With its 926 players, the tournament wasn't a big Grand Prix, but a number of big stories came out of the weekend nevertheless. Development in the world of Standard in particular showed no sign of slowing down, despite the format's remaining life span of less than four weeks.
A Little Fun First
When I asked Hall of Famer Frank Karsten whether he knew of an interesting story, he replied in somewat mischievous and cryptic fashion: "Go to Martin Jůza and tell him, 'Thirty percent.' Then you'll have a story."
Frank would give no further explanation, so of course I did as he had said. Hall of Famer Martin Jůza was vehemently opposed to Frank's number, however, whatever it was. "Fifteen percent," he said, "max!"
I had to admit to the development of a certain curiosity by this point. Thankfully, Jůza didn't leave me hanging any further. Apparently, I had stumbled into a hotly contested debate that was raging among a number of pros during Day 2.
Hall of Famer Martin Jůza had a strong opinion on an important topic
"We were discussing what percentage of players in the tournament know that a second Approach of the Second Sun still wins the game even if the first one was countered," Jůza explained. "I can't imagine that's more than fifteen percent."
"I would say more people," Pro Tour Eldritch Moon champion Lukas Blohon chimed in. "At least more people should know. I'd say ... thirty-five percent."
A player who had been talking to Blohon went to check her bag for a copy of Approach of the Second Sun. "So wait," she said, "what's the wording?"
Jůza gave me a look and said, "I rest my case," before turning round and explaining: "Basically, countering the first Approach does nothing except to prevent the life gain and it going back into the library. Because, when the spell resolves, it just checks whether another Approach was cast already; it doesn't care whether the other one resolved."
Seeing as this appeared to be the talk of the tournament for a while, involved a valuable lesson, and gave an indication as to Approach of the Second Sun's importance, this story surely was a legitimate inclusion here. Right? Moving on ...
A Metagame on the Move
During Round 11 I walked past the top thirty tables and made a note of what decks people were playing:
|Approach of the Second Sun||4|
|Jeskai God-Pharaoh's Gift||1|
There were a few surprises here. For one thing, Temur Energy was supposed to be the deck to beat this weekend. But it was doing just fine, doing quite a bit of beating itself actually.
Then there was the amazing surge in popularity of Vehicles, both of the traditional Mardu variety as well as two red and white versions. Here the former was still predominant, but among the Ramp decks, the fresh green-white take outnumbered the old-fashioned red-green by two to one!
Finally, the story of Mono-White Eldrazi had a chapter set this side of the Atlantic, but it was written in much larger letters at the parallel Grand Prix in Washington, D.C. You should be able to read all about it in that event's coverage, I'm sure.
A Change in Colors
A huge number of Ramp players had abandoned red in favor of white this weekend, most notably Federico del Basso who missed his fifth Grand Prix Top 8 by just a few points. He claimed this was the best deck in Standard.
"I gave this list to a bunch of friends. Many went X-3 and at least three of us were still live for Top 8 this morning," the Gold pro told me. "I just lost against white Eldrazi. I didn't know the deck and played badly because of it."
Federico del Basso
"Green-White Ramp has only one bad matchup: mono-red, and you have a lot of relevant sideboard cards for it. Other than that, you kill Temur, you kill Zombies, you kill control," del Basso raved. "You win the mirror because you can exile Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, and you can beat Approach with sideboarded Lost Legacy. It's a really good deck."
A Popular Archetype's Return
One of the big stories on Day 1 had been Ramunap Red's return to the pole position. The idea, shared by one Martin Jůza, was that everyone would be trying to beat Temur Energy and, as a consequence, would let their guard down with regards to the red aggro deck. And it looked as if it was going to play out exactly like that: All of the Platinum pros in attendance had picked Ramunap Red, half of the 9-0 players played it.
The above headline, however, refers to Vehicles. After the release of Hour of Devastation, Standard's former number one archetype had famously been pushed to the sidelines by the new aggro deck: suddenly Ramunap Red was everywhere and Vehicles hardly played a role in the metagame anymore.
Leon van der Linden piloted Vehicles all the way to the finals
This weekend things changed. When I looked at the top tables at the beginning of the day, Vehicles had almost caught up with Ramunap Red in numbers already, and had left Ramunap far behind by the time the quarterfinals came around. In fact, with two copies in the playoffs including one in the finals, one could argue that Vehicles was the real—albeit not literal—winner of the tournament.
Ramunap Red, meanwhile, failed to place a single player in the Top 11.
A Top 8 Split Between Veterans and First-Timers
When the quarterfinalists gathered in the feature match area for the playoffs, it was time to congratulate four of them on their first Grand Prix Top 8: Andrea Sonzogni, Leon van der Linden, Alain Bardini, and Marius Heuser.
On the other end of the Top 8 bracket stood four seasoned veterans. This, by the way, to be taken literally: the first-timers really only played each other until the finals, as did the repeat performers. For Robin Dolar this was his fifth Grand Prix Top 8, for Simon Nielsen it was his fourth, and the third each for Christian Hauck and Dario Parazzoli.
A Final Battle
The dichotomy between the two finalists couldn't have been more pronounced. On one side we had: Leon van der Linden, a newcomer with a string of recent successes leading up to this, his first Top 8 at a major event, playing the aggro deck of the day, Vehicles.
Waiting for him on the other side of the table: Robin Dolar, seasoned veteran who last reached the Top 8 a couple of years back, running—of course—every control player's current favorite, blue and black with 26 lands and 26 instants.
Leon van der Linden versus Robin Dolar
Going first should prove key in the matchup and, thanks to his higher finish after the Swiss rounds, Dolar had earned the right to do so. This meant he was able to counter, in order: Heart of Kiran with Censor, Scrapheap Scrounger with Essence Scatter, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar with another Censor.
Just one lowly Thraben Inspector had snuck by on turn one. It was eventually joined by Scrapheap Scrounger returning from the grave, and the two did manage to bring Dolar to 10. But in the meantime van der Linden had had to pass a couple of turns without further action, allowing Dolar to develop his hand with a string of three Glimmer of Genius.
With one Flaying Tendrils Dolar dismissed van der Linden's meager offense when he had enough of it. The Scarab God was summoned. Van der Linden passed once more without play—to a Dolar who had by now nine lands in play plus Disallow, another Flaying Tendrils, Grasp of Darkness, and Torrential Gearhulk in hand. Van der Linden didn't last long.
The second game further underlined the importance of going first. Van der Linden was fast out of the gate with a bunch of creatures and Aethersphere Harvester. Dolar was forced to cast Flaying Tendrils, leaving an opening for van der Linden to resolve Chandra, Torch of Defiance. This game was just as brutal as the first, only much, much faster.
So it came down to a third ... with Dolar on the play, with van der Linden taking a mulligan, with Dolar keeping his opening hand of Fatal Push, Grasp of Darkness, Supreme Will, The Scarab God, and three lands. If you read this far, you should be able to imagine how this played out.
Scrapheap Scrounger was fatally pushed, Doomfall was censored, Chandra, Torch of Defiance had to bow to Supreme Will. On turn five, Dolar simply ran out The Scarab God. He lost it to Declaration in Stone and eventually van der Linden did develop a board presence of sorts with Aethersphere Harvester, Heart of Kiran, and Scrapheap Scrounger as the only creature to crew them. But he soon found himself on the back foot, facing Gifted Aetherborn and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet.
Being on defense wasn't a role which suited his deck at all. Sure enough, van der Linden's feeble attempts at blocking were quickly put to a stop when Dolar used Grasp of Darkness and Kalitas's abilities to get rid of both Heart of Kiran and Scrapheap Scrounger, adding another 4 power to his board in the process.
Over the next couple of turns, Kalitas only accumulated more tokens and counters. Once again, it didn't take long for van der Linden to admit his defeat.
With this epic battle over, Grand Prix Turin 2017 came to a close: a great end to a great tournament and a fine sendoff to this Standard environment at least as far as Grand Prix events were concerned. The rotation wasn't due until the end of the month and the format would still be featured at Nationals all over the world. Judging by what happened here this weekend, definitely something to look forward to!
Congratulations to Robin Dolar, champion of Grand Prix Turin 2017!