Day 1 Highlights of Grand Prix Vancouver 2018

Posted in Event Coverage on December 30, 2018

By Marc Calderaro

The first day of year's final Grand Prix is in the books (and the final "Grand Prix" before the Magic Fests begin)! Ultimate Masters Limited has made for some great Sealed strategies and is a great capstone for the year—allowing us to look back at Magic's past before soldiering into the future. Here are just some of the highlights of the first day of competition.

Ultimate Masters – the ultimate set for masters

Grand Prix Vancouver is one of only two Grand Prix events to feature this intriguing, amazing product. Featuring hits from Magic's past, continues the Modern Masters tradition of challenging drafting, great collectability, and some sweet new art – including some amazing Offalsnout art. Why Offalsnout? You got me. But just look at this beauty!

Consensus is this set is a whole lot of fun. "Great!" "Wonderful!" "Nice." was how Corey Burkhart, Martin Jůza and Hunter Cochran put it. Building is difficult especially in Sealed. As Cat-Pact Expert Chris Botelho summarized, you have tons of different directions to go, and are always just a few cards away from all of them. Often deck builders were coming down to the wire, and more than on just a few card choices. Burkhart's deck changed each time I passed by his build all the way until the final moments. This sort of adaptability and challenge attracts the pros like goblins to a cooling pie on a windowsill.

Jůza put it that there are tons of different archetypes that are all playable, but nothing is pushed too much. You can draft anything, because there's no single card or strategy mucking up the works. Think, Triplicate Spirits in Magic 2015. Jůza added that this is in part due to smart choices with rarities. "Travel Preparations at uncommon is perfect, and so is Reckless Wurm at common – to enable the aggressive Madness strategies."

But the real victory from his perspective is this: "Also, it doesn't get old." And though the packs aren't easy to come by, Jůza suggested that Ultimate Masters is a fantastic way to make a Cube draft. "Just get maybe a box or two, then get four copies of the commons, two copies of the uncommons, and most of the rares, and you've got a great Cube."

You've got Heroic, Spells matter, Four-color Control, Madness—and all across multiple colors. It's a joy. "Baby, you got a stew going!" as Carl Weathers would say.

Oh, and once you add in the power level of some of the best cards in Magic's history, you're going to have some wonky things going on. Ben Weitz had some loop craziness with Archaeomancer, Reveillark, and Resurrection, while Corey Burkhart just opened a Grixis Vintage deck.

I sat down with Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica winner Andrew Elenbogen and Pro Tour­–winning deck brewer Max McVety (psst, it was Elenbogen's deck) to talk a bit about both Sealed and Draft with Ultimate Masters. They've gotten in a good amount of both formats, and usually practice Sealed is a rarity for Grand Prixers. When asked how they found the time to get in practice for this GP, McVety said, "Well, the holidays helped," and smirked.

When it comes to Sealed, Elenbogen is in hog heaven, and McVety is left wanting. Elenbogen said, "I've gone some variation of Sultai most times," and to great effect. "Generating value, then casting Eldrazi Crusher is pretty successful." McVety was shaking his head in agreement sullenly. The aggressive color combinations—McVety's speciality (see e.g., Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica), like Green-White Heroic, and Red-White are just not as good against the grindy control decks.

With cards like Treasure Cruise, and tons of enablers, the value is there for the taking. "Treasure Cruise is the best blue common," Elenbogen said. And a fact like that tends to skew Sealed. Add in cards like Kodama's Reach and Dreamscape Artist, and color becomes less of a requirement too, enabling the multicolor shenanigans we all love so much.

Cosplay Break!

There's surely a lot of Magic card talk to be had, but it might be a good time for a cosplay break. We got some great photos on Twitter, but Arielle Murphy's (@airbubbles) smoke machine was really something to behold, and bears repeating.

Though she also reenacted the Cathartic Reunion painting with her actual mother as well,

I really like the one that was photobombed by @teammtgcosplay's Broc Woodworth as well.

Speaking of, Team MTG Cosplay came to play as well, in addition to Broc as Chandra, Julia Woodworth as Nahiri, and Curtis Huey came correct as well as Ral Zarek.

2018 Magic Memories

As the last week of the year is a time for reflection in our own lives, it's also a time to look back at our Magic lives. I ran into a litany of people who talked about their favorite Magic Memory of 2018.

In a rare sighting of Marshall Sutcliffe outside the broadcast area, he was slinging spells in the main event! Sadly, though he started 3-0, the end of the day was not as kind of him as the beginning. His favorite memory of 2018 was getting to be a fly on the wall before the Team Series finals in Las Vegas, watching Ultimate Guard Pro Team get their first look at the new Guilds of Ravnica set – embedded in their testing house for eleven hours!

Corey Burkhart, who I caught between rounds playing with Martin Jůza, talked about how if he were to answer this in five years, it would probably be the Magic Pro League announcement, while cleverly avoiding the question (and getting back to playing another five-minute turn).

Corey actually came back later and gave a revised, great answer about losing to Luis Salvatto for the Top 8 of Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan that will be on Twitter tomorrow.

Paul Rietzl echoed Sutcliffe's event, but from a different perspective. For this Pro Tour Hall of Fame Member, getting a chance to be with his team in the Team Series finals, and win together alongside them is what Magic's all about to him.

And despite Max McVety finally breaking the barrier into Gold Pro Player status, something he'd been fighting for his entire Magic career, his favorite moment was the same as his teammate and friend Andrew Elenbogen's: When Elenbogen won Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica

Looking at all these 2018 years in moments, there was one player in particular whose year was a benchmark for him – Jason Chan.

Amaz Year in Review

This year was a banner year for Jason "Amaz" Chan. The gamer extraordinaire has always loved Magic but up through 2018 had built much of his success in other games. Though he still frequents games of all sorts, 2018 marked a coming-of-age time for Amaz in the community—it was an interesting road from the Pro Tour Hour of Devastation invite in Kyoto last year to now making Draft videos for ChannelFireball. And it was a year he looks back on fondly.

"For [Hour of Devastation], I wasn't sure how it would go, then Lee Shi Tian [from MTGMintCard] reached out to me, and pulled me into their boot camp. It was the most fun I ever had." He continued, "Two weeks before the Pro Tour, we practiced all day, every day. The only time we stopped was for food." His eyes widened and he laughed. "There was a new 'best deck' every day until the event ... and that was when Yammy [Yam Wing Chun] was in the Top 8, so it was an emotional rollercoaster for the whole team."

That set the stage for Amaz's second Pro Tour appearance at Pro Tour 25th Anniversary—the team Pro Tour earlier this year. "I really wanted to just play with my friends." There were tons of teammates he could have played with, but he knew the only right call was to play with friends – and he did. "And we made Day 2! ... well everyone made Day 2, but qualification was X-4 and we X-5'd, only one win off!" He was clearly proud.

But 2018 didn't stop there, because he also played in the Silver Showcase—the Beta Rochester Draft special event! He was even able to snipe some feels from the G.O.A.T. Jon Finkel when he snapped up a Shivan Dragon even though Jonny Magic was in Red and Amaz was not. He laughed thinking about it, "Going into the event my friends told me, 'You need to take any bombs you see,' so I did!" He only played two Mountains in his deck to cast the giant winged beast, but don't worry, he got there every time.

The ties among all of these events was friends and a sense of belonging to the community. "Lots of people have been so nice to me, especially Mint Card," he said. "I mean, the game is good but it's a lot better with friends, right?" He continued, "I love going to real-life events. It's more enjoyable playing at a table and you can see your opponents' expressions ... and you can develop more personal relationships too." That's part of the reason why his largest to-date Magic accomplishment on paper, that came after—Top 8ing Grand Prix Mexico City—was more of an afterthought than an achievement.


Jason Chan showing off his Ultimate Masters Sealed pull of the day

"I felt like it was only a matter of time," he said of the Top 8. "Magic is a game of variance, and you gotta keep throwing the ball until you get one in the hole," he said smiling. "Really, it was mostly a sense of relief." He added, "And then at GP Denver we came in 9th! I really wanted to back-to-back Grand Prix, and with friends this time…I mean, I guess I did go back-to-back ninth?" He thought about that statement, shrugged his shoulders, and moved on.

Since then, he's Top 8'ed a Magic Arena streamer tournament, and just starting making draft videos for ChannelFireball. With the advent of Arena, though Magic in 2018 was great for Jason Chan, maybe 2019 will be even better!

(PS – Jason requested an all-Draft Pro Tour, please.)

The Undefeateds

After the nine rounds of Saturday, three players stood atop the rankings, playing the role of ultimate masters for the day.

Charles Wong

Hailing from Seattle, where he recently Top 8'd the Grand Prix, Charles Wong defeated Rax Dillon in Round 9 to net the perfect 9-0. He was surprised at his record, though he admits the deck was a bit above average.

He's been playing the game since 2000, and kept insisting that he's a pretty "average, run-of-the-mill" guy. He likes to watch movies, hang with friends, and has a good, solid job, even if it's not something to write home about.

But he admitted after a little digging, that although he plays Magic because "sure, it's fun to play and fun to win," he really loves the corner-case awesome stories from games you get.

He gave the example: "You remember when Jund was everywhere, and people were playing Savage Lands, so everyone had Spreading Seas to turn them into Islands? ... One game, I was playing the Polymorph deck, I cast two Spreading Seas on his first two Savage Lands, and then turn four he cast a main deck Jace, the Mind Sculptor. That's crazy, right?"

"It's those moments. That's why I play the game."

Charles Wong's Black-Green-white – GP Vancouver, 9-0

Vikram Kudva

"I'm doing well," Vikram Kudva said. "This weekend has been amazing."

Kudva was riding high because his team won the PTQ yesterday. Pat Tierney, Josh Oratz—all roommates now—took home the invites securing another definite Pro Tour invite for Kudva in 2019. Kudva already Top 8'ed twice this year, and is now looking to add a third as his capstone.

His pool served him well, and despite not exactly practicing that much for this event felt confident. He said his deck was similar to his pool in Grand Prix Dallas-Fort Worth. Any two colors weren't good enough alone, but my fixing was very good, which allowed him to meld them together.

"The cards that I've splashed have pulled their weight well more than I expected them to. Wall of Reverence ... it just doesn't die in combat. It just doesn't die."

"The deck ended up in a very good place, even if at first glance, it would look lacking.

Kudva's already proven he can power through the draft pods of Day 2, so we shouldn't be surprised to see him under the lights tomorrow night.

Vikram Kudva's Four-Control – GP Vancouver, 9-0

Richard Liu

Coming from the Bay Area in California, Richard Liu has a lot on his plate. In addition to grinding Magic (at which he's been successful, taking down Grand Prix Sacramento this year), and his full-time job, he's starting to teach a graduate class soon, and is a little nervous about how to make it all work.

Well if it's anything like putting a Sealed deck together that could work, Liu should be fine. As he whirled through today like a dervish.

"I thought my deck was unplayably bad, so either I'm really bad at evaluating, or really lucky." He continued, "I thought Magus of the Bazaar was unplayable, and just wanted to mise with it, but every time I drew it, it was great ... I'm still pretty sure it's unplayable."

For Liu, Magic holds a special place for him. "My fondest Magic memory," he said, "– well obviously other than winning the GP – was reading the flavor text for Lightning Bolt when it came back in Magic 2010. I've been playing for like 22 years, and when I read the nostalgic text, I thought, 'It's back,' and I smiled."

"I love these nostalgic bits in flavor text. Like Serra Angel's. Oh my god – chills." Liu laughed. "There's a lot in this game for me."

"I just started playing really competitively the last year, but it's working out so far." It's good to know someone so wrapped in the flavor text, can also take down a Grand Prix day undefeated.

All three of those players will face stiff competition tomorrow, but if they can repeat what they did today, they'll have another Grand Prix Top 8 under their belts.

Richard Liu's Blue-Black-green – GP Vancouver, 9-0


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