Top Stories of Grand Prix Vancouver 2018

Posted in Event Coverage on December 31, 2018

By Marc Calderaro

The final weekend of 2018 came and went like a glass toasted as the New Year's ball dropped. The Ultimate Masters Limited format has proven intricate, powerful, and if all accounts are to be believed, pretty fun too.

Local Favorite Jason Fleurant took home the trophy and was immediately mobbed by the local Vancouver hoi polloi, but there was plenty more than happened than just Fleurant raising the trophy as his girlfriend kissed him.

Vikram Kudva 9-0s After Winning the Team PTQ

Though the story for two-time Grand Prix Top 8er Vikram Kudva ended sadly, with a disappointing Day 2 on Sunday, nothing could ruin his Friday and Saturday.

After the first day of the Grand Prix, he was one of the three 9-0 finishers, and that was basically just gravy for him. Because his Friday was just as good.

Once the format for the Grand Prix shifted to Ultimate Masters from Team Limited, the tournament organizers added two Team Limited PTQs, so friends could get their fix of team play (the best way to play Magic ever—that’s not opinion; just objective fact). And Kudva, along with Patrick Tierney and Josh Oratz had won the first Pro Tour Qualifier on Friday night!

At the end of Saturday, Kudva was feeling ecstatic. And although Sunday was a bit frustrating for him, I spoke to him at the end of the day, and even after the fall from grace, he was feeling great on the weekend as a whole.

Shuhei Nakamura Almost Had To Cede the Title to Martin Jůza

When the future of the “Grand Prix” nomenclature was unclear, there were few people whose ears must’ve perked up more than Shuhei Nakamura and Martin Jůza’s. Their decade-long feud for who had the most Grand Prix Top 8s was a crazy Magic stat where they were in a class by themselves. Nakamura held the title for so long with a lead that seemed insurmountable, but as Jůza kept raking in the Top 8s, narrowing the gap further and further, pulses were raised.

From Jůza’s perspective it was always fun, “We’re great friends, and I was always happy to see him doing well." The best rivalries are between friends, and that was yet another reason why this race was so fun to track through the years.

Not long ago Jůza tied then surpassed Nakamura, and then he kept going. With Nakamura traveling to fewer and fewer events, it seemed like Nakamura would stay at 30, and Jůza’s 32 would keep him out of striking distance (and would likely continue to grow).

With the potential few remaining “Grand Prix” before the shift to “Magic Fest” that stat would have been locked in forever. This was all the more relevant when Shuhei Nakamura nabbed his 31st Top 8 this weekend. But since Grand Prix will be the marquee tournament at the Magic Fests, this ultimate race can continue—and it’s down to a one-event lead for Jůza.

Jeff Cunningham is Back with a Vengeance

There was a time when the name “Jeff Cunningham” (well “Ffej” really) reverberated through the Magic community. A time when he was much more than Pro Tour Finalist Jackson Cunningham’s brother. In the heyday of the game on the internet, Jeff was more than just a Pro Tour Top 8er and Grand Prix winner. Though he might not have been the first person to write a tournament report, he was certainly the man who turned it to an artform.

After the weekend tournament was finished, we would salivate refreshing the page for the funny, poignant, and often biting summation of the event from the mind of one man.

Those days have been gone for a while, and fewer and fewer people feel that pang in their brain at the mention of “Ffej." But ladies and gentlemen, he’s still here. Though he still went to a Grand Prix or so every year, after getting “pot-committed” to this year’s Magic Online Championship Series with a couple great early finishes, he’s just a tad more invested.

And thanks to an errant tweet from one of those brain pangers, the Magic community might once again be graced with another Ffej tournament report.

Tim Aten asked for a video commitment that if Cunningham Top 8’ed, he would write a tournament report.

Well I got the video, folks. Though he asked me not to post it, and just keep it in my back pocket as collateral, don’t worry, I’ve got it safe.

So even if it takes guilt-laden blackmail, we’ll get another one, come hell or high water.

But the dying art of the tournament report can’t be held up by Cunningham alone. When he and I talked about the reasons why the artform faded, we discussed the bifurcation of strategic content which dominates the strategy sites, and creative content which is now more common on the “pulpier” sites and forums, like Reddit. But Cunningham feels strongly that there’s still possibility for the creative tournament content for Magic, “you need someone to step up," he said. So when Ffej writes his report—as he’s promised he will—read it, enjoy it, and think about what potential opportunities exist for this format that defined the 2000s of Magic. Content creation is at its apex. Together, we can make it all happen.

Congratulations, Ffej. When your name was called for Top 8, you made this old salt’s head ring. And as the year ends, and chapters close, you helped me remind me why I started this crazy Magic writing gig in the first place, oh so long ago.

Ultimate Masters Drafting with Paul Rietzl

Though Ultimate Masters is a format that will come and go (even if the boxtoppers live on), it’s been lauded as one of, if not the best, Masters format, and is worth diving just a bit deeper. And there was no better person to plumb the depths than Pro Tour Hall of Famer Paul Rietzl. His first draft of the day was a storybook in the possibilities and avenues of the format.

During the draft, he tried a few different strategies before thinking he was drafting an aggressive White-Blue deck. But he ended a few cards short, with a few controlling cards, and a few combo-tastic cards as well. While building he decried, “Buddy, I got two decks here." He later amended that. “Yeah, really it was like four or five."

But about five minutes before building was done he realized he’d built a Martyr of Sands, recursive, Heroic abomination. And although it might have trouble winning, it sure as hell wasn’t going to be beaten easily.

In the first round he gave Matthew Sikkink-Johnson fits recurring one of his three copies of Martyr over and over and over again.

Then he beat Shuhei Nakamura by grinding through a Hexproof 18/18 abusing Phalanx Leader and Conviction.

Though he fell to eventually finalist Charles Wong (shhh, don’t tell anyone, but it was because he forgot to attack for two on turn three), he rode the train all the way to the Top 8.

Jason Fleurant’s Ten-Year Return

Like a Canadian cicada, Vancouverite Jason Fleurant comes out of his cocoon once a decade to Top 8 a Grand Prix Vancouver. Last time he lost in the quarterfinals, but this time he did much, much better.

Along with Charles Smith and Jeff Cunningham, Fleurant was one of the three locals to make it to the elimination rounds, but Fleurant’s deck was a slight cut above and made for exciting matches throughout the Top 8. In the quarterfinals he came back from 1 life with Santo Tallarico at 23 with a combination of Reckless Charge and Soul’s Fire on a Mahamoti Djinn. Then did something quite similar to Cunningham in the semifinals when he tapped down a blocker, then Reckless Charge plus Double Cleave for the surprise win.

After defeating the seemingly unstoppable Charles Wong in the finals, he was overrun by all his friends who’d hung on every turn of the Top 8, cheering the hometown heroes on.

It was a great moment—a boisterous celebration is fitting as the final match of 2018 Grand Prix Magic. And it’s likely something Fleurant will be toasting to somewhere soon, and likely with the Grand Prix trophy as his chalice.

Bonus Treat: Canadian Highlander Side Event (with Giant Decklists!)

In the Great White North, they do things a bit differently than elsewhere in Magic. They have their own mulligan (the Vancouver Mulligan, of course), and they have their own Highlander format—Canadian Highlander, of course!

Grand Prix Vancouver provided a showcase for what the unique format can offer, in a side event people termed the #CanLander Event. Though I might have written about this earlier in the article, the sheer size of the decklists can be a lot to wade through, so it’s tucked in extra special at the end for all of y’all.

I sat down with one of the format’s biggest proponents, Jeremy White, to teach me the ins and out of this Canadian original. He started the first Highlander podcast, has been on the Highlander Counsel for seven years, and is a host of the North 100 Podcast on the Loading Ready Run podcast network. He comes with bona fides.

“It’s like Cube Constructed you can play casually," he said. Ok, I’m in. Done.

The rules are simple: It’s a traditional hundred-card “Highlander” format in the sense that “there can be only one” copy of each non-basic land – cue Sean Connery saying something vaguely mystical. Where Canadian Highlander differs is that each of the most powerful cards have a point value attributed to them, and you only have 10 total points to use when building your deck. Everything in the history of Magic is legal, but you can’t play all of Magic’s history. For example, Ancestral Recall and Black Lotus both cost 7 points, so you can’t have both in your deck.

“People can play their Black Lotus if they own one, and also not feel bad about playing it," White said. But if you don’t have one of those ultra-rare cards that few people have, you can feel happy to spend your points among other cards. Dig Through Time, Mind Twist, Sol Ring, Birthing Pod all have point values, so you can build towards whatever you feel best.

“The point system encourages diversity," White said, discussing the over sixty different archetypes that have won tournaments in their area. “And your deck will never be banned ... it might get a little worse," he said, but there’s no feel-bad investing in something to see it change overnight.

The format has come a long way from its roots in Victoria, British Columbia at Yellowjacket Comics, and along with his podcast cohort of Ben Wheeler, Serge Yager and Alex Steacy, they have been proud of its growth and evolution—and very little is more representative of that growth than a near-sixty-player side event.

And, no surprises, they did well in that side event.

Whether or not you like hockey, curling, getting a double-double at “Timmy’s”, Letterkenny, Alanis Morrisette, Don Cherry, drinking maple syrup straight from the tap, Bob and Doug, or even a late-night poutine, you should give Canadian Highlander a go. There’s a TappedOut database at the username Canadian Highlander, but here is just a glance at the diversity. Enjoy! Consider it my New Year’s gift to y’all.

Jonathan Martin’s Green-White Midrange, 2-1

Enchantment (1)
1 Sylvan Library
100 Cards

Alex Reddy’s Abzan, 2-1

Artifact (1)
1 Birthing Pod
100 Cards

Serge Yager’s Red-Green Lands, 3-0

100 Cards

Jeremy White’s High Tide, 3-0

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