Earlier this morning, 1322 main event competitors arrived at the Stockholm International Fairs with their best Modern decks. After eight rounds of Swiss, 249 players made the cut for Day 2, including Player of the Year hopeful Luis Salvatto at 8-0.
THE RACE FOR PLAYER OF THE YEAR WAS ON
Grand Prix Stockholm marks the conclusion of the 2017-2018 professional season. This means that World Magic Cup captaincies, Pro Club levels, and Player of the Year will be decided at the end of this weekend.
In particular, the race for Player of the Year, which is the title awarded to the player who earns the most pro points over an entire season, was still quite close. At the start of the weekend, Seth Manfield (81 pro points) was in the lead for the title, but Reid Duke and Luis Salvatto (both at 78 pro points) were trailing him by only a few points. And while Manfield was skipping this weekend to focus on preparing for the upcoming World Championship, Duke and Salvatto were attending to try for the title.
I am impressed that @LuisSalvatto and @ReidDuke made it out to #GPStockholm a couple days before submitting decklists for #MTGCHAMP but if ever I was going to root against friends it would be now...fight for POY!(gonna be a sweat)— Seth Manfield (@SethManfield) 15 september 2018
The way things stand (since only the best six GP finishes count towards the yearly point total) Duke needed to make it to the semifinals to tie Manfield and to the finals to pass Manfield, whereas Salvatto needed a quarterfinals appearance to tie Manfield and a semifinals appearance to pass Manfield. It wouldn't be easy, but both didn't want to pass up an opportunity to try and clinch Player of the Year.
(3) Luis Salvatto
"I think one of the biggest accomplishments for a Magic player is to be Player of the Year," Salvatto told me earlier today. "The three biggest things, besides Hall of Fame, are winning a Pro Tour, winning Worlds, and to be Player of the Year. It's huge. Being Player of the Year is something that you will have for life."
With that in mind, it was an easy decision to make the trip to Stockholm. "It would be a great story to make Top 8 in the last GP of the season to become Player of the Year," he said.
Given that this weekend's format was Modern, the Modern Pro Tour champion was feeling confident: "I like Modern, I like my deck a lot, and I know how to play it." But he had also realized that the act of competing is more important than winning: "I felt a lot of stress the previous weeks. But since last week, I started to think how I need to enjoy all these tournaments besides the result. Playing for this title is huge. Win or not, it's a real experience."
The day couldn't have gone better for Salvatto: at the end of the day, he was co-leading the standings with an 8-0 record.
(2) Reid Duke
Duke, as he told me earlier today, had a similar view on the stakes this weekend: "Winning Player of the Year would mean quite a lot to me. I have never won a Pro Tour or World Championship, so having that title would be a great exclamation point on my career."
"I felt a lot of pressure for basically the whole last quarter of the season because Player of the Year was so close. Now it's the last GP and I have to do very well, but I try to focus on having fun playing. It helps that I have support from my fans and friends. Everyone is really encouraging, so I'm just appreciating the whole situation. I feel lucky to even be in the race."
But despite his positive attitude, Duke's Player of the Year dreams were over after the dust settled on Day 1. His Abzan deck, which looked similar to the one that carried him to the Top 8 of the Modern Pro Tour earlier this year, failed to grant him the 6-2 record necessary to advance to Day 2.
The Player of the Year race would be concluded tomorrow, one way or another, between Luis Salvatto and Seth Manfield.
W/U CONTROL STILL POPULAR AMONG PROS
To get a feel for the deck choices this weekend, I checked in with the players who had three byes. The full metagame breakdown of all 31 players who got three byes as either a Gold or Platinum member of the Pro Players Club can be found below.
|Archetype||Number of 3-bye players||Percentage|
White-Blue Control was the deck that nearly one-third of these pros put their confidence in. According to 8-0 player Ivan Floch, best-known for winning Pro Tour Magic 2015 with a Sphinx's Revelation deck, one of the reasons why White-Blue Control in Modern is so popular is that it had gained a lot in the past year.
"Search for Azcanta and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria are two very good win conditions. Also, Jace, the Mind Sculptor got unbanned. Because you have these cards, decks really cannot play a fair game against you or beat you in a long game," he said. "Another important addition from Ixalan was Field of Ruin. It gives you so much value from your lands, and it doesn't cost you much to play it because you're a two-color deck."
As he explained further, it took time for W/U Control to evolve into its current polished version, but the current lists have gotten well-tuned. Moreover, he felt that White-Blue Control was well-positioned in the metagame: "The deck is good against fair creature strategies because it has sweepers and powerful anti-creature cards. Also, KCI is a really good deck, and White-Blue has all the tools to deal with it, so it's keeping KCI in check. Tron or Storm, if they have the right tools, can be tough, and you cannot win game one against Dredge, but there is no truly unwinnable matchup."
Finally, Floch praised the sideboard cards that W/U Control has access to: "Stony Silence, Rest in Peace, Dispel—those are some of the most efficient and powerful sideboard cards in the format." When you put it all together, it's easy to understand why W/U Control was the weapon of choice for many pro players and why it is finding so much success in Modern right now.
SWEET MOMENTS ON STREAM
A lot of awesome games were shown on the twitch.tv/magic channel today. But three moments stood out.
First of all, in the literal first game of the day, Christian Wakang nicely demonstrated the depth of the Modern card pool by ramping into a turn-two Blood Moon via Infernal Plunge—yes, the red ritual—before discovering that there is such a thing as too many Mountains:
LÉVY BRINGS HIS SON ALONG
Hall of Famer Raphaël Lévy, one of this weekend's commentators, proudly holds the record for the longest Pro Tour attendance streak. After competing in the 1998 World Championship, he did not miss a Pro Tour until Pro Tour Ixalan due to the birth of his son Lavan. "It would have been the 92nd PT in a row," Lévy explained. "That streak had always meant a lot to me, and I had managed to keep it alive for almost 20 years."
But he had to break it for the best reason in the world: "Lavan was supposed to be born three weeks after the Pro Tour and I was just going to be away for three days, so I had booked my ticket. But he was born early, a few hours before my flight, so at that point there was no question."
Although Lévy could not attend Pro Tour Ixalan, his friend Jérémy Dezani still picked up his player badge at his request, and this weekend he finally delivered it. "I wanted to have it to mark the birth of the little one. When he grows up, I plan to give it to him as a special gift," Lévy said.
To make things even better, Lavan had joined his parents on their trip to Stockholm. While Lévy knew that Lavan was worth breaking all the streaks in the world for, his son (who simply put the badge in his mouth) had not yet grasped its symbolic importance. But someday, he surely will.
NINE 8-0 PLAYERS IN THE LEAD
Nine players reached the end of Day 1 with undefeated 8-0 records. Congratulations to Karl Oscar Persson, Julian Felix Flury, Thomas Enevoldsen, Joel Larsson, (3) Luis Salvatto, Oliver Moon, Gonçalo Pinto, and Ivan Floch (pictured above, left to right) and Erlend Hegni (not pictured)!
Day One's undefeated decks featured five W/U Control decks and four singleton deck choices: Jeskai Control, Jeskai Tempo, Titan Breach, and Bant Spirits. It was a good day for Celestial Colonnade indeed. Their full decklists will be posted in a separate Day 2 coverage article at the start of Round 15.
Check back tomorrow as we continue to bring the live action from Stockholm. The twitch.tv/magic stream starts at 9 a.m. local time (i.e., 3 a.m. ET or midnight PT). As always, we’ll open with Good Morning Magic to showcase the most interesting Modern decks in Day Two.