Just because a lot of the big-name pros were in Prague today doesn’t mean the action in San Jose wasn’t top level. Over 1,900 people showed up to do battle—with many of the California names leading the charge, and it was a fantastic day. Both Team Massdrop West and the fledgling Team NorCal finished the first day strong, as did some Cali-classic names like David Ochoa, Paul Cheon, and (The) Ben Seck (fine, he’s Australian too).
Aether Revolt has brought its challenges, and the Sealed format has changed drastically. Players have been tinkering to decipher the value of all the cards they once knew, now that the inventor revolution is upon us.
The first day had its fun, dramatic, and heartbreaking moments—here are just a few that stuck out.
THE DAY’S BIG TAKEAWAY—CHANGE
Everything you know is wrong. Remember how two drops aren’t usually good in Sealed, because they get outclassed too quickly? Remember how you should probably skew higher on lands, because there are impactful game-changers that break through board stalls? Yeah, forget all that—it’s the revolt.
The name of the game with Aether Revolt is “change." Everyone I talked to showed their adjustments to the wake and the ripples of the new set. And for two main reasons: the lower land count, and the increased aggression.
The Land Count
Undefeated finisher Roberto Berni talked about how he and his Texas-based testing group just kept cutting lands and cutting lands. He played fifteen in his Sealed deck today, but his teammate Pro Tour Top 8er Stephen Berrios thought he should have gone down to fourteen. Fourteen lands in Sealed!
Jake Mondello felt that despite this the format was slower. Finding that more of his games were going to later turns than Kaladesh Sealed. That doesn’t mean he wanted more land, per se, but that he need things to do with the extra time.
However, Ben Seck felt the opposite. “Improvise makes you put all your cards on the table, which makes you play aggressively," he said. This has made those aggressive, lower-costed cards all the better.
This same feeling was echoed by the Grand Prix San Jose Team Limited All-Stars—Paul Rietzl, Matt Sperling, and Dave Williams. “I mean, does anyone even need to play their sixth land?" Rietzl asked rhetorically, as the trio played games between rounds. The lack of “mana sinks”—cards that can benefit from extra land in the late game—meant that after turn five, they never wanted to draw another land.
At one point, frustrated, Rietzl said, “I mean, maybe I’m just missing it. Should I be playing fifteen lands?!" It sounds like he might be on to something. Perhaps he should talk to Berni.
The Question—Chandra’s Revolution or Aether Chaser?
This low-land-count aggression made for the big question of the day, that Massdrop West’s Mark Jacobson brought up: Which card do you take in draft, Chandra’s Revolution or Aether Chaser?
On the surface, it would seem the removal is the shoe-in—the odds-on safe bet. But the more people I talked to, the less clear the answer became. In fact, if anything, players seemed tight-lipped about the question, like they were giving away a Pro Tour secret.
Despite some side glances, Seck did highlight some of Aether Chaser’s benefits good points. “There’s many more decks where Chaser is just better." He called out the Improvise decks by name. “You’re almost always get to make the Servo with a 2/1 first strike, then just use it to power out [Bastion Inventor] or Freejam Regent."
Freejam Regent is a true payoff card for the Improvise strategy. Multiple players relished the idea of a turn-four dragon—and Aether Chaser is one of the most proactive cards to get you there. Just add in an Implement of Combustion, and you’re on your way.
So maybe a 2/1 for two is better than solid removal? Seems like hearsay. Almost as much as fourteen lands in Sealed.
The level of aggressiveness to strive for, the land counts, and just how good “Disenchant” effects are main deck were the talks of the town.
Well, that and the Undefeated decks and players ...
DAY 1 9-0s
Roberto Berni, Avanesh Pernankil, Adam Ragsdale, Basil Nabi, and Anand Khare were a cavalcade of combatants who crushed the competition, earning the right to a good night’s sleep going into the next day.
Anand Khare’s deck was the stuff of legend—the New Jersey native had a bevy of rares like Noxious Gearhulk, Tezzeret the Schemer, Aethersphere Harvester, Multiform Wonder, and Quicksmith Spy. His deck struck such fear in the competition, there were myths about it going around the tables. “I heard he has two Gearhulks!" was uttered at least once. In the last round, Khare beat Vidianto Wijaya and took his 9-0 crown.
Avanesh Pernankil evoked similar feelings. After beating Team ChannelFireball Fire’s Paul Cheon in the last round, his Black-Green deck garnered this tweet.
“Lost to one of the best decks I’ve ever seen," Cheon said. Pernankil’s +1/+1 counter theme ran deep, and it rewarded him with a 9-0.
Basil Nabi had an odd situation of a deck. He had so many good vehicles, he said, “I cut removal for just more things to crew them." Though most of his deck was Sorcery speed, things worked well for him—taking down Andrew Jimena in the last round of the day.
Grand Prix Phoenix 2014 winner Roberto Berni and Adam Ragsdale rounded out the bunch—clinching their Round 9 Feature Matches to go home Day 1 champs.
DAY 1 CARD SPOTLIGHTS
Spotlight #1: Renegade Map
There is not enough space to repeat how integral this innocuous-looking card is to the format. It’s so central, that people have begun calling their decks “a 17-land deck” but they’re playing fifteen land and two Renegade Maps.
Pro Tour Hall of Famer Frank Karsten called it the second-best common in Aether Revolt, and many people here are pretty sure he’s right. Whether you’re splashing, want to trigger your cards with revolt, or if you just don’t want to waste your draw step drawing lands—this card does it all.
Spotlight #2: Winding Constrictor
Even though the Blue-Red Maverick Thopterist seems sexier, Winding Constrictor is the multicolored card from Aether Revolt that people are most happy to see. It was a hallmark of Avanesh Pernankil’s 9-0 deck.
And it was also the center of the best bad-beat story of the day—it came from Quinn Kiefer. As someone who basically listens to bad beats for a living, it’s not easy to phase me. This one hit me hard. Kiefer’s opponent went turn-two Winding Constrictor into a second one on the third turn. Turn four brought Tezzeret the Schemer. And on turn five he cast Ridgescale Tusker.
Two 5/6s, a 5/5, and a Planewalker. Good game, Quinn. Good grief.
Which brings us to the last spotlight...
Spotlight #3: Ridgescale Tusker
This is the boogey-man uncommon in the set. It comes down and just takes over the game.
Mox Box Bowl’s Eugene Hwang said that the card hurt him a little bit. “I mean, I win with it, but I don’t feel good."
Sometimes it does feel a bit dirty. If you’ve done your mana curve reasonably well, the Tusker looks a lot like Verdurous Gearhulk. In Sealed specifically, a format of tight board stalls, the Tusker just breaks the game wide open.
OTHER DAY 1 NOTEABLES
Dana Fischer Branches Out
The first-grade wunderkind Dana Fischer has officially fallen in love with Grand Prix, her father Adam Fischer said. The father and daughter did eight practice drafts for the event, then Dana showed up and built her pool and slung the cardboard all day—complete with her now-trademark shades.
Dana is already pumped for the Las Vegas Grand Prix. Her father gave her the option to go to her last day of first grade, or to Las Vegas—and Dana chose wisely.
Sutcliffe in the Wild
Less of a story and more of a sighting, but the man known to be in front of the cameras looking at the tables, Marshall Sutcliffe, took a brief respite to try his hand at battling at the Grand Prix again.
Though he’s made Day 2 in the past, today wasn’t his day. He still had a great time, but all that preparation work for talking about the new set, left him less time to prepare to play than he had hoped.
Northern California Pride
Lastly, the story of Northern California pride was all around the top tables. Whether it was Team Massdrop West (and Eric Severson of Massdrop East, who is still from Northern California...), or CFB Fire’s Paul Cheon, or Team Mutiny’s David Ochoa—the upper part of the state was well represented.
And it wasn’t just established names, but some newer ones too. Team NorCal is a nascent team of players who’ve all qualified for Pro Tour Aether Revolt. They got their act together to make a team, and have been testing the heck out of the Pro Tour formats together. Despite their frustrations with figuring out this new Standard, they’ve been well represented at the top tables.
Huaxing Bai was 8-0 going into the last round, and Dan Besterman, and Harold Chow were hanging around the top with the others only a win or so behind.
Dan Besterman, Caleb Van Patten, Jason Smyth, Huaxing Bai, Mike Mei, and Harold Chow
Some of the players are newer, like Grand Prix Dallas Top 8er Mike Mei, and some are older players, like four-digit-DCI-having Harold Chow, but they are all dedicated to bring the entire community up. Though their listed team is only the currently qualified players, they emphasized that the true team is larger than this, and they're hoping to get them qualified for the Pro Tour soon too.
It’s been a big first day for Aether Revolt. The Sealed format has brought change in many ways, even paradigm shifts like completely backwards land counts. There were powerful decks, powerful cards, and powerful players.
Tomorrow, it’s time to draft. A whole new set of problems require a whole new set of innovations. It’s a good thing we’re in Silicon Valley—the home of technology and innovation. Surely the players here will do some more great things tomorrow.