his morning things seemed so new. Spring. Born of the Gods. The first Grand Prix in Cincinnati. A wide world of variations on multiple archetypes. Newness seemed to be in the air.
But then No. 11 Alexander Hayne came along and reminded us that he's actually an alien sent to Earth to dominate Grand Prix tournaments, and no matter how much we think we've moved on, he's going to be there 9-0ing Grand Prix Day 1s.
Playing his trusty Blue-White-based control deck—you know, the one he won Grand Prix Vancouver with just two short months ago—Hayne is joined by Stu Somers, Nick Sefert, Kyle Boggemes, and Jeffrey Pyka among the ranks of the 9-win club. Apparently, if you wanted to go 9-0 on Day 1, as these five demonstrated, you need to avoid playing Red or Green, as Mono Black, Esper, UW and nearly Mono Blue rule the roost after nine rounds.
Meanwhile, Ryan Lamb and Jacob Briselden finished juuuust short of the illustrious 9-0, taking a draw but still finishing with unblemished 8-0-1 records.
But 193 players are coming back tomorrow, all trying to push others off their perch and make a run at the Top 8. The undefeated players might be lockstep playing Black, Blue and/or White, but a diverse field stands behind them ready to pounce, including No. 16 Josh McClain, David Ochoa, Brad Nelson, Ari Lax, Eric Froehlich, Pat Cox, Brian Kibler and Luis-Scott Vargas.
Join us tomorrow for six more rounds of Standard and the Top 8 as we try and decide what seven other players will fall to Alexander Hayne as he makes his way toward another Grand Prix victory.
Kidding. Hayne could totally not make Top 8. Maybe. We're not entirely sure it's possible. Either way, tune in tomorrow to find out.
Grand Prix Cincinnati - Grinder Winning Decklists
by Event Coverage Staff
Saturday, 1:20 p.m. – Tried and True or Try Something New?
by Corbin Hosler
It's a question that's permeated Magic circles since the game's inception: do you play the "best deck" or do you play a deck that you believe beats the best deck?
A few months after Theros released, the answer was simple. Most players agreed that the single-color decks in Mono-Black and Mono-Blue Devotion clearly stood above the rest of the field, and tournament results reflected that. When Born of the Gods hit the streets, cards like Bile Blight and Drown in Sorrow seemed like they would only strengthen black's hold on the format.
But the only thing you can expect in Magic is the unexpected, and the introduction of Born of the Gods shook up the format in a way that no one expected. With cards like Courser of Kruphix and Temple of Enlightenment fundamentally changing both the power and consistency of the rest of the field, the format has opened up. With the top decks having to adapt to a more diverse field, there's been room for an influx of innovative new decks such as Naya Auras, Boros Burn, Mono-Green aggro, and even the new black-green deck that utilizes the graveyard thanks to cards like Nighthowler and Nemesis of Mortals.
It's resulted in a format in which players can play nearly whatever they want and have a shot at doing well, which brings us back to the original question: play the best deck or innovate?
For Ray Perez Jr., who sits at third in the race for the 2013-14 Rookie of the Year and is looking this weekend to earn the two points he needs to catch Sweden's Björklund Rasmus for first, there is no right choice. Instead, it's best to play whatever you're most comfortable with.
"Every deck in Standard right now is bad, so you can play whatever you want," he said. "What I mean by that is that you'll play a few good games with a deck and think that it's really good, but they're all capable of giving you really bad games that make you think the deck is terrible. Especially now that everyone is prepared for Mono-Black and Pack Rat, there's really no best deck.
"So the best way to approach it is to pick a deck and learn how to play it inside and out. That's way better than trying to jump around."
Renowned deckbuilder and StarCityGames.com writer Adrian Sullivan says the answer lies in Magic's history.
"Only one deck — Zvi Mowshowitz's "The Solution"— has ever won a Pro Tour by trying specifically to beat the best deck," he said. "It's usually been the decks that are intrinsically powerful and do well in a random field that have won."
Sullivan breaks the field down to two camps. The "level one," group, represented in Standard by decks like Mono-Black, Mono-Blue and white-blue or Esper control, is characterized by decks that simply have the most powerful gameplan. In "level two" are the decks that can boast a positive matchup against one or two of the top decks but aren't inherently as strong. Mowshowitz's solution to Pro Tour: Tokyo and Invasion Block Constructed was a white-blue control deck that toppled the red-green and blue-black decks of the day, but Sullivan said that has proven to be the exception to the rule.
So what's the solution for Cincinnati?
"In Standard right now the format is too broad; you can only aim your gun at a few things, so a level two deck has trouble," Sullivan said. "But the format is more open. If you've got a good build and have designed it rationally you can get a lot of wins out of that.
"A lot of players — even very good players — have complained about Standard right now. I say they're crazy. There are some games where they have triple Thoughtseize and then Pack Rat, but that's the exception. There's so much room for play right now, and it's incredibly skill-intensive."
Round 3 Feature Match - Chris Pikula (Esper Control) vs. Kyle Hulett (Esper Midrange)
by Blake Rasmussen
Kyle Huett, Michigan native and Brazilian steakhouse lover, is off to a fast start in his second Grand Prix. Now 2-0 with no byes, Hulett finds himself in the feature match area looking to make a run at his first Day 2.
What's that? You're not here for Hulett? My mistake.
Hulett is a good player, as you'll see, but we're all here to marvel at the Meddling Mage himself, Chris Pikula. Long on the edge of the Hall of Fame discussion, Pikula has made an effort to attend Grand Prixs when he's able, including Grand Prix DC and Grand Prix Richmond. So far his comeback has been filled with starts and stops. After making Day 2 of DC, Pikula said he hasn't had much success.
"I tell people that it feels like Day 1 of DC was the last time I won a game," Pikula said. "I've been running that cold."
Now at 2-0, Pikula had at least managed to win a few games since then with his Esper control deck. But what his opponent had in store for him was a little unexpected...
Pikula was packing a pretty standard Esper control deck with few frills and all the normal trappings. He selected the deck because he had been playing WU Control—complete with Azorius Guildgates—but wanted a better way to tackle the RG-based Monsters decks—specifically Stormbreath Dragon—and found the black splash was pretty free. He wasn't terribly enamored with Thoughtseize, but felt it helped speed up games enough that he played some in his sideboard anyway.
Hulett, meanwhile, was playing Esper as well, but of a very different flavor. Full of aggressive creatures like Lyev Skynight and Precinct Captain, the deck looked to take advantage of some top-end threats like Ephara, God of the Polis and Obzedat, Ghost Council. Hulett has actually only played against Esper Control so far this tournament, building his unblemished record on the backs of other Elspheth and Jace aligned mages. Ephara and Obzedat were particularly dangerous against control decks.
Key to the match were the post-board Thoughseizes Hulett would be bringing in. His haymakers were key to winning, but they were easily answered with counterspells and some of Pikula's more exotic removal—Dark Betrayal, Revoke Existence, etc.—so removing those answers would be important if Hulett was going to come out on top.
Hulett started hitting Pikula early, working an Imposing Soveriegn and a Mutavault into the redzone. Azorius Charm gave Pikula a brief respite from the Mutavault, but he found himself at 10 life fairly quickly.
Hulett attempted to resolve Obzedat, Ghost Council, but found it Dissolved. That let Pikula safely tap out for an Elspeth, but he lost it just as quickly to a Detention Sphere.
The soldier tokens, however, were enough to gum up the board long enough to fire off a Sphinx's Revelation for four. And, just like that, Pikula had all the answers. Detention Sphere for Skyknight, Doomblade for Imposing Sovereign, another Sphere for Ephara, God of the Polis and another Elspeth to really lock up the board.
Meanwhile, Hulett was drawing some pretty useless removal spells. He pointed an Ultimate Price at a token, but otherwise was stuck with little useful in hand and absolutely nothing but land on the board.
A few turns, a few tokens, and few more blanks for Hulett and Pikula swiftly took the first game.
Between games, both players shared their love of Lyev Skynight, which Pikula affectionately called "the Blue-White Lifebane Zombie." He was mostly joking.
Where he wasn't joking was how much he was apprehensive about sideboarded games. He said he wasn't sure how to board against Hulett's fringe strategies, though he was sure of one thing.
"Here come the Thoughtseizes."
The ubiquitous discard spell wasn't forthcoming for Hulett, but he did have a pair of Precinct Captains to threaten some early trouble.
Then turn four and Supreme Verdict rolled around, so there was that.
But Hulett and his pristine record against Esper control weren't done. He reloaded with Ephara, God of the Polis and started attacking with Mutavault, but was struggling to find the second Black mana for the pair of Obzedats in his hand and the Whip of Erebos. Instead, he played a third Precinct Captain that Pikula, reluctantly, had to Supreme Verdict away again.
Once Hulett found his second Black mana, it felt like the game really started to hit its stride as he started throwing out haymakers while Pikula worked to find answers. Whip met a Dissolve while Pikula used a second Dissolve to save his Jace, Architect of Thought from Detention Sphere.
That turned out to be a key play, as Jace yielded a Dark Betrayal that could keep Hulett's very dangerous Obzedat, Ghost Council at bay. Without it, it was likely Pikula would have had no answer to the blinking legendary spirit.
But with it, Pikula had room to breathe. Room enough to land a haymaker of his own, casting Sphinx's Revelation for five and strengthening his grip on the game.
But all this time Ephara was working her magic, netting extra cards and keeping Hulett's hand filled with threats Pikula had to answer. It looked for a moment like Hulett could claw his way back into the match on the back of Ephara and a motley crew of White creatures scratching their way to Pikula's life total.
It looked that way for a moment, anyway.
"Sphinx's Revelation for 10?"
To be fair, Hulett put up a good fight after that. Glare of Heresy freed an Ephara after another Detention Sphere, there was a thing with a Lyev Skynight, and he even got to attack multiple times with two Soldier of the Pantheon.
But do you remember the part where Pikula cast Sphinx's Revelation for 10? From that point forward, Pikula had complete control of the game. It was an Ætherling and an Elspeth that eventually dealt the final points of damage, but by that point, the real damage was already done.
Hulett's last draw? Thoughtseize. Many, many turns too late.
"Did you not have Thoughtseizes?" Pikula asked after the game.
"No, I did. I had four. Guess what my last draw was?"
Saturday, 2:00 p.m. – Variations on Standard: WUx Control
by Blake Rasmussen
It seems these days you can show up to a Standard event with any number of archetypes and succeed with tight play, the right matchups, and a pinch of luck. In fact, there's a pretty good case to be made that players should be playing what they know rather than what they think is "best."
But it also means that tweaks and variations on archetypes can make a big difference. And, as we've seen in recent weeks, the most popular decks are all sprouting branches off their family trees. Mono Blue Devotion gave birth to a white splash, Mono Black dipped in to white or red, and WU Control decks started splashing, well, everything at some point.
So to better understand the format, we're going to explore four of the large macro archetypes—WUx Control, Black midrange, Blue Devotion, and RGx Monsters—and their several variations, as well as the reasons to play any one version over the other. Every type has someone in the room playing it today, so a full picture of Standard isn't compete until you understand all of these archetype nooks and crannies.
In honor of Chris Pikula's third round feature match win, we'll get started with the WUx Control decks or, as many refer to them, Sphinx's Revelation decks.
There are four variations on the UW deck, but two are clearly most popular: WU Control and Esper Control.
Grinder winner Steve Verhey
Grinder Winner Deshaun Baylock
These two grinder winning decklists are mostly typical of the archetypes , though Baylock goes a little deeper with main-deck Thoughtseize and Obzedat, Ghost Council. Still, you can start to see a core of:
4 Sphinx's Revelation
4 Supreme Verdict
4 Detention Sphere
4 Jace, Architect of Thought
2-3 Elspeth, Sun's Champion
This was the core Chris Pikula pointed to when he said that the variations on the deck didn't actually vary all that much.
"I don't think there's much difference [between the variations]. The decks are built around the 4-ofs and Elspeth," Pikula said. "The rest of the cards just don't matter that much."
Pikula was oversimplifying a little bit, because he himself moved from the straight UW list to Esper based on some of the rest of those cards that turn out to matter quite a bit in certain matchups. Noticing he was losing mostly Stormbreath Dragon and large green creatures—including both losses in a 6-2 PTQ performance—Pikula looked to Doom Blade and Ultimate Price as answer.
"All my recent match losses were against red-gree decks. Without the black cards it's really tough to beat Stormbreath Dragon. Mistcutter Hydra can be annoying too," he said.
The other addition is Thoughtseize, a card Pikula isn't terribly fond of but which, he said, ends games faster, something that's important in a room full of mirror matches or near mirrors.
"Sometimes you just get to seven mana, know the coast is clear, and slam Ætherling," he said.
Brian Kibler, who is not playing any kind of control deck, pointed out that the removal was the strongest aspect of the Black splash. He noted that, even before Born of the Gods, players were playing black Temples and using them just to play Dark Betrayal and Doom Blade out of the sideboard. Now, with access to all three Temples, the splash feels pretty much free.
Don't' be surprised to see different flavors of WUx Control decks fighting it out all weekend.
However, he cautions that it's not completely free. The 12-Temples version of Esper, which is the version most advocate, slows the deck down considerably. Kibler said that noted Red mage Patrick Sullivan hopes everyone plays 12 Temples. That, Kibler said, is what has given rise to the Red Burn decks capable of punishing such slow starts.
"I think people are overdoing it."
One place they can't overdo it on Temples, because they don't all exist yet, is the WUR variant. Red has a few things going for it—mostly Assemble the Legion, Warleader's Helix and Counterflux—but it loses points against Esper because it doesn't have a Thoughtseize equivalent and additional points against Monsters because it still doesn't have a great answer to Stormbreath Dragon outside Turn & Burn.
The Bant lists, meanwhile, are mostly focused around Kiora, the Crashing Wave, but have similar problems with Stormbreath Dragon.
In fact, most of the variations in these control lists are due in large part to the rise of the GR-based Monster decks, which we'll explore later in the day.
Just know that, when an opponent plays a turn one Hallowed Fountain against you, even if you get the read that they're on Sphinx's Revelation, there are a number of ways they can go.
Round 4 Feature Match - Luis Scott-Vargas (Esper Control) vs. Dan Cato (Jund Monsters)
by Corbin Hosler
Fresh off his Top 8 performance at Grand Prix: Richmond in the largest Constructed event in Magic's history, Luis Scott-Vargas is seeking to continue the momentum in a different Constructed format at Cincinnati. Coming off his byes, he squared off against in Round 4 against Dan Cato, who earned his nine points the hard way.
While LSV is riding a hot streak, Cato comes to Cincinnati having not played a sanctioned match in months. The North Dakota native has found success on the tournament circuit in the past, but the responsibilities of running his store at home have kept him away recently.
Not that it's kept him from doing well when he does venture out. The last tournament he played in was the Star City Games Open in Indianapolis, an event he Top 8'ed on the backs of red and green monsters.
Cato was playing Jund Monsters, a new twist on the red-green Monsters deck he had found success with in Indy. The deck utilizes black to employ efficient removal options like Dreadbore or resilient threats like Reaper of the Wilds, though Cato would manage to play three games against Scott-Vargas without ever casting one of the splashed cards.
Scott-Vargas came to battle with Esper Control, the premier control deck of the format and one that Scott-Vargas' ChannelFireball teammate and Hall-of-Famer Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa took to the Top 8 of Grand Prix Buenos Ares last weekend.
Cato was prepared to square off in one of Standard's premier matchups, but before they could even shuffle up, Scott-Vargas called a judge over.
"Calling a judge on me already?"
"I need a pen. And may I please borrow a piece of paper? I swear 90 percent of my judge calls are for pens or bathroom breaks. I wish I could say I was underprepared, but this is actually my average level of preparedness," the Hall of Famer joked backed.
Game 1 between the two players showed the importance of the old Magic adage "Bolt the Bird."
It wasn't a Lightning Bolt or a Birds of Paradise, but Scott-Vargas stayed true to the spirit of the maxim nonetheless when he used a Last Breath on Dan's Elvish Mystic. That proved to set a decisive pace when all Cato could follow up with was a Temple of Abandon and another Elvish Mystic.
Scott-Vargas simply played a land and passed the turn, setting the stage for the barrage of counterspells he threw at Cato for the next several turns.
Courser of Kruphix? Syncopate.
Domri Rade? Dissolve.
Polukranos, World Eater? Dissolve again. No snacking today for the Monster.
While Scott-Vargas was preventing any new threats from hitting play, Elvish Mystic and Mutavault alongside Shocklands had whittled the Esper player's life away. That prompted a main-phase Sphinx's Revelation from Scott-Vargas to regain some life and try to hit his land drop, which he did.
That opened the window for Cato to resolve a spell, and that spell was Xenagos, the Reveler, which promptly sent a Satyr/LSV token at the real thing.
But the sphinx had revealed all the right answers to Scott-Vargas, who used Detention Sphere to take care of the Xenagos and a Supreme Verdict to clear the board. A few draw steps later and Jace, Architect of Thought turned up an Ætherling that prompted Cato to scoop up his cards.
Cato dejectedly chooses which pile of cards he's going to give Scott-Vargas to win with.
Both players mulliganed to six in Game 2, a contest that lasted all of about 60 seconds before Scott-Vargas scooped up his cards after missing his third and fourth land drops while staring at a much-needed Supreme Verdict in hand.
Moving to a third game, both players had typical starts. Cato led with Elvish Mystic for the third straight game and spent the next few turns playing threats while avoiding the Syncopate that Scott-Vargas bluffed on Turn 2 by playing Hallowed Fountain untapped and passing the turn. Cato had Scott-Vargas down to 10 life when a Jace, Architect of Thought hit the table and moved up to five loyalty.
That sent Cato deep into the tank. He had an opportunity to resolve Stormbreath Dragon if he wanted, but he wanted to play around the Supreme Verdict he suspected was waiting. After a few minutes Cato opted to take down the Jace thanks to a Ghor-Clan Rampager while putting Scott-Vargas down to eight life.
That was enough to bait out the Supreme Verdict, and Cato followed up the next turn with the Stormbreath to knock Scott-Vargas down to four, who looked to survive another turn by casting a Sphinx's Revelation turning the attack step.
Mistcutter Hydra from Cato's side made sure that wouldn't happen, joining the Stormbreath in the red zone to end the match and keep Cato undefeated on the day.
Through four rounds, Cato is happy with his choice to play the Jund version of Monsters instead of the more-familiar red-green, even though he's not playing popular sideboard cards that black opens up. like Slaughter Games.
"I played a lot of red-green, and I was just really tired of losing to Desecration Demon," he said. "With black you can get more removal out of the sideboard. But I don't like Slaughter Games because I'm not interested in a long, drawn-out game. I was something I can be aggressive with to win the game rather than try and keep them from winning it."
Round 5 Feature Match - Patrick Chapin (Mono Black Devotion) vs. Robert Hayes (WB Midrange)
by Blake Rasmussen
In Round 4, Hall of Famer, ace deck designer, and all around interesting guy to cover Patrick Chapin won so fast I didn't get a chance to talk to him after his feature match. What's a coverage reporter to do?
Bring him back for a text feature so he can't get away so easily, of course.
It doesn't hurt that Chapin's fans are surely peering into their computer screens back home trying to discern what the famous Mr. Chapin has in store for them this time around. Since the release of Theros and the subsequent Pro Tour—where he finished 9th—Chapin has stayed pretty true to either Mono Black or Black White Midrange decks and found relative success with both.
Robert Hayes, meanwhile, hadn't found any success at the Grand Prix or Pro Tour level lately—because he's never played in one. A veteran of the StarCity Games circuit, Hayes is nonetheless playing in his first Grand Prix after six years of playing Magic.
And now he was in the feature match area.
"Welcome to this side of things," Chapin greeted with a smile on his face.
Chapin promised he had an "interesting story for a boring deck" that we'll share a bit later when we talk about variations in the Midrange Black decks later on today. For the moment, we can pretty much just say Chapin is playing a stock Mono Black. He was on Lifebane Zombie over Nightveil Specter but was, otherwise, playing pretty much the same Mono Black deck we've come to know and love.
Hayes was playing something close to the same, but going a little deeper into White for cards like Obzedat, Ghost Council and Blood Baron of Vizkopa. He was also playing Read the Bones in place of some number of Underworld Connections, a trend which has been catching steam as having actual Devotion has become less and less important.
Chapin had a slight edge in consistency and in having better Lifebane Zombies, but Hayes had some advantages of his own with Blood Baron and Obzedat doing quite a bit of heavy lifting. After the match, Chapin said one of the main advantages of BW was that it was a bit better in the mirror, thanks in large part to the lifelinking vampire.
On a weekend when variations meant everything, there's little doubt the subtle differences between these two lists could dictate the match results.
Right off the bat, Chapin's Thoughtseize revealed the near mirror match we had going, with Hayes starting with a grip full of Lifebane Zombies and Desecration Demons—plus a Thoughseize that Chapin gladly relieved him of.
The reason? Turn two Pack Rat, of course.
That monster of the mirror immediately became Chapin's plan, skipping any pretense of trying something else and simply making rats every turn.
Hayse may have made a mistake by trading off his Lifebane Zombies for two rat tokens, however, as Chapin was able to Devour Flesh a Desecration Demon and continue making Pack Rats. Hayes had known about the Devour Flesh from Lifebane Zombie but had chosen not to play around it.
Or was it? Hold that thought for a moment.
Hayes started trading creatures for Pack Rat tokens early on. Mistake..or genius?
A second Demon held the fort for Hayes, but it looked like Chapin might run away with the game on the back of a bevy of rats.
However, a tricky play let Hayes wrest the game back under his control. With three rats under Chapin's control and enough mana and cards to make one more, Hayes targeted Chapin with Thoughtseize to try and get a rat activation. When Chapin complied, that gave Hayes the opening he needed to Bile Blight away the three rats in play.
It's important to note at this point that if Hayes hadn't traded off with the rats, they would have grown too large to Bile Blight away. By keeping the Rats manageable early he opened himself up to Devour Flesh but gave himself an out to actually killing the rats—which turned out to be far more important.
Now with more room to work, Hayes cast Obzedat to go with his Desecration Demon. With Chapin down to no cards in hand, he was unable to fight back and instead found himself quickly dropped from 20 to zero.
Picking up where he left off in the first game, Chapin once again fired off a first turn Thoughtseize, proactively stripping a problematic Blood Baron of Vizkopa, but spotting Elspeth, Sun's Champion, Bile Blight and Desecration Demon along the way. Two turns later a Lifebane Zombie—now with no targets—revealed Hayes had simply drawn more land.
And he continued to do so, finding nothing new of note over the next several turns, a fact he revealed when he lost Elspeth—his last non-land card, to a Duress.
Chapin, however, wasn't doing much better. When he lost his Lifebane Zombie he lost his entire offense and soon found himself on the wrong end of a Blood Baron of Vizkopa. Chapin had the requisite Devour Flesh, but needed to clear out a Mutavault before it would actually take out the Blood Baron.
Unable to find a way to do so despite Underworld Connections, Chapin simply lost to a few attacks from Blood Baron of Vizkopa.
Saturday, 4:15 p.m. – Variations on Standard: B/x Devotion/Midrange
by Blake Rasmussen
Hall of Famer Patrick Chapin is playing Mono Black today, let's get that out of the way.
But Chapin, like many others in the room, are aware of the deck's several variations and gave them their due consideration, weighing the pros and cons, testing, and carefully selecting two decks he would be happy to play.
Then he through all that out of the window at 2 a.m. last night because Paul Rietzl told him to.
We'll get back to that in a moment.
You see, there are, basically, three flavors of Black-based midrange Thoughseize decks running around, all growing out of the base Mono Black devotion deck that broke out at Pro Tour Theros and continued to dominate in the hands of No. 3 Owen Turtenwald and others.
This was the list Turtenwald used to Top 8 Grand Prix Albuquerque, pre-Born of the Gods
Top 8 Grand Prix Albuquerque
Black-White, playing Blood Baron of Vizkopa in order to counter its Mono Black brother, was the first to splinter off. Marlon Gutierrez used the following twist on the archetype to win Grand Prix Dallas/Ft. Worth, again before Born of the Gods.
Grand Prix Dallas/Ft. Worth Champion
Recently, and with the printing of the Temple of Malice, a red splash has started to gain steam, as in this grinder-winning decklist from Ryan DeMarco.
Three flavors, three different twists on an already strong archetype, and a million different reasons to play any one of them. So what advantage does playing it straight have?
"Mono Black has an advantage against Red-Green decks," Chapin said, pointing out that stayed true for most any deck based on red cards.
Since his 9th place finish at Pro Tour Theros with Black White, Chapin has bounced back and forth between versions of that deck and the Mono Black Devotion variation for different reasons each time, always based on his reading of the metagame.
"This time around it's the big surge in RW Burn and RG Monsters, where Mono Black significantly better," Chapin said. "Grey Merchant is incredible where Blood Baron is just ok. That and untapped lands."
If you've been playing Standard any time in the last 6 months, this should be a pretty familiar sight out of Mono Black Devotion.
However, Chapin said, there are very real reasons to play Black White as well, and he demonstrated why in the fifth round. Significantly ahead in the second game, Chapin simply couldn't deal with a Blood Baron of Vizkopa and died to it after a few attacks.
"Black White has an advantage in the mirror and against control. It's a small edge, but the lands don't cost you anything and Blood Baron is better than Grey Merchant while Sin Collector is better than not-Sin Collector."
So Black White is better in a control and Black-heavy field, while Mono Black is better in a field light on those two decks. That seems to cover everything.
So why splash Red?
"I haven't tested the deck, but it looks good," Chapin said. "Dreadbore is just a fantastic card right now. Red offers incredible sideboard options like Slaughter Games, Mizzium Mortars, Sire of Insanity and Rakdos Return."
At least a few players agree, but the Red version is easily the less popular of the three branches on the Mono Black tree.
So why, you're surely asking (because you're the type to speak to articles and computer screens), did Chapin pick Mono Black?
Chapin wanted to play either Black White or Esper Control. Meanwhile, Luis Scott-Vargas was on Esper or Mono Black. No. 8 Josh Utter-Leyton and Eric Froehlich each had takes on the black deck as well. But in the end, Paul Rietzl—who made Top 8 at Pro Tour Theros with the same deck Chapin finished 9th with—cast the deciding vote.
Hall of Famer Patrick Chapin stuck with Mono Black this weekend...and with very good reason.
"Every time I've listened to Paul it has worked out," Chapin said. "And every time I haven't, it has not worked out. So I switched at 2 a.m. last night."
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how Patrick Chapin decides on a deck in this Standard format.
Saturday, 4:45 p.m. – Variations on Standard: Blue Devotion
by Blake Rasmussen
We could beat around the bush. We could talk to players who are still on the Mono Blue train. We could talk to players who swear their allegiance to Ephara, God of the Polis. We could cite recent successes with the deck and analyze its place in the metagame.
Or we could just go ask No. 5 Sam Black.
Sam has been synonymous with the deck since he made the Top 8 of Pro Tour Theros with it. It wouldn't be too far off to say he's produced countless articles and videos on the topic, but I'm pretty sure you can count them if you're so inclined. Let's just say he's played it a ton and been a thought-leader on the deck ever since it became fashionable to pair Thassa, God of the Sea and blue mana symbols.
Sam has also put in the work testing both variations of the deck—the Mono Blue version and the new version that splashes white for Ephara, God of the Polis and Detention Sphere. Before we get into his thoughts on both, let's take a look at the lists of two grinder-winning decks that chose to go slightly different ways with the archetype.
Mono Blue Devotion - Tom Risdon
Uw Devotion - Alex Barr
Let's first tackle the case for original-flavor Blue Devotion, a case Sam was more than happy to make. You know, because he's playing it.
"The mana is much worse in Uw. This deck really wants to curve out. If you play something on turns one, two, and three you're probably in good shape. In Uw, it's hard to do that," Black said of Blue's options.
This also just in: Sam Black still good with Mono Blue Devotion.
Furthermore, Black isn't terribly impressed with Ephara, a point he made clear when he recorded videos of the deck on StarCityGames.com He said that, if it cost 2UU or if all of his lands could be Tundras instead of Islands he might play one just so he can diversify his legendary card drawing engines (Bident of Thassa and Jace, Architect of Thought), but that it just wasn't as good as the other options.
The other big upshot of White, Detention Sphere, only mildly interested Black.
"Detention Sphere is fine, but you really want to tempo people out, and you can't do this at instant speed. You trade your turn for their turn, which isn't really what you want to do," Black said.
Black again reiterated that, even if mana weren't an issue and it cost 2U or 1UU or something similar, he'd still only want to play 2-3 copies.
Black added that he wasn't impressed with the white sideboard cards, like Glare of Heresy and Revoke Existence, people were playing either, calling them "Bad Dissolves."
So why in the world are people splashing white?
"UW is much better against Mono Black," Black said. "Ephara is actually really good there, since they can kill Jace. And Detention Sphere is just gold against Pack Rat and Desecration Demon. It's an attrition game."
Besides the "Detention Sphere is gold" pun, Black's points mostly line up with Brian Kibler's take on the deck as well.
"The white splash makes you more resilient against attrition and Pack Rat, but splashing makes you weaker against green," said Kibler, a guy who's pretty familiar with green cards.
Rapid Hybridization, both Kibler and Black said, is really important against Polukranos. Because the green decks have a better late game, your answers need to be cheaper and give you better options for your mana, especially at instant speed. Rapid Hybridization does that. Detention Sphere doesn't.
"In Buenos Ares, I think the Blue decks were successful because of Rapid," Kibler said. "But I think it's a legitimate question which one is better."
Not for Sam Black, though. Even with all the Tundra's in the world, he knows which variety of Blue Devotion he wants to stick with.
Saturday, 5:00 p.m. – Coming Full Circle
by Corbin Hosler
Steve Wise remembers vividly the first time it happened.
"Four or five years ago, I had just moved to Omaha and had been playing some Commander there but nothing else," he said. "One night we were playing Commander and they announced the Standard tournament was starting and I wasn't going to be able to play in it.
"Then the guy behind the counter just handed me a complete Jund deck."
It was the first time Wise borrowed cards, but it was far from the last. After returning to Magic from an extended break that started when he was in the eighth grade and had no idea how the rules actually worked, he dove in on the next go-round almost a decade later.
"I started playing Magic four nights a week and began traveling for PTQs and Grand Prix," he said. "I hung out with guys who traveled and I really got into it. I had fun and I liked traveling and going places. I started getting better and I became a level one judge. I would use store credit from winnings to buy cards, and I grew my collection that way."
Before long, Wise didn't have to worry about having the cards he wanted to play a particular deck. And he made sure no one else in his area did either.
"He takes it upon himself to make sure people can play the cards they want to play with, instead of just what they have available," said Kyle Smith, who along with Wise made the 11-hour drive to Cincinnati. "He borrowed cards for a long-time, and now he's the go-to guy for loaning cards to everybody. He'll loan entire decks and not ask for anything in return."
It's a story not unique to Omaha, but players like Wise make a unique impact wherever they are. Not only does he provide cards for his community, he also judges local events and organizes trips to larger tournaments, giving players who may not otherwise be able to attend a group to travel with.
For the Iowa native, it goes back to his childhood.
"When I was in high school I didn't have a car, but the upperclassmen would give me rides," he said. "That's something I didn't forget. It instilled in me that it was the right thing to do, so when I was an upperclassmen I returned the favor.
"With Magic, I didn't forget about being loaned that Jund deck. I try to be there for the community, whether it's borrowing cards or giving people a ride."
Smith said that, even moreso than Wise's actions it's his attitude that has helped their local community to grow in recent years.
"It's really good to have someone like him who helps people be able to play Magic the way they want," Smith said. "And he's gotten really good, really fast."
That's for certain. Wise has made the elimination rounds of a PTQ several times this season and has come tantalizing close to realizing the dream that first began taking form when a stranger handed him a Jund deck to borrow.
"I've come really close to making it to the Pro Tour," he said. "I've lost in the finals of a PTQ and I made the Top 16 of Grand Prix Oklahoma City earlier this year."
With just one loss late in Day 1 at Cincinnati, this may be the weekend that Wise makes that dream a reality.
Round 6 Feature Match - David Ochoa (Br Devotion) vs. William Greer (Esper Control)
by Corbin Hosler
At any given Magic tournament, there are a number of unique stories walking around the room. From players at their first Grand Prix to the pro trying to earn a few more critical pro points, everyone has their tale to tell.
Even still, William Greer's is noteworthy. Cincinnati isn't just his first Grand Prix in several years; it's his first tournament at all in that time.
"I just kind of drifted away from it, and I've been back exactly two weeks," he informed his Round 6 opponent in the feature match area.
That opponent? Pro Tour mainstay and ChannelFireball writer David Ochoa.
And the feature match area? Greer ran out to a perfect 5-0 record without any byes, setting up the showdown with the also-perfect Ochoa.
Greer didn't exactly ease back into Magic. He attacked it by skipping straight to one of the more tricky decks in the format in Esper Control, a deck that can require some well-planned sequencing to play optimally.
That is especially true against the deck Ochoa chose to battle with, a Mono-Black Devotion build splashing red for maindeck Rakdos's Return and a few splashy sideboard options that play a key role against control decks. He also made the move to put the sideboard Lifebane Zombies into his starting 60 in anticipation of having plenty of targets.
Ochoa's build is atypical for the Mono-Black Devotion deck, but it proved its power all day, and would again against Greer.
"The Lifebane Zombies in the maindeck has been good, and so has the Rakdos's Return," he explained. "It depends on what you're expecting. The red splash is a metagame call, but it's been very good today."
It's assumed that the deck packing Sphinx's Revelation is the one loaded with more card advantage, but Ochoa set out to prove in the first game that's not always the case.
Thoughtseize stripped away the copy of Esper's key card, and with a Lifebane Zombie alongside a Mutavault, Ochoa — all the while drawing extra cards with Underworld Connections — provided enough pressure to force Greer to turn his Supreme Verdict into a one-for-one trade as he tried to build toward casting Elspeth, Sun's Champion with enough mana to protect it with Dissolve.
That plan fell through when Ochoa used a Bile Blight to kill both copies of Greer's animated Mutavault with a single spell, possibly baiting Greer into activating both by letting a lone one get through the turn before.
Ochoa used that window to cast Gray Merchant of Asphodel, forcing Greer to issue another verdict. That opened the window for a Whip of Erebos to resolve, which immediately whipped a Gray Merchant into shape to induce the scoop.
"I guess I should have seen that Bile Blight coming, but I don't really know all the cards," Greer lamented as the pair shuffled for Game 2.
"Don't worry, I always touch the stove the second time too," Ochoa consoled him.
Game 2 was a much more tightly-contested affair, with Duress into Thoughtseize by Ochoa on Turn 2 stripping away part of Greer's hand. But what remained was just as powerful, and a Jace, Architect of Thought landed several turns later on an empty board.
All Ochoa could muster was a Lifebane Zombie, which along with his two Mutavaults did present enough power to kill Jace the next turn even through the Celestial Flare Ochoa knew Greer had. But the Esper player shut that down with a Pithing Needle set to Mutavault, setting the stage for Greer to take over the game with Sphinx's Revelation on his next turn.
That is, until Ochoa revealed the perfect card, and one of the reasons he chose to splash red in his deck.
Sire of Insanity.
With no instant-speed answer to the control-killing demon, Greer was forced to pitch his hand and stare sourly at another copy Sphinx's Revelation when he drew for the next turn. He tried to work his way back into the game with a Supreme Verdict off the top two turns later, but the follow-up Gray Merchant of Asphodel for Ochoa was enough to wrap things up and stay undefeated on the day.
Round 7 Feature Match - Chris VanMeter (Jund Monsters) vs. Eric Madaj (Mono Black Devotion)
by Blake Rasmussen
Chris VanMeter is one of the StarCityGames stalwarts, churning out weekly articles, winning Open events, and even getting a 1/1 Elemental token made in his likeness. He has yet to taste success on the Grand Prix circuit, but with a 6-0 record so far this weekend, he was at least off to a good start.
But standing in his way was Eric Madaj, a Detroit native whose only taste of Grand Prix play prior to this was Grand Prix Detroit where, he said, he didn't do so great.
"I don't know how to play Modern. Standard. Just Standard."
At 6-0, he certainly had demonstrated his ability in Standard. And he had done so with a pretty stock deck.
VanMeter was getting his aggressive on this weekend, choosing to ride into battle with the popular Jund Monsters deck, similar to what won Grand Prix Buenos Aires just last week. He used a variety of aggressive creatures to hit for huge amounts of damage at a time, all backed up by black removal spells. It was an effective package that was carrying him, and many others, far this weekend.
Compared to what Madaj was playing VanMeter's deck was the new kid on the block. Suiting up a pretty staple Mono Black deck, Madaj was still on the version that played Nightveil Specter main instead of Lifebane Zombie. Whereas Lifebane Zombie can be one of the best cards against Jund Monsters, Specter was often simply mediocre.
Madaj would need to keep VanMeter's many monsters in check while VanMeter would look to use his sparse removal to force through a bevy of powerful haymakers. There was potentially a ton of give and take where any wrong turn could spell doom for either player.
Both players began flooding the board with creatures, an Elf and Scavenging Ooze for VanMeter and a Nightveil Specter for Madaj. VanMeter took an early lead by Ghor-Clan Rampaging his way through, over and past a Nightveil Specter, and then kept that lead with a Dreadbore on Desecration Demon.
His Ooze, now a 5/5, met a Hero's Demise, but much of the damage was done. Eleven damage, to be precise. That rendered Underworld Connections pretty much moot and left the Detroit native open to being run over by Polukranos. Pack Rat offered some way to chump block, but with few cards in hand and very little life, it was more a stop-gap and less of a solution.
But it wasn't even much of that when a second red source let VanMeter cast Stormbreath Dragon and fly over for the win.
"Probably shouldn't have blocked Ooze, eh?" Madaj mused between games.
Admittedly, he didn't have much information at the time, but he started out the second game with plenty of it, revealing VanMeter's land-light grip with Duress early on. Seeing two Stormbreath Dragon, Sire of Insanity, Ultimate price, Sylvan Caryatid, Chandra, Pyromaster, and just one land, Madaj knew he'd have some time if VanMeter didn't find land.
He found land, but still had his mana development stunted by Devour Flesh taking out Sylvan Caryatid. That held VanMeter off for a few turns from doing anything too damaging while Madaj started getting in a few points with Mutavault. A second Devour Flesh took out a second Caryatid and kept Madaj firmly in control.
However, Madaj wasn't putting on enough pressure, especially with the life Devour Flesh was giving his opponent. That gave Van Meter enough time to find his fifth land and start throwing haymakers.
The first, Stormbreath Dragon, met a Hero's Downfall (A dragon as the hero? Flavor police!). The second hasty 4/4 met Madaj's face and tightened things up slightly. When Madaj's Desecration Demon paid the Ultimate Price, VanMeter looked to be back in the game.
And the thing about Jund Monsters is that, when it gets back in a game, it doesn't let up on the pedal. Given an inch, it will run over you at a thousand miles per hour.
Pro tip: Don't let Chris VanMeter and Jund Monsters back in the game. Or they'll make you regret it.
And that was exactly what happened. Though down to just four life, VanMeter pushed it to 11 with Xenagos, the Reveler, putting lethal on the board and leaving Madaj knocking on his deck and looking for a way to deal two extra damage or stay alive for just one more turn.
Instead, he found no help and found himself staring down the barrel of a dragon reveling with a Planeswalker-turned God.
VanMeter, now 7-0 and locked for Day 2, really liked his deck and his tweaks to the archetype.
"The Green Red Monsters shell was very good beforehand, but you really have a free roll on what third color you use because it's not an aggressive format."
VanMeter even made some unique changes to the deck, dropping the oft-used Reaper of the Wild and keeping Ghor-Clan Rampager. Most notably he cut Courser of Kruphix and is playing Boon Satyr as well, changes he has clearly been very happy with.
Saturday, 6:15 p.m. – Variations on Standard: Monsters
by Blake Rasmussen
In the last part of our Variations series, we'll explore the RGx Monsters archetype, where two viable versions of the deck have emerged.
Unless you ask Brian Kibler. Then there's only one.
But for the moment, while people keep playing with and winning with both flavors, we'll keep exploring the fork in the road that is the divide between RG Monsters and Jund Monsters.
First, lists! These are both grinder winners from this weekend.
RG Monsters - Kyle Cibok
Jund Monsters - Theodore Rigdon
In terms of genealogy, the Gruul version came first and the black splash didn't really happen until we were gifted with Temple of Abandon, and with good reason.
"There are a lot of good mana fixing tools, especially in midrange decks that are focused on 3-6 mana spells," Kibler said. "The Temples offer fixing and a lot of fixing and consistency. You even see mono colored decks playing Temples."
Looks a lot like RG Monsters, doesn't it?
So Temple of Malice, paired with the already printed Temple of Abandon, gave the green red version 8 reasons to splash and go bigger. Coupled with already wanting to play Sylvan Caryatid, the mana actually turned out to be pretty easy.
And the upside?
"Black removal gives tools against the mirror," Kibler said. "If you play a Polukranos mirror, the deck with Dreadbore and Doom Blade will win. All else being equal, black gives an edge."
Black also gives access to a bevy of sideboard cards, including Rakdos's Return, Sire of Insanity, and Golgari Charm, giving it so many more tools in a midrange/control environment.
The black splash does slow down the deck a touch, as Reaper of the Wilds typically steps in for Ghor-Clan Rampager, giving the deck more resilience but less reach, a tradeoff Kibler seems happy to make. Flesh & Blood is another powerful tool, one Brad Nelson was splashing in original versions of the deck, even though he was often happy enough just getting the Gruul half.
Chris VanMeter, who reached 7-0 with Jund Monsters, supports Kibler's assessment. He liked the green red version before, but felt he gained a ton by adding black.
There are, Kibler acknowledged, some arguments against the black splash. It's weaker against the Burn decks, he admitted, and the resurgence of Boros decks is worth some pause. As he said when he discussed the 12-Temples approach in the UWx Control decks, lands coming into play tapped is a real cost in certain matchups.
"People view the splash as free, but it's not," Kibler acknowledged.
It isn't, VanMeter acknowledged, but it's pretty close. "The format's just not that aggressive," he said.
But that doesn't mean he wasn't pretty resolute that Jund was vastly superior to the Green Red version.
"In my mind, it's not a choice. Jund is just better."
Round 8 Feature Match - Eric Froehlich (Br Devotion) vs. Abel Jacoby (Mono-Black Aggro)
by Corbin Hosler
Round 8 of the tournament, a match between a pair of players with 6-1 records. One will guarantee himself an opportunity to compete on Day 2, while the loser will face a bubble match in the last round. It's the difference between fighting to set yourself up to make a run at the Top 8 and fighting just to make Day 2.
That's the position Eric Froehlich and Abel Jacoby found themselves in Saturday evening, which may explain the stoic attitudes before the match.
You may have seen David Ochoa and his not-quite Mono-Black Devotion deck on coverage this weekend. The mono-black deck has been a mainstay on the tournament circuit, but it's only recently that players have begun to truly add a second color instead of simply a few scrylands.
Well, it turns out that Froehlich is the mastermind behind the list, and has found success maindecking Lifebane Zombie and Rakdos's Return while sideboarding powerful red options in Slaughter Games and Sire of Insanity.
"I'm the one without a job, so I've played the most Magic in the last week," Froehlich said. "Ochoa is playing my 75 this weekend."
To make room for the red cards, Froehlich cut what has been one of the stars of Mono-Black Devotion in recent months but something he feels is no longer pulling its weight.
"Pack Rat is not very good right now," he explained. "The red cards are good against control, but they're also in the Mono-Black mirror."
On the other side of the table was another mono-black deck, though it was one that really couldn't be any further on the other end of the spectrum. With cards like Tormented Hero and Rakdos Cackler, Jacoby's plan is obvious: reduce the opponent's life total to zero and quickly as possible.
Abel Jacoby shuffles up his Mono-Black Aggro deck for a match against the Br Devotion variant that has been doing well today.
Consider Jacoby's goal. Now consider that he scooped up his cards while still at 19 life and without Froehlich ever attacking, and you can probably figure out from there how things went for Jacoby in Game 1.
Jacoby and Froehlich traded Thoughtseizes in the early turns, but the only creature Jacoby ever saw was a lonely Pain Seer, which met with an early downfall. That may explain why, at 19 life, he conceded in the face of an Underworld Connections that drew Froehlich five cards and stacked the pro's hand with removal spells and Gray Merchants of Asphodel.
"I conceded early because I thought it was possible he wouldn't know what I was playing," Jacoby explained. "Maybe he sideboards in the wrong cards if he thinks I'm playing Mono-Black Devotion."
If Froehlich was surprised when Jacoby led off Game 2 with a Tormented Hero, he didn't show it, and the Drown in Sorrow in his hand confirmed that there wouldn't be any surprises today.
"You don't usually play a bunch of expensive black cards and Pain Seer," Froehlich said. "I put him on aggro and boarded that way."
No free wins were had, but a great game was. Both players traded discard and removal spells for the first few turns, but an unleashed Thrill-Kill Assassin presented a problem that Froehlich couldn't handle with his 2/2s.
A flurry of trades and removal spells later, and somehow the board ended up clear with Froehlich sitting at two life and Jacoby at a precious one, numbers that weren't going to go anywhere but down thanks to Jacoby's Erebos, God of the Dead. A game that had been lively suddenly slowed as each player searched for a threat. Froehlich found those threats in Desecration Demon and Mutavault, but Jacoby found the answers in Hero's Downfall and Ultimate Price.
A few more turns of draw-go and it was Froehlich who finally found the game-ender in Whip of Erebos. The Whip immediately returned a Desecration Demon, which turned sideways and wrapped up the match.
Froehlich's win alongside Ochoa's means the two players sit at a combined 15-1 with the deck heading into the final round, positioning the variant for a strong run in Day 2.
Of course, that's still a long way away.
"It doesn't mean anything yet," Froehlich reminded us — and himself — as he stood up from the table.
Round 9 Roundup — The Undefeated
by Blake Rasmussen
Eight rounds and 1,734 players later and just 10 players were left vying for 9-0 at the end of a brisk Day 1. All 10 occupied the top five tables, so we checked in on each match to see who rolls into Sunday with momentum, and who had to settle for a still impressive 8-1 finish.
Table 1 Stu Somers (Mono Black Devotion) vs. Dean Bilz (Bant Control)
Stu Somers worked his Underworld Connections to perfection in two back and forth games, breaking through in the first match thanks to a timely Bile Blight on Elspeth tokens that were needed to keep Bilz alive. The second game was much faster, but involved just as many lands tapping to draw cards.
Looks like one side of the table was lucky. Or maybe it was the Swamps. Stu Somers (back, right) and Nick Seifert (front, right) both moved to 9-0 with Mono Black Devotion decks.
Table 2 Nick Seifert (Mono Black Devotion) vs. Rael Cortes (Boros Burn)
After two blink-and-you'll-miss-it games, the two ran into something of stalemate in the third game. A Skullcrack kept one Gray Merchant from gaining any ground, but a second sealed the deal. Cortes actually would have won on the spot if he had a second white mana, but with Seifert at 7 life and both Boros Charm and Warleader's Helix in hand, Cortes came up just short.
Table 3 David Ochoa (Br Devotion) vs. Kyle Boggemes (Esper Control)
David Ochoa's Br Devotion deck put up quite a fight, especially after a day of destroying other Azorius-flavored decks, but in the end a pair of Azorius Charms put Boggemes through to Day 2. Flipping both an Erebos, God of the Dead and a Desecration Demon to the top of Ochoa's deck, Boggemes gave himself enough room for both Blood Baron of Vizkopa and Ætherling to do the rest.
Jeffrey Pyka (left) and Kyle Boggemes both ended Day 1 at 9-0.
Table 4 Jeffrey Pyka (Uw Devotion) vs. Paul Woo (Rw Devotion)
Pyka knew his Blue deck would be good against Woo, but he didn't know just how true his blue would do. Rhyming aside, Blue Devotion is pretty good against Red Devotion, and Master of Waves and Domestication featured prominently in elevating Pyka to 9-0.
Table 5 No. 11 Alexander Hayne vs. Louis Kaplan
Look, Louis Kaplan is a good Magician. I used to play with him back in my Iowa days at the same stores as No. 16 Josh McClain. His 8-0 run today surprised approximately no one who actually knows him. But he played against Alexander Hayne, who is as good a bet as anyone these days, especially piloting a close approximation of the deck he won Grand Prix Vancouver with, like, yesterday. Let's not say we didn't see it coming when he wins his 4th GP in a year this weekend. You heard it here first.
Sorry Louis, but he's Alexander Hayne, and he's now 9-0.
No. 11 Alexander Hayne took on all comers today, including a hooded Louis Kaplan, and stands at 9-0.
Saturday, 9:00 p.m. – Bursting the Bubble
by Corbin Hosler
While some big names moved into Day 2 of Grand Prix Cincinnati undefeated, several others were fighting for their tournament lives in the final round of the day. With more than 1,700 players battling, only those with a record of 7-2 or better would advance, making it an elimination round for the hordes of players sitting at 6-2.
I made the rounds around the event hall to see how many of the players we were watching would live on to battle on Sunday and keep their Top 8 hopes alive.
No. 8 Josh Utter-Leyton vs. Daniel Cecchetti
Eighth-ranked Utter-Leyton squared off against Daniel Cecchetti in the Mono-Black Devotion mirror with a trip to Day 2 on the line.
Surprising no one, the games went long and came down to a series of several draw steps, and it was Cecchetti who had more of them thanks to a pair of Underworld Connections that not only kept his hand loaded but guaranteed that Erebos, God of the Dead was always ready to battle.
Between Underworld Connections triggers and Gray Merchant of Asphodels, Cecchetti fell to a precariously-low six life in the final game, which gave Utter-Leyton a chance to steal the match with the Whip of Erebos in his hand and the Desecration Demon in his graveyard. But when Utter-Leyton failed to find the eighth land he needed to play and activate the Whip in the same turn, it was Cecchetti who took the match and will take Mono-Black Devotion into Day 2.
No. 8 Josh Utter-Leyton stares down his opponent's board in the Mono-Black Devotion mirror. Utter-Leyton had a window to win the game but couldn't find the final land he needed to seal the match.
Chris Pikula vs. Christoph McKinney
Everyone's favorite Meddling Mage spent Saturday battling with Esper Control, and he faced off against Christoph McKinney and his White-Black Midrange deck for the right to play on Sunday.
McKinney assembled an impressive board state that included Brimaz, King of Oreskos and Obzedat, Ghost Council. Unfortunately for the white-black player neither of those could block Ætherling, which turned itself unblockable and then sideways to power Pikula into Day 2.
Chris Pikula's Ætherling carried him past a tricky matchup against Christoph McKinney's White-Black Midrange deck and into Day 2.
Christian Calcano vs. Jeff Champagne
Set on Esper Control, Calcano was relishing his chance to cast Sphinx's Revelation again before the tournament began. But against Jeff Champagne and his Jund Monsters deck, the Revelations couldn't stack up to Xenagos, God of Revels, which made every Stormbreath Dragon summoned even more of a must-kill threat. When Calcano ran out of removal the god blessed the Dragon with enough of a boost to knock Calcano out of Day 2.
Neal Oliver vs. James Bower
Settling in for the Esper Control mirror was Neal Oliver and James Bower, who did his best to keep the commentary lively even while the two engaged in a drawn-out battle.
In the end, it was Grand Prix Las Vegas champion Oliver who came out on top, thanks to a ready suite of counterspells designed specifically for the mirror. Between the maindeck Syncopate and Dissolve and the Gainsay and Dispel in the sideboard, Oliver was able to win the all-important battle over every Sphinx's Revelation, giving him the edge to pull away in the final game even as he struggled to find blue mana.
Settling in for the long mirror, Neal Oliver looks at his opening hand as he faces off against James Bower with a place in Day 2 on the line.