Grand Prix Atlantic City
Day 1 Coverage

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Saturday, 12:44 p.m. - Atlantic City: Standard Overview

by Jacob Van Lunen

Hello and welcome to Grand Prix Atlantic City. Today, we're going to watch 1646 players test their mental agility and endurance in an effort to make it to the second day of competition in this Standard Grand Prix. Return to Ravnica Standard has been in a constant state of evolution. The best deck in the format seemed to change from week to week for the first few months. Now, we've found ourselves in an interesting place. The format has evolved so quickly that it left a few players behind at each stage of evolution. As a result, we're now seeing the most diverse Standard format in over a decade. It becomes increasingly difficult to metagame as the Standard format continues to diversify. Building a sideboard and picking the right deck has never been so complicated.

What can players expect to see on the other side of the table in Atlantic City this weekend? I scoured Magic Online results earlier this week to find out.

Green/Black Aggro decks are a relatively new phenomenon. The deck takes advantage of Predator Ooze's strength in the current format. The deck is very straight-forward, but the power level of the cards therein makes the deck a real contender.

Jund Aggro, an archetype pioneered by Brazilian, Willy Edel, has been garnishing a small following on Magic Online over the last two weeks. The deck has evolved to be somewhere in between Jund Midrange and its original, more aggressive, state. It has the ability to become more aggressive post-sideboard in the necessary matchups, but the maindeck gives it strong game against the diverse field that's expected these days.

Thragtusk is still a format-defining card, but Mono-Red strategies have continued to perform well in spite of the excessive hate in the format. It seems strange that Red decks can compete in an environment with Thragtusks, Centaur Healers, Huntmaster of the Fells, and Restoration Angels. However, Red has shown itself to remain one of the best-performing decks, stealing games with Pyreheart Wolf and Hellrider, right under a Thragtusk's snout.

Jund Midrange was the most successful deck in Innistrad Block Constructed. Players quickly translated it into the new standard environment and enjoyed a lot of success the first few weeks. In time, the deck became less popular as its performance withered. The last month has been good to Jund Midrange, though. The deck is quickly reestablishing itself as contender.

Blue/White Flash was the deck to beat coming into Grand Prix Charleston. The deck was well-positioned against the control-heavy format of the time. The rise of aggressive and midrange Rakdos strategies forced Blue/White Flash players to splash for Pillar of Flame. The deck struggles with the most dedicated control matchups, but those decks are becoming rare. Raka Flash is probably the deck to beat coming into this tournament.

Unburial Rites is probably the most powerful card in the current Standard format. As such, most players have a few sideboard slots dedicated to interacting with the Innistrad sorcery. The most recent successful versions of Unburial Rites have begun including a lot of inexpensive mana acceleration. Mainstream Unburial Rites decks aim to establish board dominance with Angel of Serenity or win the game in one foul swoop via Craterhoof Behemoth.

Unburial Rites is powerful enough to have multiple versions of itself performing well at the same time. Yuuji Okita introduced the world to the Angel of Glory's Rise combo deck that plays surprisingly well even when it doesn't draw Unburial Rites. Nightshade Peddler and Izzet Staticaster combo to create a veritable machine gun and Zealous Concripts help the deck defend against otherwise difficult planeswalkers.

Bant Control hasn't been performing as well as it was a few weeks ago, but the deck still has a large following and versions with a few Planeswalkers should be reasonably well positioned against the midrange metagame here in Atlantic City.

Esper Control has been quietly performing well for the last two months. The deck doesn't have a large following, but I expect it to be one of the best performing decks this weekend. The deck tries to survive the early game and eventually stabilizes with Terminus or Supreme Verdict as its planeswalkers and spirit tokens take the game over.

The first Door to Nothingness decks seemed like novelties, but the deck has quickly proven itself to be one of the most resilient strategies in the current Standard format. The latest versions of the deck are trying to ramp into overpowered spells as quickly as possible, largely ignoring most of the opponent's advances and eventually breaking serve with a Fog as their massively powerful cards start to take the game over.

The Red splash Black strategies first emerged when it seemed that midrange Rakdos decks were taking the format over. The Red splash Black deck is becoming less popular now that metagaming has become so difficult. The deck plays a straightforward Red strategy but has access to powerful cards like Falkenrath Aristocrat.

Naya Midrange is the big winner this week on Magic Online. The deck hasn't had a tremendous amount of success in live tournaments, but I wouldn't be surprised if that changed this weekend. The deck aims to establish board dominance and take shots where it can get them. Eventually, Bonfire of the Damned is miracled and the board is cleared for a lethal swing.

More aggressive versions of Naya have begun popping up. These decks are less concerned with board presence and more concerned with reducing the opponent's life total from twenty to zero in the shortest time frame possible.

Nightshade Peddler may not seem like the best constructed card, but I assure you that this is a real deck. The deck has a European genesis and has a large following on Magic Online. The goal here is to Soulbond a Nightshade Peddler with Izzet Staticaster or Olivia Voldaren and start pinging everything to death with little effort.

Green/White Aggro has become less popular with the rise of Naya. Cards like Silverblade Paladin have been weakened by the huge popularity of Pillar of Flame. Even so, the Green/White aggro decks continue to have a following and will probably come out in big numbers this weekend. The deck is incredibly aggressive and punishes control decks.

Rakdos decks have been a metagame staple since Jon Bolding won Grand Prix Charleston over a month ago. The deck continued to dominate as it won the very next American Standard Grand Prix. Naya decks and strange lifegain decks have reined in Rakdos' dominance, but the deck is still very strong and will be played by a lot of people this weekend.

That's just the tip of the iceberg. There are Chalice of Life decks, Aura decks, and a whole slew of other viable strategies in today's metagame. Stay tuned to coverage of Grand Prix Atlantic City for excited updates on the state of the Standard format.


Saturday, 12:44 p.m. - Atlantic City: Terms Glossary

by Nate Price

Burn: Since most of the spells that are capable of directly dealing damage to a player or creature use fire or lightning imagery, they are collectively known as burn spells, even if they don't actually use fire. Examples of burn common to Modern include Lightning Bolt, Shrapnel Blast, and Forked Bolt.

Cantrip: Cheap cards with minimal effects that have the primary purpose of replacing themselves by drawing you another card (ex. Gitaxian Probe, Ponder, Preordain).

Card Advantage: The concept of card advantage has received more discussion over the history of Magic than any other topic. In short, the concept of card advantage relates to the equivalences of exchanges in Magic. Basically, if one card allows you to draw two cards or destroy two of your opponent's permanents, you are gaining card advantage.

Combo Deck: Combo decks are decks that rely on a combination of cards to win their games. One example of a popular combo deck in Modern is Storm, which relies on the combination of mana-generating and card-drawing cards to play a large number of spells in one turn before playing a card with the storm mechanic, such as Grapeshot, to kill their opponents. Hive Mind is another example. It uses the card Hive Mind to provide copies of any spells cast to all players. They then use the various Pact cards, such as Slaughter Pact, to put a copy of that spell onto the stack for their opponent. When their opponent is unable to pay the costs of all of these Pacts during their next upkeep, they lose the game.

ETB: A shorthand acronym for "enters the battlefield". Creatures with ETB effects, such as Snapcaster Mage, have abilities that trigger upon entering the battlefield, giving a spell in the graveyard flashback in the case of Snapcaster Mage. Other textbook examples with cards in Modern with ETB effects are Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and Kitchen Finks.

Fetch: Fetch is simply a catchall term used to describe the action of retrieving a card from the library. For example, lands such as Verdant Catacombs are called "fetch lands". Birthing Pod is another example of a card that lets players fetch a particular card.

Grindy/Grindier: A "grindy" deck is a deck that wins slowly through tiny increments, while at the same time establishing a board presence or winning an attrition war against the opponent. Esper Stone-Blade in Legacy and Bant Control in Standard would be considered "grindy" decks.

Metagame: The term metagame refers to the state of the current Constructed environment, most frequently speaking of the types of decks that are prominent and popular, as well as individual card choices within those decks. For example, if I told you that the three most popular decks in Legacy right now were BUG Control, Sneak and Tell, and Esper Stoneblade, you would have a pretty good idea of the Legacy metagame. Since each tournament gives players a chance to react to what they experienced in the previous one, the metagame is constantly changing. Staying on top of and correctly predicting the metagame is one of the most challenging aspects of the professional level of Magic.

Mill: A verb derived from the card Millstone, the act of milling a player is to put cards from a player's library into their graveyard. Since players lose the game when they can't draw a card, milling an opponent's entire library is one of the most frequently used alternate win conditions.

Mirror Match: A match between two decks of the same archetype. For example, two Jund decks playing against each other is called the Jund mirror match.

"#"-Drop: This terminology is used to describe a permanent of a given converted mana cost. For example, Tarmogoyf, which costs 1G, is a two-drop. Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, is a fifteen-drop. This terminology applies most often to permanents, such as creatures and artifacts, but it can be used to also describe the cost of spells.

Pump: Pump is a verb that means to enhance the power or toughness of a creature. Pump effects in Modern right now include Giant Growth, Mutagenic Growth, and Groundswell.

Red Zone: The red zone is an allusion to the older play mats used for Feature Matches, which had a large red area between the players. Players would use this area to indicate the spells they were casting and the creatures that were attacking. Nowadays, the phrase "sends them into the red zone" is synonymous for attacking.

Silver Bullet: A reference to the very specific weakness of werewolves, the phrase "silver bullet" in Magic refers to a card that exists in a deck, usually only one or two copies, that serves the purpose of providing an advantage against a very specific deck or effect. A good example of a silver bullet is the card Ethersworn Canonist against Storm decks or Aven Mindcensor against any decks that rely on searching the library, such as Pod decks.

The Stack: The stack is the order of spells that have been played during a given priority step. For example, when you play a spell in your main phase, it is said to go on the stack. After that, any spells that are played in response to the first one are said to go on the stack above them. Spells on the stack resolve from the top to the bottom.

Swing/Smash/Battle/Bash: All of these words have at some point in Magic history been the preferred method of saying "to attack". Now, they are all interchangeable and frequently used as slang.


Saturday, 3:28 p.m. - Grand Prix Trial Winning Decklists

by Jacob Van Lunen

Ted Holten
Grand Prix Trial Grinder Winning Deck

Brian Ziemba
Grand Prix Trial Grinder Winning Deck


Saturday, 4:04 p.m. - On the Inside Looking Out

by Nate Price

It has been over three years since Zac Hill has played in a Magic Grand Prix. That is a very long time to go without a game of professional-level Magic, especially for someone who used to play at the upper levels of the game. But his absence from the game has only been on the surface. Like a government agency staging an elaborate fake death for a future spy, Wizards of the Coast black-bagged Hill, threw him into a pit with a cadre of other top Magic minds, and set about having him save the world. Now, after three years of service, he has finally been decommissioned and sent back into the world. Adjusting to life on the outside has it's difficulties.

"I'm definitely worse tactically," Hill admitted. "In terms of missing stuff, not understanding the format, or simply doing things poorly, I'm a little behind. But in my time in R&D, I was still playing against guys like Dave Humphreys, Erik Lauer, and Mike Turian, all incredible players. On the other hand, I'm thinking at a higher strategic level than I ever have."

Zac Hill

Magic R&D has greatly benefitted over the past years from the inclusion of more expert-level Magic players than ever before. These players were at the forefront of the Magic world when they were playing on their own, and their skills have proven incredibly important in tweaking the designs of future Magic cards, determining their strength, and carefully balancing them against one another. In order to do so, they have to alter their mindsets some.

"The first hard thing I had to deal with upon entering R&D was obviously learning all of the cards at my disposal," Hill explained with a laugh. "After that, however, there's a definite issue with our approach to the game. As a pro, you train yourself to think of your overall game plan, to think turns ahead and plan accordingly. It's one of your greatest skills. As a member of R&D, though, you have to wipe that away. You have to retrain yourself to care more about what's going on at the time, to think in the now, not in the future. It all comes down to card balance. You don't want to be super cutthroat, trying to eke out every edge in order to win your matches during testing. If you do that, you might get a false impression about the strengths of certain cards and strategies. You have to ease up and take things as they come to get the best impressions of things. After years of training myself to do that, it's going to be a little hard to readjust to being as tight as I was before."

Coming into this event, Hill wasn't alone. He prepared for this event by testing and designing with Sam Black, Gaudenis Vidugiris, and Hall of Famer Zvi Mowshowitz. Interestingly, it was like bringing a piece of the Pit with him.

"It's incredible how much Zvi reminds me of Lauer," Hill laughed. "I've known him for over a decade, but I've never really spent as much time just hanging out with him as I have recently. I spent some time in Madison, Wisconsin, during language school, so I've already had a good relationship with those guys, and Sam Black is one of my best friends on the Pro Tour. It hasn't been a bad team to herald me back into the competitive side of the game!

One of my favorite things about these guys, and something that you get used to working with the guys in R&D, is that nothing is out of the question. They don't come into an event with any preconceptions. They don't want to 'only play a blue deck.' Nothing is off the table. They just want to win games of Magic, and it's incredibly refreshing. Despite this, they also all have different points of view on some things, but they respect each others' opinions. Last round, Zvi watched my match and told me afterwards that he wanted to take a fast-aggressive route to victory, where I wanted to to take a slower, long-term path. He didn't say I was wrong, just that he wanted to go another way. We had a really in-depth conversation about it, and it reminded me why I love Magic so much. The game is so deep and complex, and there are times when multiple opinions can be right."

While Hill's experiences inside R&D have given him some slight obstacles to overcome, they have also provided him with some great insights into the game.

"One thing to remember about working in R&D is that you're still playing more Magic than you ever have in your life. My strategic thinking is on a much higher level than it was when I began," he explained. "You may be atrophying in terms of getting maximum value, which makes your ceiling lower, but you are so much better at thinking of the game as a whole, making your floor much, much higher. This is especially apparent when approaching sideboarding. The problems sideboarding poses are analogous to the ones we face in R&D. When mono-red is too good, we need a card like Vampire Nighthawk. By the same token, when testing for this format, I decided we needed a card out of the sideboard that was capable of dealing with the midrange in the format. I decided that card was Olivia Voldaren, and Sam confirmed this with his own testing. All of that time working on filling holes and needs has proven incredibly useful.

Sideboarding is one of the least understood aspects of the game, in my opinion. You aren't looking at the format and building a fifteen card sideboard to deal with it, you are looking at the format and deciding what you want your 75 cards to be. The most important thing I can tell to anyone reading this is to avoid thinking, 'I've got my maindeck, now to build the sideboard.' It's an entire process. Thinking of it this way prevents you from sideboarding and giving your opponent sixty cards that don't necessarily do what you want them to do. You don't have to refer to lists or try to figure out what is going to come out for the cards you want to bring in. You are presenting them a deck every time. You play more games of Magic sideboarded than you do without it. It deserves as much attention and care as you afford the maindeck. In fact, don't think of them as separate. They should be built in the same effort."

Now that he's been safely re-assimilated into society, Hill intends to continue playing Magic whenever he can.

"I want to play in the World Magic Cup Qualifiers, but I need Planeswalker Points to do so. In order to get them, I've got to play. I want to be relevant in what's going on, and you can't do that unless you're playing in events. That's what I'm here for: to play Magic. I feel like I can win matches, like I'm a better player for my experiences. It helps me greatly with work as a commentator, too. It keeps me from getting too distant from the game. It was hard at times to be two years ahead of the curve and trying to draw myself back to a format that isn't exactly the same as when I last saw it. I didn't get to read a whole lot of strategy articles and keep abreast of things. Now, I have that time and that luxury. It will make me better for it."


Saturday, 5:42 p.m. - Quick Hits: What's your favorite Gatecrash preview card thus far?

by Jacob Van Lunen

Brad Nelson - Aurelia, the Warleader

Josh Utter-Leyton - Boros Charm

Christian Calcano - Boros Charm

Michael Flores: Cloudfin Raptor

Zac Hill - Domri Rade

Zvi Mowshowitz - Prime Speaker Zegana


Round 5 Feature Match - Brian Demars vs. Shahar Shenhar

by Adam Styborski

Rising stars come and go in the quest for the Pro Tour. Shahar Shenhar had a meteoric rise in the last year, winning a Standard Grand Prix in Salt Lake City just a few months after 2011's Innistrad Limited Grand Prix San Diego. He followed through to several high place finishes, including Top 25 at Pro Tour Avacyn Restored, and is part of a group that tests and battles in Sacramento with other high profile players such as Grand Prix Indianapolis Top 8 finisher Matthew Nass. Shenhar is the face of the changing vanguard, one of many young players ready to carve their name into Magic history.

Brian Demars

Demars isn't a new, rising star. As a long-time player and writer, his specialty for years was the only constructed format where you could play Black Lotus, Vintage. In years past he tested with future Pro Tour Hall of Fame player Patrick Chapin, but it's his shift in focus to newer formats that rewarded him. His Magic 2013 Limited victory in last year's Grand Prix Boston-Worcester and 2013 Grand Prix season opening Top 8 in Grand Prix Indianapolis demonstrates the established crew has no intention of handing history over.

But history is determined by the victors.

Game 1

Demars went first and opened into a second turn Lotleth Troll, using a Cavern of Souls that named Zombie. Shenhar had first turn Avacyn's Pilgrim, but nothing to show on the second. A Knight of Infamy joined Demars's team, which supported a quick attack from an exalted Troll. The pressure was on when Shenhar passed back.

Demars attacked with both creatures, but Shenhar's block with Avacyn's Pilgrim forced Demars to discard a Gravecrawler to the Troll. Shenhar decided to save his Pilgrim with Restoration Angel, and Demars followed up with Diregraf Ghoul and the discarded Gravecrawler after combat.

On Shenhars draw step he revealed Bonfire of the Damned, and used it with three mana to clear away everything but Demars's Lotleth Troll, saved by a discarded Gravecrawler. Demars's reply was to attack with his Troll again, but it was undone as Shenhar's Thragtusk put himself back up to 11 life. Demars's Ultimate Price cleared away Restoration Angel, but Shenhar didn't block Demars's continuous attack with Lotleth Troll. This time, two Gravecrawlers crawled out for Demars after combat.

Shenhar put in his own attack with Thragtusk and returned the turn, but cast his second Restoration Angel of the game on Demars's upkeep. Back to 11 life with a new Beast token to show for it by flickering Thragtusk, Shenhar held narrow control. Demars found potential with Falkenrath Aristocrat, but Shenhar had a Selesnya Charm for the 5/5 Lotleth Troll before anything could happen.

Facing Shenhar's army of Beasts and Angel of Restoration, Demars wouldn't long suffer to be attacked.

Shenhar 1 – Demars 0

Game 2

Demars opened, again, with a Cavern of Souls naming Zombie and a Gravecrawler to show for it. Shenhar's Avacyn's Pilgrim didn't block the Gravecrawler next turn, where Demars added his second Cavern of Souls naming Zombie and Gravecrawler, and first Diregraf Ghoul.

Next turn, the Zombies shambled in.

Shenhar put an Ultimate Price on one of Demars's Gravecrawlers, then untapped to reveal what Avacyn's Prilgrim could ramp into: Huntsmaster of the Fells on Shenhar's third turn. Demars's fourth land was his third Cavern of Souls, this time for Vampire, and Falkenrath Aristocrat joined the party.

Shenhar flavorfully used Sever the Bloodline for Falkenrath Aristocrat. Demars didn't attack, and Shenhar's next turn added his own Vampire to the battlefield with Olivia Voldaren. Demars was down to just two Gravecrawlers against Shenhar's power, but with the coast clear Demars cast Rakdos's Return for two to drop Shenhar down to four life.

But Rakdos's Return wasn't all upside for Demars.

Shenhar discarded a Loxodon Smiter directly onto the battlefield, and with an empty hand revealed Bonfire of the Damned as his draw. Thanks to the Loxodon Smiter, Shenhar already had 16 power in creatures on the battlefield, which allowed Shenhar to roll right over the Zombies that refuse to block even with a miracle.

Shahar Shenhar

Demars lamented the tough turn of events and mistakes he felt he made along the way. "Not my finest match," he offered with a handshake.

Shenhar 2 – Demars 0


Saturday, 6:47 p.m. - Building Green Decks with Brian Kibler!

by Jacob Van Lunen

What draws you to green cards?

"I like attacking. I want to be the person putting pressure on my opponent. Green cards let you be aggressive when you want to be and controlling when you need to be. Green gives you a lot of options."

A lot of consideration goes into card choices when building a green deck for a standard metagame. For example, if no one is playing Supreme Verdict it creates a great opportunity to focus on board presence and play many copies of Bonfire of the Damned. What unique deck considerations did you have in mind when building your deck for this week?

"I'm playing the same deck [Green/Black] I played in Los Angeles. I expected a lot of aggressive decks like Rakdos and Burn, but I also expected a lot of control decks. I wanted to play creatures that let me get on the board quickly to defend against the most aggressive decks and run over the control decks. Cards like Strangleroot Geist, Wolfir Avenger, and Predator Ooze are fast and let me have a resilient gameplan against Supreme Verdict."

Brian Kibler

You do a lot of testing on Magic Online. Do you find the live metagame to be different than the Magic Online metagame? How?

"Yes, I feel that the online metagame is more influenced by card availability than the live metagame. Decks like Burn and Green/Black are more popular on Magic Online because they're easier to acquire. Aggressive decks are over-represented in 2-player and 8-player queues because they finish matches faster than decks like Bant Control."

What are you thinking about when you build a new deck?

"I'm thinking about what decks I'm expecting to play against and trying to imagine how my deck will play out against them."

What recommendations for improvement do you have to aspiring deck builders?

"Pay attention to your sideboard! A lot of people dramatically undervalue their sideboard cards. It's important to recognize what's important in a particular matchup and sideboard accordingly. Also, sometimes cards that would be very good against your opponent in game one dramatically decrease in value for post sideboarded games. For example, Silklash Spider is great against Rakdos decks if you're playing a creature-light control deck, but my deck is full of beefy creatures, so I can expect them to sideboard in a bunch of inexpensive spot removal and that makes Silklash Spider underwhelming. Duress is a particularly good card in this deck's sideboard because the decks I want it against are leaning on cards like Azorious Charm to deal with my early aggression, especially Rancor. Duress is proactive against Azorious Charm, but it also has the ability to take something like Sphinx's Revelation or a Planeswalker in the mid-game and completely dismantle their whole gameplan."

Brian Kibler's Green/Black
Grand Prix Atlantic City


Saturday, 8:34 p.m. - Top Table Metagame Breakdown Rounds 4-6

by Steve Sadin

Grand Prix Atlantic City is the final Standard Grand Prix before the release of Gatecrash – and despite the fact that players have been playing this Standard format tirelessly for months, there's still no clear "best deck".

Jund Midrange, Bant Control, Blue White Flash, and Black Red Zombies have all walked around with big bullseyes on them for weeks at a time. But none of these decks (with the possible exception of Black Red Zombies) have had a sustained period of dominance in Return to Ravnica Standard.

Instead, quite a few decks (ranging from hyper aggressive Black Red Zombies, to controlling Blue White Red decks) are sharing the spotlight going into this weekend. And while only one of these decks will be able to emerge victorious, we will be tracking the frequency with which decks are seen at the top tables all weekend long to give you a more complete picture of the event than you would have been able to see by simply looking at the Top 8 (or 16) decklists

Round 4

Round 4 Metagame Breakdown

Throughout the course of Return to Ravnica Standard's lifespan, a number of different decks have held the mantle as the "Deck to Beat." Although Blue Red White Control splashing red for Pillar of Flames, Searing Spears, and Thundermaw Hellkites (sometimes) hasn't held that mantle (yet) – it's nonetheless the most popular deck at the top tables in Round 4.

However, the deck that stood out to me most this round was the aura+hexproof filled Bant Aggro deck. While I've seen people playing decks with Rancors, Ethereal Armors, Spectral Flights, Invisible Stalkers, and Geists of Saint Trafts to some success online – this style of deck hasn't made its presence felt in a particularly significant way before this weekend...

Round 5

Round 5 Metagame Breakdown

Jund midrange decks featuring Farseek, Bonfire of the Damned, Olivia Voldaren, Garruk, Primal Hunters, and an abundance of spot removal were the most popular deck at the top ten tables in Round 5.

Not far behind were Blue Red White Control, Naya (with and without black), and 4 Color Reanimator decks.

This round also featured a significant uptick in aggressive Rakdos decks at the top, with 2 players piloting Black Red Zombies decks, and another two players bringing Red Black aggro decks with them.

Round 6

Round 5 Metagame Breakdown

For the second round in a row, Jund Midrange decks were the most popular deck at the top; and Aggressive Rakdos decks continued to grow in representation with fully 25% of the players at the top tables piloting a deck filled with Falkenrath Aristocrats and burn spells.

In order to make room for these Blood Crypt decks at the top, something needs to fall – and while Blue Control decks took the hit in Round 5, in Round 6 it was Naya decks that lost their position at the top.

As a completely non-objective observer, I was happy to see Bant Aggro decks continue to hold their own – now putting 2 players in the top 10 tables.

Round 4
5 Blue Red White Control
3 Naya
2 Black Red Zombies
2 Bant Control
2 Jund
1 4-Color Reanimator
1 Green White Aggro
1 Bant Aggro (with auras)
1 Esper Control
1 Human Reanimator
1 Green Black Aggro
0 Red splash black aggro
0 Blue White Flash
Round 5
3 Blue Red White Control
3 Naya
2 Black Red Zombies
0 Bant Control
4 Jund
3 4-Color Reanimator
1 G/W Aggro
0 Bant Aggro
1 Esper Control
0 Human Reanimator
0 G/B Aggro
2 Red splash black aggro
1 Blue White Flash
Round 6
2 Blue Red White Control
0 Naya
3 Black Red Zombies
0 Bant Control
4 Jund
3 4-Color Reanimator
2 G/W Aggro
2 Bant Aggro (with Auras)
1 Esper Control
0 Human Reanimator
1 G/B Aggro
2 Red splash black aggro
0 Blue White Flash

Complete Round 4-6 Top Table Data


Saturday, 9:19 p.m. - Deck Selection with Josh Utter-Leyton

by Adam Styborski

Choosing the right deck is a complicated process. Groups of cards create unique strategies, which stand against other groups of cards and their goals. The choice of individual cards, while important, is lesser than the choice of all the cards together. Choosing the right deck is often the difference between struggling to find footing all day long and having the answers you need in hand at every turn.

Josh Utter-Leyton

Josh Utter-Leyton understands the implications of this decision well. Between his Top 8 appearance in 2011's Pro Tour Philadelphia, earning the right to battle in the 2012 Magic Players Championship, and most recently a second place finish at Grand Prix Chicago, Josh has several times over picked the right deck to play against the best players in the game.

We had the opportunity to ask Josh a few questions about deck selection.

How important is deck selection?

"It's less important than people think it is," Josh said. Like many other top players, Josh believes that the idea of playing as well as possible is more important than other factors. "It's really important to be able to play your deck well. If you have a deck you're better with you should use that."

Differences in decks do impact your result. Josh was among the top tables playing a Bant-colored deck filled with hexproof creatures and Auras to empower them. It's a strategy that avoids giving opponents a way to interact, and works to kill opponents as quickly as possible before they can. But it isn't perfect.

Was your deck for today a good pick?

"I thought I'd see more green midrange decks," he said. "I wasn't prepared for today, and all the aggro and blue-white decks." His deck full of difficult to handle creatures could quickly cut through Thragtusk-backed green decks, but blue decks using counterspells could prevent the hexproof plan from materializing. He would have preferred to tune one of the midrange decks he was cutting through.

What's different between the deck you picked and would have brought?

"The threats," Josh explained. "Bant Midrange tries to just stay alive. The hexproof deck tries to get your opponent dead as fast as possible. Hexproof creatures are one thing, but Sphinx's Revelation is the threat of an unbeatable hand." While Sphinx's Revelation is a great card, it isn't enough in of itself.

"I would tweak Bant Midrange to also beat the blue-white-red control and red aggro decks." Changing one of the best decks in the format to handle the others is a tried and true approach. Josh demonstrated it in Modern at Grand Prix Chicago, taking a very strong deck and improving it against the field.

What made a great deck choice work with you?

"Jund with Lingering Souls in Chicago. The three best decks were Jund, Affinity, and Infect," Josh said. "Lingering Souls was way better than the Kitchen Finks everyone else was using. I took an already strong deck with a very good game against everything." And that's the recipe he was sharing. "I want to play the best generic deck against a generic field. I don't like metagaming against the field because you're going to be wrong way more often than you're right."

It's easy to see why Josh puts more stock in playing well than grabbing the right deck. "You always see more random stuff than you expect," he said, referencing the natural diversity of decks you'll find at a Grand Prix. But if you play several decks well, giving yourself a few options to pick, Josh will "bias towards the known best decks. There are always good decks."


Saturday, 9:21 p.m. - Quick Hits: Will Domri Rade affect the Standard metagame?

by Jacob Van Lunen

Ben Stark: For only three mana it seems pretty good as a green planeswalker that will frequently come down on turn two.
Josh Utter-Leyton: I think it will see a lot of play, but I don't feel it's format warping.
Reid Duke: It's perfect because when you want to play creature heavy decks it becomes difficult to play removal and he fills that role and isn't dead against control decks.
Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa: Maybe, I don't really know. It's a good card, but I'm not sure it has a home right now.


Round 9 Feature Match - Jon Finkel vs. Maz Tietze

by Adam Styborski

Jon Finkel needs little introduction. One of the most prolific players in the game, earning his place in the Pro Tour Hall of Fame years ago, he continues to play at the top of the game with a Top 8 at Pro Tour Dark Ascension and a Top 4 at the 2012 Magic Players Championship. Max Tietze isn't nearly as well known but he's still a respectable player with several Grand Prix Top 8s including last season's Modern stop in Columbus under his belt.

But this wasn't a game between the old and new. Here, they are both equals, each one win away from moving on to the second day. A record of six wins, one loss, and one draw means neither can afford to lose.

The line for Day 2 is sharp at seven wins.

Maz Tietze

Tietze led with Avacyn's Pilgrim, getting in a few early attacks, Farseek, and second Pilgrim to pull away with mana. Finkel had a Think Twice, playing land and passing until Tietze's Thragtusk gave him pause. Supreme Verdict was Finkel's answer. Tietze, unphased, played Garruk Relentless to create a Wolf token next to his Beast. Finkel had a Thragtuk of his own, which led to Tietze attacking with his Wolf and an active Kessig Wolf Run. Finkel blocked, and Tietze pumped to put a Beast token on Finkel's side.

Finkel returned with an attack against Garruk Relentless, and an Azorius Charm for Tietze's own Beast token when he blocked. Finkel cast Augur of Bolas that revealed Sphinx's Revelation, and Tietze slowed to think through his next turn. He struck down Finkel's Augur with Garruk Relentless, transforming into Garruak, the Veil-Cursed, and attacked with a Wolf token. Finkel passed back with eight lands in play, and fell to 16 on the next Wolf attack.

Tietze moved up to his sixth land thanks to Borderland Ranger. At the end of Tietze's turn, Finkel used Sphinx's Revelation to draw five cards. With lands, a full hand, and restored life, he merely passed his turn and discarded a land. Tietze attacked with his team, and despite Finkel having no blockers Tietze decided against using Kessig Wolf Run. Using Garruk's ability to search for a creature, Tietze traded up a black Wolf token to find and cast Thragtusk.

Finkel used Think Twice before letting it resolve, but activated Alchemist's Refuge to cast Supreme Verdict at the end of the turn. Finkel added Jace, Memory Adept and used it to draw a card. Tietze immediately used his turn to attack Jace and pump with Kessig Wolf Run, but Finkel removed it with another Azorius Charm.

Finkel continued to draw just one card with Jace, Memory Adept, and ramped further with Farseeks. Tietze decided to make a 2/2 white Knight token at the end of Finkel's turn, and used Kessig Wolf Run to again pump the Wolf token in the attack. Again, Finkel had Azorius Charm, and Tietze made another wolf.

Finkel switched to Jace's mill mode, putting ten cards from Tietze's library into his graveyard, yet cast nothing. Tietze's team struck at Jace, Memory Adept again, with a Kessig Wolf Run pump. Finkel played his Alchemist's Refuge-Supreme Verdict trick again, but the black Wolf tokens kept coming from Garruk, the Veil-Cursed.

Tietze tried Restoration Angel at the end of Finkel's turn, but it hit Dissipate. Down to three cards in Finkel's hand, Tietze continued his assault on Jace, Memory Adept. Kessig Wolf Run and yet another Azorius Charm did their thing before Finkel used Sphinx's Revelation for three at the end of Tietze's turn. With control established, Finkel activated Nephalia Drownyard to mill Tietze for three. Jace, Memory Adept made it ten more even as Tietze used Searing Spear on FInkel to put him to 14 life.

Tietze made his Wolf token a 22/22 with Garruk, the Veil-Cursed's ultimate ability, and attacked Finkel. Finkel thought for some time before drawing and gaining five life with Sphinx's Revelation. At just 19 life Finkel drew the exact card he needed, Supreme Verdict.

Tietze had run out of cards to draw before his creatures could do their work.

Finkel 1 – Tietze 0

Between games they bantered about the situation. "There's nothing I would have really done differently," Finkel said. "I thought I was going to win the whole time."

"You weren't playing around the trample?" Tietze asked.

"I couldn't really kill Garruk anyway," was all Finkel said, never one to give away his plan.

After Finkel took a mulligan, Tietze had a Turn 1 Avacyn's Pilgrim again. Finkel's Farseek was met by Thragtusk from Tietze. Finkel's own Thragtusk evened the life totals at 23, but Oblivion Ring and Searing Spear took care of Finkel's Beast before Tietze attacked. Finkel cast his second Farseek, then played Restoration Angel to block Tietze's Avacyn's Pilgrim on the attack. Finkle dropped to 10 life, then blocked the Thragtusk in Tietze's next attack.

Sphinx's Revelation for four lifted Finkel into his third Farseek, a Think Twice and a pass of the turn was familiar. Tietze took Finkel down to 9 life before the draw-go, and Tietze played Loxodon Smiter before he was hit by Nephalia Drownyard. This time, Finkel cast Supreme Verdict – an actual spell – on his turn.

Jon Finkel

Slaughter Games from Tietze changed the situation, taking out the three remaining copies of Sphinx's Revelation from Finkel's deck. Nephalia Drownyard continued to mill as FInkel found another Thragtusk. Between attacking with Thragtusk and milling with Drownyard, Tietze was being pressured as he drew nothing but land for the next several turns.

It was the third Thragtusk from Finkel that put in the finishing blow.

Tiezte had been looking for a way to even the score, frustrated he didn't find a way to stop Finkel. "I had to name Sphinx's Revelation there," Tietze said referring to Slaughter Games.

"It didn't really matter then anyway," Finkel said. "I had what I needed."

Finkel 2 – Tietze 0


Saturday, 10:46 p.m. - Building Control Decks with Zvi Mowshowitz

by Steve Sadin

Throughout the years, I've heard many players explicitly state that control decks can only thrive in known metagames, where their pilots are able to custom tailor their suite of answers for the threats that they know they'll face.

However, Hall of Famer and world-renowned deck builder Zvi Mowshowitz sees things very differently...

What do you think about when you sit down to build a control deck?

The first thing that I ask myself when I sit down to build a deck is what are the good cards? Sure you want to have a vague idea of how many turns you have, and what the best cards out there are. But for the most part, people target what they think they're going to be up against way too much.

I build control decks without thinking about what I'm up against. Instead, I ask myself: what are the powerful things that I can do?

I think that people miss out on building a lot of good decks because they convince themselves that they need to beat all of the oppressive things in the format.

They'll tell themselves that "I have to beat Thragtusk, I have to beat Thundermaw Hellkites, I have to beat Lingering Souls..." and then they never find the synergies, the cards that don't seem to solve their problems, but allow them to do something really good, because they just don't look for them.

But if you just say '"okay, what are the powerful things I can do" try doing them, and see what happens - who's to say that you're not going to be the one that's oppressing them?

Zvi Mowshowitz

Once you have an outline for a control deck, how do you tune it to the point where you feel comfortable bringing it to a tournament?

You build your deck first, and you make it good last.

When you're tuning a control deck you should put your deck together and see why you die. Once you see what beats you, then you can adjust to try and deal with those problems. You figure out what cards have to be in your deck, and what the natural control cards want you to do.

Then at some point you have to ask yourself what's the fastest deck that I need to be prepared for -- the deck that's going to put me to the biggest test? And what kind of a deck do I need to put together to beat that? In this format (Return to Ravnica Standard), that deck is Zombies.

Then you figure out how many cheap burn spells do I need to put into my deck, how many untapped lands do I need have to have so I don't just die, and you see what your deck looks like at the end of that.

Oh, and don't worry about the mirror at all until you've proven that you can handle what other people are playing. Remember: your deck doesn't exist until it exists. If your deck's great, then you can start worrying about how to beat it. But if your deck isn't great, then you don't have to worry about because no one else built your control deck.

How do you select your answers when you have a huge range of threats that you need to deal with?

This time around, I didn't. I chose to play Zombies.

But in general, I think that people need a lot more humility about their knowledge of the field. Sure there are some exceptions like at Pro Tour Qualifiers, and at Star City Games Opens where the fields don't change that much from week to week.

In control, often, you have to say that in game one there are things that you can't deal with. You can't just say that "this will handle the Planeswalkers, this will handle the Gravecrawlers, this will handle the Restoration Angels"

Instead, you have to do something powerful. And right now, the most powerful control card is Sphinx's Revelation.

What makes a deck good is not that it "beats this and that" it's that your deck is "really powerful."

So while the Reid Duke/Andrew Cuneo Bant control deck is a thing of beauty, it's not something that I would want to play.

Reid's deck has exactly enough cards to beat his opponents, and nothing else.

But I don't believe in that. I believe in overkill.

A lot of control players want to be cute "I have exactly as many Nephalia Drownyards as I need." Instead, you should have more Nephalia Drownyards than you need.

You shouldn't have 'exactly enough wraths (e.g. Terminus, and Supreme Verdict), you should have more than enough wraths so you're not worried about tapping out, or using one of them to deal with a single threat.

I don't want to have to worry about what cards I've used up, and I don't want to be the deck that's afraid to tap out.

In this new world where there are better and better threats you should be gaining lots and lots of advantages with your control decks – not just scraping by.

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