility for hundreds of Magic players. That set off a mad scramble for open spots on teams and produced some wild headlines – such as Jack Kiefer and Eli Kassis picking up none other than U.S. National Champion Oliver Tamajko at the last minute, or Paul Rietzl and Andrew Cuneo picking up Pro Tour winner Steve Rubin – at the expense of Johnny Magic himself, Jon Finkel. Meanwhile former Player of the Year Mike Sigrist, fresh off a Top 8 at Grand Prix New Jersey last month, was left watching from home.

But nothing tops Rolf-Nagro-Wu. Friends but not teammates entering Santa Clara, all three thought they had dodged weather problems – Nagro and Wu were due to team with Hunter Cochran, who had braved the weather and made a standby flight from the east coast. Rolf's usual teammates – Brandon Ayers and Nathan Smith, were coming from the middle of the country and also successfully boarded their flight.

Then disaster struck en route. After somehow dodging the weather problems plaguing the country, it was a mechanical failure that ruined it all – stranding all three in Salt Lake City as the flight they were sharing to San Jose was canceled. That left Rolf in Santa Clara without teammates and without a deck, which he learned at 10:30 p.m. as he was headed to bed. And Nagro and Wu had a Standard deck but were down their Standard player.

Serendipity, it turns out. Rolf was the Standard player they needed, and he was set to play the same deck the duo happened to have lying in wait for Cochran. The three teamed up and just like it was always meant to be, they rattled off four straight wins to start the day and finished 6-2 to advance to Day 2.

Jacob Nagro, John Rolf and Allen Wu were an unlikely team, but they made the most of it in Santa Clara.

Surviving a Post-Top World

Legacy has been Magic's premier Eternal format for a long time, and it's truly the best way to watch some of the game's most powerful cards hit the battlefield (or at least the stack). From Griselbrand to Tendrils of Agony to Gaea's Cradle to Wasteland to Jace the Mind Sculptor, Legacy is a format where you can really do it all.

And as the Legacy world moves on from the loss of Sensei's Divining Top, things have begun to slowly sort themselves out among players in Santa Clara. The most surprising result? It turns out the reports of the demise of Miracles without one half of the Top-Counterbalance combo may have been greatly exaggerated – Terminus and Counterbalance are far from dead.

Here's what the typical Miracles list looks like this weekend.


Portent and Predict are the big additions to the deck, joining Ponder, Brainstorm and Jace to give Miracles pilots plenty of ways to juice the top card of their library for Counterbalance or setting up a miracled Terminus or Entreat the Angels in the builds that play it over Monastery Mentor.

The other big addition to the format is Search for Azcanta, which first hit in Standard but has now moved to the forefront of both Modern and Legacy. The Ixalan hit is no less potent in these formats as it is in Standard, and it's entirely possible for a team to go find Azcanta in every format this weekend.

On the other end of the spectrum, you can welcome your new overlord Deathrite Shaman – the card that some say has come to more defining in Legacy than Brainstorm.

"It's Deathrite Shaman's world, and we're just living in it," explained format specialist (and former Miracles player) Danny Batterman. "It's the best mana dork you could ask for – perfect mana gets even better, and in the late game it just kills people."

Of course, there is plenty more going on in Legacy. Lands is a still an extremely consistent and powerful deck, and combo decks are aplenty, from Sneak and Show to Storm to even a Glimpse of Nature-Kobolds sighting in the room today.

Old Friends and New

To tens of thousands of Magic players across the world, Grand Prix are more than just a tournament with prize money and Pro Points on the line – they're an opportunity to see friends who live far away, a chance to meet their favorite artists or just hang out with people they're used to seeing only in their computer screens.

From cosplay to card sleeves, Grand Prix offer attendees to meet their favorite content creators – and meeting cosplayer extraordinaire Ashlen Rose and Brian Lewis of YouTube channel Tolarian Community College (known to many simply as "The Professor") was a highlight for fans in Santa Clara today.

"It's so great to get out to an event and be able to interact with the community in person and not just online," Lewis explained.

Connecting with new friends at a Grand Prix is a joy, but Magic events are always something different to everyone – and sometimes that means connecting with those a little closer to home.

That was the story for Eric, Kristina, and Peyton Wendorf, Sacramento natives who made the most of a Grand Prix within driving distance by discovering together that Magic is more than just a game they can play at home. Eric is an avid Magic player while his wife Kristina has played just a handful of games in her life, but it is their 8-year-old daughter Peyton who is Eric's most frequent opponent.

"Usually Eric goes to events and I just tell him to have fun, but when Peyton wanted to play we wanted to do it as a family," Kristina explained. "I've played maybe five games in my life before today, but we're having a lot of fun out here."

The family didn't win many rounds, but they played them all. After all, this tournament is something to different to everyone, and for them it was a lifelong memory in the making.

"Everyone we've played against has been great about just having fun and helping Peyton learn as she goes," Eric said. "It's really been a great experience all around."

One Team Leads Them All

Grand Prix Santa Clara almost didn't happen for Ryan Kubin, Tuan Phan and Eric Campusano. Thee friends and San Francisco natives, they were excited for the opportunity to play in a close Grand Prix with each other.

Of course, that was until Campusano spent 30 minutes outside Kubin's house this morning, ringing his doorbell and calling his phone repeatedly. When that wasn't enough to awaken his sleeping friend, he pulled out all the stops.

"Yeah, I might have stood outside his window and yelled his name until he woke up," Campusano admitted with a grin. "Hey, it was my money on the line, too."

Whatever they needed to get here, it worked – they finished the day as the only undefeated team in the room, highlighted by Campusano's incredible, unlikely victory when he somehow beat a Sneak and Show opponent who drew 21 cards with Griselbrand on turn three but couldn't find anything to win the game after that – they simply discarded a bunch of cards at the end of the turn and gave Campusano the window he needed to win the game.

That's Magic. And the trio played great Magic all day, and enter Day 2 alone atop the standings.

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