Posted in Event Coverage on February 26, 2017

By Frank Karsten

There were plenty of great moments, decks, players, cards, and stories over the course of the weekend here in Utrecht. The following are my top five picks for things to remember from this Grand Prix.

5. The Metagame Was Dominated by Mardu Vehicles

Going into the event, many people expected a Rock-Paper-Scissors (or rather, Cat-Vroom-Snek) metagame formed by equal parts Saheeli combo, Mardu Vehicles, and Green/Black Constrictor. These decks were indeed popular here in Utrecht, although it was mainly the Mardu Vehicles variations that were dominating the top tables.

But rather than just telling you, let me show some numbers. Over the weekend, I took several metagame snapshots: On Saturday morning, I tabulated the decks of all 23 players with 3 byes. On Sunday morning, I compiled the decks of the 38 players who were at 8-1 or 9-0 records at the start of the day. And after the Swiss rounds ended, I collected the Top 32 decklists. The table below gives the percentages, sorted by the (somewhat meaningless) average of the three metagame share columns.

Deck name 3-bye metagame 8-1 or 9-0 metagame Top 32 metagame Average
Mardu Vehicles 26% 37% 41% 35%
Temur Dynavolt Tower 31% 14% 9% 18%
B/G Constrictor 4% 16% 28% 16%
4c Saheeli 22% 11% 6% 13%
U/R Emerge 4% 0% 6% 3%
Jeskai Saheeli 0% 5% 3% 3%
W/B Control 0% 3% 3% 2%
Sultai Control 0% 3% 3% 2%
G/B Delirium 0% 5% 0% 2%
Aetherworks Marvel 0% 5% 0% 2%
U/R Control 4% 0% 0% 1%
U/B Colossus 4% 0% 0% 1%
U/G Paradox Engine 4% 0% 0% 1%
Marvel Invention 0% 3% 0% 1%
Jund Energy Aggro 0% 3% 0% 1%

As a note, in this overview "Mardu Vehicles" encompasses both versions with Veteran Motorist and versions with Walking Ballista—more on that later—and the "Temur Dynavolt Tower" category also includes four-color variations splashing for Fumigate.

From this table, we can indeed conclude that the tournament was dominated by Mardu Vehicles. But it doesn't stop there.

4. The Big Three Turned into The Big Four

If Mardu Vehicles, Saheeli combo, and Green/Black Constrictor are the Big Three of Standard, then this weekend marked the breakout performance of a fourth major archetype: Temur Dynavolt Tower. Although it placed no one in the Top 8, several came close: Lucas Florent, No. 19 Ondřej Stráský, and Oliver Polak-Rottmann all finished in the Top 32, most of them just one point or a tiebreaker swing away from making the playoffs.

For reference, this was the list piloted by the best-performing Platinum pro.

Ondřej Stráský's Temur Dynavolt Tower – 12-3 (11th) at Grand Prix Utrecht 2017

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The idea for the deck originates from Hall of Famer Shota "yaya3" Yasooka, who went 5-0 in a Magic Online league a little over a week ago, and a lot of players picked up on it. The deck plays like a control strategy with a lot of reactive cards and card advantage spells, but it can win big. Once you get multiple Dynavolt Towers on the battlefield, things can spiral out of control quickly. A single Attune with Aether and an Anticipate grant two free Lightning Bolts at that point, for example.

Everyone I talked to about the deck was impressed by the way it played and its matchups across the field. "It should enter the Big 3; it should be the Big 4 now," Stráský said.

He did mention that Rogue Refiner disappointed—"I've been boarding it out all the time"—so that may be an area to improve the deck for the future. But a good future is almost certainly in store for the deck.

3. Loads of Sweet Brews Arrived

Beyond the "Big Four," we saw a staggering amount of variety on camera. Hard-working deck builders had found a lot of ways to tackle the format, so plenty of sweet cards made it to the feature match area over the weekend.

Although in the end none of these cards made it to the Top 32, many of their pilots had good runs on Day 1. You can find corresponding decklists and insights in the Day 1 Summary article.

If you're only interested in decks with excellent records, then you can still find several gems among the Top 32 decklists. For instance, check out Bernardo Santos' White-Black Control (12-3, 22nd), Wouter Noordzij's Blue-Red Emerge (12-3, 26th), or Luis Gobern's Sultai Control (11-3-1, 32nd).

2. Mardu Ballista was the Best Mardu Vehicles variant by far!

The first time I saw a Mardu Vehicles deck with Walking Ballista instead of Veteran Motorist was about a week ago, when MTGO player Gosaku used it to win a Magic Online PTQ. I thought it was a promising take on the deck, but I enjoyed attacking with Inventor's Apprentice and Veteran Motorist too much, so I didn't give it the attention it deserved. And boy, was I wrong.

Inspired by Gosaku's performance, several players showed up to Grand Prix Utrecht with this hot new take on Mardu Vehicles, and they found tremendous success with it. To put it in numerical terms: there were 13 Mardu Vehicles variants in the Top 32, three of which were of the variant that we've called Mardu Ballista. The final standing of those three players?

First, second, and third.

Let that sink in. This is truly a level a dominance that is rarely displayed at this level of competition.

The decks of the two finalists, both of whom clinched Silver level in the Pro Player Club thanks to their performance this weekend, are listed below.

Samuel Vuillot's Mardu Ballista – 1st place at Grand Prix Utrecht 2017

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Fabrizio Campanino's Mardu Ballista – 2nd place at Grand Prix Utrecht 2017

Download Arena Decklist

What makes the deck so good? "In the mirror and against Saheeli, Walking Ballista is way better than Veteran Motorist", Samuel Vuillot told me. "Also, it's a mana sink in the late game, can kill planeswalkers, and it's an artifact for Spire of Industry." And as Fabrizio Campanino pointed out, by cutting the red early drops, the mana base improves as well. All of these tweaks, along with a good sideboard, were enough to gain a big edge at the Grand Prix.

1. Forget Mardu Ballista ... enter Mardu Superfriends!

From left to right, Samuel Vuillot (1st place), Eliott Boussaud (11-4), and Alexandre Habert (3rd place), taking an Oath to join the Gatewatch.

Walking Ballista wasn't the only tweak in the Grand Prix winning deck. It also featured a brilliant transformational sideboard that took a lot of their opponents by surprise. All too often, the opponents of Samuel Vuillot, Eliott Boussaud, and Alexandre Habert would board in answers to Toolcraft Exemplar, Scrapheap Scrounger, and Heart of Kiran, only to find out they were suddenly playing against a planeswalker-heavy Mardu Superfriends deck in Games 2 and 3.

The second game of the finals illustrated this perfectly, as Samuel Vuillot started with Oath of Chandra and Oath of Liliana before dropping a parade of planeswalkers. Meanwhile, his opponent Fabrizio Campanino (who, impressively, scored back-to-back European Grand Prix Top 8s!) was stuck with a useless Release the Gremlins in hand because Vuillot had boarded out all of his good targets. Campanino may have had the right main deck, but Vuillot's sideboard went way deeper and proved to be superior.

To learn more about the development of this specific version of the deck, I sat down with Silver level pro Eliott Boussaud, one of the best European deck builders at the moment. Like Samuel Vuillot, he is a member of the Magic Corsairs Crew for the Pro Tour Team Series. "I was testing with Alexandre Habert, one of my best friends and testing partners for ten years, when we tried to figure out why this Mardu list with Walking Ballista won the Magic Online PTQ," Boussaud told me right before the finals started.

"[Gosaku] had all the tools in the sideboard for a control plan—3 Release the Gremlins, 3 Fumigate, 2 Ob Nixilis Reignited, and so on—but we figured out that Fumigate is not good enough when people know about it. We also wanted more flexibility and cards that could come in against other decks than Green-Black." They started with Nahiri, the Harbinger, mainly as a way to exile Prized Amalgam and Fevered Visions against the Blue-Red Emerge deck that was getting traction online. And they didn't stop there.

Soon Boussaud was siding out the vehicles every game because he knew his opponent was boarding in Release the Gremlins, which meant that Toolcraft Exemplar got worse, and once he cut Toolcraft Exemplar, Scrapheap Scrounger got worse as well. "We figured that if we wanted to transform, for curving reasons we need a two-mana removal card. We tested 1 Oath of Chandra, then went to 2, and eventually went up to 3. It is not only a two-mana removal spell, but it also gives the reach you need to kill opposing planeswalkers." It fit with the Oath of Liliana that they already had in their sideboard as early as Pro Tour Aether Revolt, and the dedicated post-board Mardu Superfriends setup was born.

"We transform fully against Green-Black, even boarding in some Release the Gremlins against them. Against Mardu, we keep some pressure on the play, but we take out all Toolcraft Exemplar, Scrapheap Scrounger, and Heart of Kiran on the draw."

Things worked out beautifully for them, and for one player in particular.

Congratulations again to Samuel Vuillot, your Grand Prix Utrecht 2017 champion!

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