Grand Prix Lille
Day 1 Blog

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  • Saturday, 11:15 a.m. – A Sample of Trial Winning Deck Lists

    by Tobi Henke

  • The main event has only just begun, but there's been a lot of Magic going on yesterday already. A whopping number of 27 Grand Prix Trials were quickly filled up and provided 27 players with three byes for today's Grand Prix. Judging by their deck lists, the variety of viable strategies in the current Standard is staggering.

    Raphaël Lévy's Reanimator deck ("Frites") won at least seven of the tournaments; blue-black control decks and blue-black Zombies have also racked up a fair share of victories. Blue-white Humans are still going strong, as is Delver of Secrets. Then there's R/G Aggro, Kessig Wolf Run Ramp, G/W/r Birthing Pod, B/W Tokens, and even Mono-Red! And these are just the winning deck lists ...

    Sebastian Potyka Grand Prix Trial Winner
    GP Lille 2012

    Matthijs van Wageningen Grand Prix Trial Winner
    GP Lille 2012

  • Saturday, 12:55 p.m. – From Honolulu via Baltimore to Lille

    by Tobi Henke

  • Among people who know him, Germany's Simon Görtzen is famous for his enviable knowledge of the more theoretical aspects of the game. For others, he's simply famous for winning Pro Tour San Diego back in 2010. We had a little chat about the way the Standard metagame has developed since Pro Tour Dark Ascension in Honolulu three weeks ago, the influence of Grand Prix Baltimore last weekend, and what he expected coming into this tournament.

    Simon Görtzen

    "In Honolulu, control was quite unplayable because the beatdown and Delver decks had so many different angles of attack that it was nearly impossible to defend against all of them," Simon said. "One only needs to look at single cards: Delver of Secrets, Tempered Steel, Lingering Souls, Shrine of Burning Rage, Hero of Bladehold, Stromkirk Noble, Moorland Haunt, various pieces of equipment, and once you add hexproof into the mix, with Invisible Stalker and Geist of Saint Traft, the diversity of threats is simply too much. Also, the control decks don't even have inevitability on their side anymore because of Moorland Haunt. Then, of course, the lack of control decks put R/G Ramp on the map which really shone among all those creature strategies. The metagame wasn't Rock-Paper-Scissors in Honolulu, but rather just Rock-Paper, and Ramp was the Rock."

    So why did U/B Control make such a triumphant return at Grand Prix Baltimore, placing three players in the Top 8, one in the finals?

    "On one level, blue-black was simply a reaction to the Ramp decks. But one also shouldn't overestimate those results. When some of the best players in the world achieve success with a certain deck, and especially if that deck is as hard to master as U/B Control, I would be very careful to attribute the success to the deck choice alone. I don't think of it as an actual metagame shift, and I don't expect U/B to continue to put up those kinds of results," Simon argued. "Everything I said earlier about the weakness of control strategies in face of a high threat diversity still holds true."

    "In fact, I expect we'll already see the backlash from Baltimore this weekend," Simon said, then added jokingly: "After all, people could see in Baltimore what a tedious affair the U/B mirror match is."

    "We might even see the most balanced metagame of any of the big Standard events so far," Simon mused, "because now we actually do have a Rock-Paper-Scissors metagame where no deck type can walk through a field largely unopposed. Everyone has to be on the look-out for their bad match-ups and try to find something to help them with that. For example, R/G Ramp with a strong sideboard plan for the control match-up might be a very good choice for this Grand Prix."

  • Saturday, 1:15 p.m. – Metagame snapshot from the top tables in Round 2 and the dealer's perspective

    by Frank Karsten

  • It's easy to get a general idea of the latest developments in the metagame by talking to the dealers; they are the ones who know which cards people are desperate to get their hands on. Pavlos Akritas from mentioned that Geralf's Messenger, Phyrexian Obliterator, and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite were in particularly high demand today, indicating that many players are looking to complete their Zombie and Frites (French reanimator) decks. Given that (i) these are the "new" decks in town that are made possible by Dark Ascension cards such as Faithless Looting and Gravecrawler, (ii) Zombies and Frites are a lot of fun to play, and (iii) these decks both earned a Top 8 spot in Grand Prix Baltimore last weekend, it is not terribly surprising that Zombies and Frites are apparently rising in popularity.

    At the same time, it appeared that many other players were preparing to beat this rising Zombie and Frites menace: Pavlos mentioned that many players had asked for Surgical Extraction – an excellent answer to Unburial Rites and Gravecrawler. Sword of Feast and Famine was running hot as well, and one can only imagine that this is mainly due to the fact that it grants Protection from Black.

    David Brannon from had similar experiences: he also noticed that Zombie cards were in particularly high demand. Interestingly, his shop ran out of Batterskull several times. Could this have something to do with the fact that this equipment is very strong against Zombies? David also mentioned that Angelic Destiny was in high demand, indicating that UW Humans would be a popular choice as well.

    Next, I headed to the Top 10 tables of both the green and blue side of the tournament as Round 2 was starting. This gave a quick snapshot of the decks that are being played; a compilation of this is given in the "Round 2-metagame" breakdown below.

    According to these numbers, UW Humans and Wolf Run Ramp are leading the pack. Zombies and Frites are not as popular as the dealers' experiences would suggest, but of course we've just started here in Lille, and the players with two or more byes haven't started yet. Stay tuned to our coverage to find out what comes out on top!

  • Saturday, 2:07 p.m. – What would Frank Karsten play?

    by Frank Karsten

  • With 1505 players waiting to hand in their decklists at the moment, I am typing a feature behind my laptop instead. This weekend, I have joined the coverage team in order to bring you all the latest updates on the evolving Standard metagame, from the perspective of a Pro Tour Hall of Famer. The metagame is a tricky thing that marches ever onwards, and last night I overheard many players discussing what decks to expect, frantically trying to get some scoop on the metagame. In making a deck choice for a tournament, it is essential to know not only what the metagame will be like but also what other players expect the metagame to be like. To illustrate this, let me tell you what I would play if I would participate in the Grand Prix, and why.

    There are three main reasons why I would have chosen Mono-Red. First of all, it appears to be under the radar at the moment. Mono-Red's popularity has profoundly declined in recent weeks, and as a result hardly anyone takes it into account anymore. This means that hardly any opponent will be prepared with cards such as Timely Reinforcements, so many unprepared opponents will be caught off guard by Grim Lavamancer and friends. Secondly, Mono-Red has a very strong matchup against Blue-Black Control, whose slow, grinding control style has a hard time keeping up with the blazingly fast start and flurry of burn spells that Mono-Red provides. Given that Blue-Black Control was the breakout deck of last weekend's Grand Prix in Baltimore, I would expect many players to audible into Blue-Black Control, which means that I would expect Mono-Red to be well-positioned in this metagame. Finally, in my view Shrine of Burning Rage is still one of the best cards in the entire format.

    My version of Mono-Red also features a new addition from Dark Ascension in Faithless Looting. While this card has already proven its merits in the French Frites deck due to its synergy with Unburial Rites, I believe the ability to exchange excess lands or creatures for game-ending burns spells in the late-game is inherently powerful, and I would expect Faithless Looting to make its way into various other decks as well. Mono-Red in particular also contains many cards that work deceptively well with the draw-and-discard effect: Faithless Looting fills up the graveyard for Grim Lavamancer, it adds additional counters to Shrine of Burning Rage, and you can even gain some card advantage when combined with Chandra's Phoenix or Ancient Grudge.

    With all these metagame considerations in mind, I dare to predict that at least one Mono-Red deck will find its way to the Top 8. Will this prediction come true? And what other archetypes will make it to the top tables here in Lille? Stay tuned to find out!

  • Round 4 Feature Match – Gabriel Nassif vs. Katja Verfaillie

    by Frank Karsten

  • With round four, all players who had earned three byes were thrown into the fray. Among them was Pro Tour Hall of Famer Gabriel Nassif, playing a Mono-Black Zombies deck. Across the table, Katja Verfaillie from Belgium was playing UW Humans.

    Katja Verfaillie

    Game 1

    Katja began with Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Mirran Crusader, beefing them up with a fourth-turn Honor of the Pure. Gabriel, in the meantime, curved out nicely with Diregraf Ghoul, Highborn Ghoul, and Geralf's Messenger.

    The creatures traded blows, with neither player making any blocks. In fact, the pro-black nature of Mirran Crusader and the Intimidate ability of Highborn Ghoul made it impossible for the other player to block. When Gabriel added two more Highborn Ghouls to the battlefield, it seemed like he would be in a good position to win the unblockable damage race.

    On her fifth turn, Katja found herself locked out by her own Thalia: she was unfortunately stuck with two Oblivion Ring, Sword of War and Peace, and an additional Thalia in hand. Since she only had 3 Plains in play, she could only shrug and pass the turn without making any play, possibly hoping that by keeping 3 mana up, Gabriel would be too afraid of some kind of trick to attack.

    Gabriel did take some time to figure out what was going on. After verifying that Katja indeed had passed the turn with four cards in hand, he started considering what she might be up to.

    "If I played more, I could guess what you have in hand. Now, I really don't know," Nassif remarked. Katja simply smiled and said "I'll tell you one thing: it's not land!"

    Eventually, Gabriel couldn't deduce a reason not to attack and sent in his team. It proved enough to end the game.

    "Thalia typically harms the other person, but sometimes also yourself", Katja bemoaned, as she rifled through her sideboard.

    Verfaillie 0 - Nassif 1

    Game 2

    Gabriel started the second game by taking mulligans down to five. His five card hand, however, was quite explosive as double Diregraf Ghoul put Katja under some early pressure.

    Katja answered with Fiend Hunter, removing one of Gabriel's Diregraf Ghouls. Next, a Honor of the Pure and Angelic Destiny turned her Fiend Hunter into an impressive 6-power evasive creature. In the meantime, Gabriel – apparently also in a quest to enhance his creatures – used Sword of War and Peace to turn his Diregraf Ghoul into a respectable threat.

    Katja went for the overkill on her next turn, suiting up her Fiend Hunter with a secondAngelic Destiny. Although their decks are actually filled with 1-power and 2-power creatures, Katja's Fiend Hunter and Gabriel's Diregraf Ghoul were now routinely going in for life-swings of 10 points, with neither player being able to block the other player's evasive monster.

    But Nassif had the answer. After attacking with his Sword-wielding Diregraf Ghoul, he played Victim of Night to deal with Fiend Hunter.

    Gabriel Nassif

    Immediately after making that play, he immediately realized his timing was a little off: "Ah, that was bad; I should have played Victim of Night before damage; that way Sword of War and Peace would have dealt two more damage to you due to the two Angelic Destinies," Gabriel explained.

    But it hardly mattered. The tempo advantage gained from using a a 2-mana removal spell to deal with a 11 mana worth of permanents had completely flipped the game around. Although Katja tried to come back by playing some more creatures, they were all white and therefore unable to block due to Sword of War and Peace. In a few short swings, the game was over.

    Verfaillie 0 - Nassif 2

  • Saturday, 4:22 p.m. – Heartless Minions of Doom

    by Tobi Henke

  • It took a while before this little enchantment caught on. It also took the combined effort of some of the world's greatest deck builders. But going through the aisles here in Lille, there was nary a row of tables without a few Heartless Summoning decks in full action.

    At last year's World Championships, none other than certified deck-building genius and Hall of Famer Alan Comer had got the ball rolling with his Grand Architect/Heartless Summoning crossover. Since then, two-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Andre Müller has been a particularly vocal champion of Comer's version. Müller had piloted the deck to a 4-1 finish at Pro Tour Dark Ascension and convinced quite a few other players of its strength.

    Müller's opponent in round five was faced with two attacking Myr Superions on turn three …

    Müller's opponent in round five was faced with two attacking Myr Superions on turn three ...

    But there's more than just this particular blue-black version floating around here at the Grand Prix. Other players used Heartless Summoning to power out cheap Solemn Simulacrums and to cheat on the more prohibitive mana costs of Consecrated Sphinx, Sphinx of Uthuun, and Rune-Scarred Demon. Yet others made use of the fact that Heartless Summoning conveniently puts all Snapcaster Mages and Perilous Myrs into their controller's graveyard, to be recast over and over again via Havengul Lich, for a sheer endless stream of flashbacked spells and shots of 2 damage each.

    At least one player even went for the infinite combo that is Havengul Lich, Heartless Summoning, and Priest of Urabrask. The strategy may be a bit inconsistent, but when the player created an arbitrarily large amount of mana, then proceeded to kill with Perilous Myr, the game drew quite a crowd and raised more than a couple of eyebrows.

    And that's not all. I saw Heartless Summoning-powered Solemn Simulacrums sacrificed to Birthing Pods, I saw various 5/5 Titans, and I saw Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite elegantly counteracting the enchantment's −1/−1 disadvantage. Heartless Summoning sure is a fun card.

    The most succesful version, though, still seems to be the one with Grand Architect which simply gets the most face-smashing value out of it.

    Now, this is quite the turn five!

  • Saturday, 4:30 p.m. – Quick question: How did the results of Grand Prix Baltimore govern your deck selection for this weekend?

    by Frank Karsten

  • Vincent Lemoine: I saw a lot of Blue-Black being played in Baltimore, so I wanted to be ready by playing a deck that beats U/B Control.

    Bram Snepvangers: I wanted to play a deck that has a reasonable matchup against U/B Control, so I had to switch out of the G/B Ramp deck that I played in Honolulu.

    Gabriel Nassif: It made no difference, since I didn't have time to test and I just got a decklist from Sylvain Lauriol.

    Lukas Jaklovsky: I originally planned to play U/B Control, but it is now a well-known strategy, so I chose a different deck taht is a bit more under the radar.

  • Saturday, 5:00 p.m. – Metagame snapshot from the top tables in Round 5

    by Frank Karsten

  • The first row of tables can reveal a lot of information, and Grand Prix Lille is no different. Round 5 has just started here, which means that all pros with three byes have also been thrown into the fray. I again checked in on the top 10 tables of both the green and blue side of the tournament in order to get a snapshot of the metagame at the top tables. Here, take a look:

    Although some players were afraid of a surge of Blue-Black Control decks coming in from the three-bye players, it seems that this has not come to pass. Instead, various Blue-White and Red-Green decks are in the lead. Furthermore, we see a lot of Zombies and Frites on the top tables – echoing the dealer's observations that many players were hunting down Geralf's Messenger and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite.

    But despite sitting at the top tables right now, a 4-0 start is by no means a guarantee for these players to make it into Day 2. They still have to win three more matches today for that, and it should be interesting to see which decks eventually make it to the finish line later today.

  • Saturday, 6:21 p.m. – Quick question: What deck do you think will be most represented in the Top 8?

    by Frank Karsten

  • Vincent Lemoine: Blue-Black Control. It’s not necessarily the best deck, but I guess many pro players will run it.

    Bram Snepvangers: Blue-Black Control. I expect many players will be playing it.

    Gabriel Nassif: Blue-Black Control; several very good players are playing it.

    Lukas Jaklovsky: A tie between Zombies, Blue-Black Control, and Delver.

  • Round 6 Feature Match - Richard Bland vs. Robbert Menten

    by Tobi Henke

  • Robbert Menten has one Grand Prix Top 8 to his name, from Brighton in 2009, the same year he also made the Belgian national team. But now he was up against England's Richard Bland who, judging by these two players' résumés, was the clear favorite: not only did Bland end up in the Top 8 of a Grand Prix three times already, but he also placed second at last year's World Championships. Menten brought a Bant-colored Birthing Pod deck, while Bland came equipped with U/W Delver.

    Game One

    Bland opened with Gitaxian Probe and saw a hand of Llanowar Elves, Avacyn's Pilgrim, Blade Splicer, Island, Gavony Township, Razorverge Thicket, and Strangleroot Geist. He wrote down the cards, played an Island, and summoned Delver of Secrets.

    Richard Bland

    Menten cast Llanowar Elves, then had his Strangleroot Geist countered by Mana Leak. He had topdecked a Forest, though, and made Llanowar Elves before passing the turn back to Bland who attacked with Insectile Aberration and summoned Geist of Saint Traft. Another Strangleroot Geist was cast succesfully as was Menten's Blade Splicer.

    Bland had no fourth land. He cast another Delver and looked a little glum at the board which was now: his Delver of Secrets, Insectile Aberration, and Geist of Saint Traft against his opponent's Strangleroot GeistLlanowar Elves, Avacyn's Pilgrim, and Blade Splicer with the accompanying token. Menten played his Gavony Township, cast Birthing Pod, and turned his Blade Splicer into Stonehorn Dignitary. All Bland could do was to Vapor Snag Menten's Golem token. He once again found no spell for Delver of Secrets as well as no land, and simply passed the turn right back.

    Menten attacked with Strangleroot Geist and Stonehorn Dignitary the latter of which was double-blocked by Insectile Aberration and Geist of Saint Traft. Thanks to Gavony Township, the Dignitary took down the Aberration, before Menten turned a newly-summoned Birds of Paradise into Phantasmal Image and copied Geist of Saint Traft, killing it. Bland made Midnight Haunting at end of turn, and was looking to get back into the race. Unfortunately, his Delver of Secrets, once again, stayed a Delver of Secrets. He got in with all three of his 1/1s anyway, put Menten at 7, then cast another Geist of Saint Traft.

    Menten attaked, used to Gavony Township, and paid 2 life to turn one of his creatures into another Phantasmal Image via Birthing Pod. It all came down to the top card of Bland's library: Any instant or sorcery would give him 5 power worth of flyers. Alas, his library didn't provide. He got in for 3, facing lethal damage himself. When Menten attacked, however, Snapcaster Mage on Vapor Snag saved the day.

    Richard Bland 1 – Robbert Menten 0

    Game Two

    Menten led with Llanowar Elves followed by Birds of Paradise, and Avacyn's Pilgrim off a mulligan to six, while Bland had Delver of Secrets on turn one, then watched helplessly as Menten's 1/1s and a fresh Strangleroot Geist came crashing in. Upkeep, his Delver of Secrets transformed off a Vapor Snag and Bland entered the race.

    Menten summoned a potentially devastating Daybreak Ranger, which Bland returned to his hand via Vapor Snag. Strangleroot Geist and Delver traded blows for another turn. Daybreak Ranger came down again and was snagged again, thanks to Bland's Snapcaster Mage. Bland was pulling ahead in the damage race, and now he even made a Geist of Saint Traft to increase the pressure. For the first time in this game since turn two, Bland was without Mana Leak mana during Menten's main phase and Menten seized the opportunity to cast Geist-Honored Monk. With its triggered ability on the stack, Bland used Dismember to get rid of the Monk. On his turn, he held back with his Insectile Aberration as well as his Geist of Saint Traft against his opponent's two 1/1 Spirit tokens, and cast Sword of War and Peace.

    Robbert Menten

    Menten attacked with Strangleroot Geist, and thanks to Dismember put the lifetotals at 9 to 6 in his favor. Then he cast Daybreak Ranger and Phyrexian Metamorph, the latter of which got countered by Steel Sabotage. "I wasn't expecting that," Menten commented. Bland equipped Insectile Aberration with Sword of War and Peace and attacked, Menten's Birds of Paradise chumped. Post-combat Bland summoned Phantasmal Image as a copy of Strangleroot Geist. One Daybreak Ranger wasn't enough to deal with the 5/4 flyer and Menten quickly succumbed to the beatdown.

    Richard Bland 2 – Robbert Menten 0

  • Saturday, 7:18 p.m. – Quick question: What did you do during your three byes?

    by Frank Karsten

  • Vincent Lemoine: I went out for food with several other Belgian players to try out the local specialties.

    Bram Snepvangers: I grabbed some food, made pictures of a nice nearby church, and did some playtesting.

    Gabriel Nassif: I went back to my hotel room, showered, sleeved my deck, and then returned to the site to obtain the final cards for my deck.

    Lukas Jaklovsky: I went back to the hotel and watched some Youtube videos.

  • Saturday, 8:48 p.m.: Deck tech - Mono-black Zombies with Mark Dictus

    by Frank Karsten
  • One of the "new" decks made possible by Dark Ascension is Zombies, and it is a popular choice here in Lille today. To learn more about the deck, I sat down with Mark Dictus, who is currently 8-0 with a Mono Black Zombies deck, and asked him to explain what makes the deck tick. Mark is a 42-year former Belgian National Champion with a Grand Prix Top 8 and plenty of Pro Tour experience under his belt. When not playing tournaments, he still has Magic on his mind every day, as he is the owner of the Outpost game store.

    For reference, here's his list:

    Marc Dictus - Mono Black Zombies
    Grand Prix Lille 2012 (Standard)

    Featuring aggressive one-drops in both Gravecrawler and Diregraf Ghoul, this deck can quickly rush out of the gates. With Highborn Ghoul and Geralf's Messenger keep up the pressure, this deck aims to run over the opponent as quickly as possible. But the early game isn't where this deck stops. Phyrexian Obliterator and Lashwrithe are excellent in the late game, and Cemetery Reaper can form an entire army by himself when the game goes long. Furthermore, with Sword of Feast and Famine and Liliana of the Veil, the deck can also take on a control stance if needed.

    The deck's signature cards are Gravecrawler and Geralf's Messenger. While good by themselves, there are various cards in the deck that make them even stronger. In particular, Fume Spitter can "reset" your own 4/3 Geralf's Messenger, which actually removes the +1/+1 counter. Furthermore, Mortarpod works wonders when combined with Gravecrawler, allowing you to use the recurring creature to deal 1 damage over and over.

    But besides the standard Gravecrawler and Geralf's Messenger, Dictus' version has various non-traditional card choices. The first main distinction between his list and many other Zombie lists is the choice to go mono-color rather than splashing blue. "The mana base of the blue version is too big a risk", Dictus told me, "Roughly one in five games you are lacking a blue source by turn five; this is just too inconsistent." (For the record, this coverage reporter wholeheartedly agrees with him on this issue.) "Lashwrithe is also extremely good", Dictus continued, and it can only be reasonably played in the Mono-black version.

    Other non-traditional card choices include Highborn Ghoul, Cemetery Reaper, and Ratchet Bomb. Dictus explained that good black 2-drops are kind of lacking in Standard right now and that Highborn Ghoul is just the best we got. "You need some early drops in an aggro deck. Skirsdag High Priest is not an option as it is not aggressive enough. Further, when equipped with Lashwrithe, Highborn Ghoul is extremely deadly against decks such as Humans or Red/Green." Next, Dictus explained that Cemetary Reaper is not just included for its +1/+1 bonus; it is also excellent against Frites – stopping Unburial Rites – and against the mirror match or Red/Green Aggro – removing Strangleroot Geist or Geralf's Messenger with undying on the stack. Ratchet Bomb is another non-standard choice, but Dictus explained that it is excellent in the current metagame as a very effective way to deal with Lingering Souls or Ravager of the Fells. Additionally, Ratchet Bomb is one of the few answers he has against Mirran Crusader.

    When asked what the bad matchups for his deck are, Dictus stated that he would prefer to avoid facing any Mirran Crusaders. "I do have Black Sun's Zenith and Sword of War and Peace coming in against Humans from the sideboard, but Protection from Black is an ability that scares me. I also don't want to face the Blue-Black Zombie version. They have Phantasmal Image where I have Ratched Bomb, Highborn Ghoul, and Liliana of the Veil, all of which are quite weak in the mirror match. A Phantasmal Image copying Geralf's Messenger just nuts."

    Regarding the good matchups, Dictus mentioned that he hopes to be paired against UB Control, Wolf Run Ramp, and GR Aggro. "My Zombies version is tuned against slow control decks, with hard-to-remove threats such as Lashwrithe and Liliana of the Veil maindeck. Further, I have additional 4-mana threats (along with a Swamp) in the sideboard)."

    Mark Dictus and his Zombies

    When asked what cards he would change for next weekend, Dictus mentioned that Phyrexian Metamorph has been very good for him and that he would consider playing it maindeck. It can do all kind of things, from removing Thrun, the last Troll to copying undying creatures – an excellent all-round card.

    With the deck discussion out of the way, I asked Dictus how the deck was conceived. "We discovered the deck in Hawaii in our testing for Pro Tour Dark Ascension. Job Meertens came up with the Mono-Black version. Three Dutch players ran it to great Standard records, but their drafts went badly. Although I played Humans in Honolulu, I reconsidered when I got back to Belgium. Mono-black simply felt better. It's also not too difficult to play. I met up with Job Meertens again this morning to make some last-minute adjustments to the deck – we took out some removal, and added some late-game material and early drops to the deck. I hope Zombie master Job Meertens also does well at this tournament, but he unfortunately already picked up two losses today, so it won't be easy for him to make it into Day 2."

    If you've been working on a deck like this yourself, the build of Meertens and Dictus is a great place to start!

  • Round 7: Feature Match - Mark Dictus vs. Raf Mesotten

    by Frank Karsten
  • This feature match threw together two Belgian players that were both still sporting a pristine 6-0 record: Mark Dictus, who is looking to add another Grand Prix Top 8 to his resume this weekend, and Raf Mesotten, who recently got a taste of the Pro Tour experience in San Francisco as a member of the Belgian National team. The countrymen chatted amiably and bemoaned the pairing, wishing that they would be paired against each other in the next round at a 7-0 record. But this was not to be – only one player would emerge out of this round with an undefeated record.

    While both players are running a Zombie deck, they have diametrically opposed views on splashing a second color. Mark Dictus is piloting a Mono-Black variant – be sure to check out the accompanying deck tech feature discussing his list. Across the table, Raf Mesotten was playing a Blue-Black variant, splashing for Phantasmal Image and Diregraf Captain.

    Game 1

    Dictus won the die roll and chose to play first. The game began with double Diregraf Ghoul and Fume Spitter from Dictus, while Mesotten exploded with Fume Spitter, Gravecrawler, and double Mortarpod.

    Dictus enhanced his team with Cemetary Reaper, and started attacking with his Zombies. Mesotten's two Germ tokens together shot down the Zombie lord, but Dictus had another one to keep up the pressure. Tragic Slip dealt with the replacement Cemetary Reaper, but not before Mesotten had already gone to a rather low life total.

    A quick peek at Mesotten's hand revealed that he was stuck with several blue cards, which he couldn't play as he only had 3 Swamps in play. After adding a Diregraf Ghoul to his board of double Mortarpod and Gravecrawler, Mesotten tried to assume the machine-gun role, using his recurring Gravecrawler in combination with Mortarpod to ping down Dictus' creatures. But with only three Swamps in play, he did not have enough mana to keep up with Dictus' Zombie team, and he needed to find a blue source quickly in order to get back in the game.

    Dictus had to press his advantage while he had it, and summoning a Geralf's Messenger to up the pressure. When Liliana of the Veil from Dictus removed Mesotten's only Zombie in Diregraf Ghoul, Mesotten's Gravecrawler recursion plan was shut down as well. It proved to be enough for Dictus to take the first game.

    Mark Dictus 1 – Raf Mesotten 0

    Mark Dictus

    Game 2

    Raf was now on the play, and both players clogged the board with Zombies in the first couple of turns. On Mark' fourth turn, the board looked like this:

    Dictus: Four lands, Geralf's Messenger, Gravecrawler, Mortarpod (equipping a Germ token).

    Mesotten: Four lands, Diregraf Captain, Geralf's Messenger, Gravecrawler, Gravecrawler.

    Dictus thought for a little before his next play, trying to find a way to profitably sequence the Tragic Slip and Surgical Extraction that he was holding in hand. After a bit of deliberation, he eventually used his Mortarpod token to deal one damage to Diregraf Captain, then equipped it over to Gravecrawler and dealt another damage to kill the Captain. Afterwards, he used Tragic Slip (now with Morbid) to kill Geralf's Messenger. And with the undying ability on the stack, Dictus used Surgical Extraction to remove Geralf's Messenger for good. The end result: Mesotten was left with only 2 Gravecrawlers in play, and Dictus had clawed back into the game.

    However, since Mesotten had been on the play with an excellent mana curve, his next attack did already bring Dictus down to 3 life. Dictus managed to fend off Mesotten's double Gravecrawler team thanks to his 4/3 Geralf's Messenger and Mortarpod-enabled Gravecrawler, but he was still on the back foot.

    Mesotten's next draw did not disappoint: Phantasmal Image copying Dictus' Geralf's Messenger was an excellent topdeck. It took Dictus down to 1 life when it came into play, and Mesotten's next attack was lethal.

    Mark Dictus 1 – Raf Mesotten 1

    Raf Mesotten

    "Even if all of my Geralf's Messengers are removed with Surgical Extraction, I can still kill you with Geralf's Messenger!", Raf mentioned, smiling.

    Game 3

    Dictus had to start off with a mulligan, and kept kept a one-lander with triple Diregraf Ghoul. Mesotten, in the meantime, made two Gravecrawlers. A second and third land quickly appeared for Dictus, allowing him to land Cemetery Reaper on his fourth turn.

    Facing a total of 11 power on the other side of the table, Mesotten looked to be in trouble, as his Gravecrawlers were unable to fend off Dictus' attacks. Mesotten tried his best to come back with Mortarpod and Tragic Slip, but it was to no avail. Dictus simply turned all of his creatures sideways for the kill.

    Dictus 2 – Mesotten 1

  • Saturday, 10:00 p.m.: Top Tables Metagame, Round 9

    by Frank Karsten
  • After nine grueling rounds of play, the cream should have risen to the top. I again checked in on the top 10 tables of both the green and blue side of the tournament in order to obtain a good sample of what was doing well at the end of the first day.

    Deck Archetype Count
    UW Delver 6
    UW Humans 5
    Frites 4
    UB Zombies 4
    Wolf Run Ramp 4
    Mono-Black Zombies 3
    GR Aggro 3
    UB Control 2
    Mono-Green Aggro 2
    GB Ramp 2
    GW Aggro 2
    BW Spirits 1
    Heartless Summoning 1
    Esper Control 1

    The number of Zombie decks is rising, while the number of RG Aggro and UB Control decks have dropped compared to my earlier metagame snapshots. Mono-Green Aggro and Green-White Aggro are interesting newcomers to the top tables. (Although frankly, the Green-White Aggro decks might also have been Birthing Pod decks with an awkward draw when I passed their table, but either way it's a deck that we'll keep an eye on tomorrow.)

    Tune in for a complete metagame breakdown of all Day 2 decks tomorrow!

  • Round 8: Feature Match

    by Tobi Henke
  • Feature Match Round Eight – Maxim Zrelov vs. Ruud Warmenhoven

    by Tobi Henke

    Both players entered the round with scores of 7-0. Russian Maxim Zrelov brought a mostly black Zombie deck with splashes in both red and blue, while on the other side of the table Ruud Warmenhoven from the Netherlands, the 2006 Pro Tour Honolulu Top 8 competitor and two-time Grand Prix Top 8 player, came with U/B Control.

    Game 1

    Both players led with Swamps, but whereas Zrelov had a Gravecrawler on his first and another one on his second turn, all Warmenhoven could add to his side of the board were a couple of Drowned Catacombs. And he certainly didn't want to waste a Mana Leak on a Gravecrawler which would just come back, so he just sat and did nothing. In fact, both players did nothing but play lands until Warmenhoven's turn five. The Dutch cast Black Sun's Zenith to kill both Gravecrawlers, leaving Mana Leak mana up. Zrelov summoned Diregraf Captain and, indeed, there was the Mana Leak.

    While Warmenhoven untapped, drew a card and played another land, Zrelov tried for another Diregraf Captain on his next turn. Snapcaster Mage flashbacked Mana Leak, which Zrelov paid for, but another Mana Leak kept the board Zombie free.

    Ruud Warmenhoven

    The Snapcaster Mage attacked a couple of times, while all Zrelov could muster was a Sword of Feast and Famine, which Warmenhoven allowed. If ever Zrelov could stick a Zombie, with Sword in play and double Gravecrawler in the graveyard, things might have been looking grim for Warmenhoven. But so far all Zrelov's deck was willing to cough up was yet more land.

    "Zombies, any Zombies ..." Zrelov sang while drawing his card.

    Double Mana Leak took care of Geralf's Messenger, Tragic Slip took care of Snapcaster Mage. Warmenhoven made a serious attempt at closing the game before any kind of Zombie apocalypse could happen: a Grave Titan. With the Titan's triggered ability on the stack, Zrelov tried to kill it per Geth's Verdict, but all he got was a Snapcaster Mage who jumped in to catch the bullet.

    However, Zrelov had Phantasmal Image and got himself a copy of Grave Titan, along with the tokens. "I believe, these are Zombies?" he asked. They were, and two Gravecrawlers dutifully returned to the battlefield. Zrelov equipped one of his Zombie tokens with Sword of Feast and Famine and passed the turn. Warmenhoven cast Black Sun's Zenith for two, killing all but the equipped token, then had Liliana of the Veil to kill that one too.

    A couple of swings by Grave Titan plus tokens was enough to take game one.

    Ruud Warmenhoven 1 – Maxim Zrelov 0

    "That was a good start you had there," Warmenhoven said during shuffling, "but then ..."

    "Yeah, then land, land, land," Zrelov complained. "When you have the mana to pay for Mana Leak, something usually went very wrong."

    Game 2

    Zrelov started with Diregraf Ghoul, then had no further play till turn three, when he tried to play Phantasmal Image as a copy of the Ghoul. Warmenhoven had Go for the Throat to get rid of both.

    Next, Zrelov's Liliana of the Veil met Mana Leak, and afterwards Zrelov exiled all copies of the counter spell with Surgical Extraction. Zrelov managed to make a Diregraf Ghoul stick, then cast a Gravecrawler and started the beatdown. Meanwhile, Warmenhoven, stuck on five lands, started digging for Think Twice with Nephalia Drownyard. Another Surgical Extraction cost him all his Snapcaster Mages.

    Maxim Zrelov

    When the two Zombies had taken Warmenhoven down to 8, he was finally fed up with them and killed both with a pair of Tragic Slips. Once again, Zrelov appeared to be out of threats, whereas Warmenhoven finally found a land and summoned Wurmcoil Engine. However, Zrelov engineered his own Wurmcoil Engine with Phantasmal Image. Warmenhoven killed it with Liliana of the Veil, but that left Zrelov with two 3/3 tokens. Only the 3/3 with deathtouch attacked Liliana and was blocked dead by Warmenhoven's 6/6. Post-combat Zrelov summoned Diregraf Captain and returned the Gravecrawler.

    One attack and Black Sun's Zenith later the board was cleared completely, except for Warmenhoven's Liliana of the Veil. The Planeswalker slowly started to accumulate counters, but it soon became clear that Warmenhoven wouldn't need to rely on her ultimate to win this game. He emptied the board once more with Black Sun's Zenith, then summoned another Wurmcoil Engine. Zrelov soon extended his hand in concession.

    Ruud Warmenhoven 2 – Maxim Zrelov 0

  • Saturday, 10:05 p.m.: French Connection

    by Tobi Henke
  • One of the great things about having tournaments all over the world is that whenever the Grand Prix circuit comes to town, it always brings players back who haven't been around in a while. And when in France, some of those players may just be actual Pro Tour champions or even Hall of Famers.

    We've already featured Gabriel Nassif who rarely travels to Grand Prix these days and was last seen at Pro Tour Philadelphia. I couldn't help but overhear a conversation between him and my fellow coverage reporter Frank Karsten. "At the moment, I just sit on my Hall of Fame status," said Gabriel, to which Frank replied, "I know what you mean."

    Pierre Canali

    Then there's Pierre Canali who won Pro Tour Columbus in 2005. He, like, Lévy, was playing a mono-black Zombie deck with Phyrexian Obliterator and Lashwrithe which was developed by yet another French player many people nowadays may have never heard of: Sylvain Lauriol who made the Top 8 of Pro Tour Osaka in 2002. Apparently, the connections between the old-school players are still working fine

    Olivier Ruel

    Even Olivier Ruel made a surprise visit today. While his work didn't allow him to take part in the tournament, he still came to meet with old friends—for which Grand Prix provide a great opportunity!

  • Round 9 Round-Up

    by Tobi Henke
  • For round nine, eight players sat down in the feature match area. Only four of them would return tomorrow, eking out the necessary scores of 7-2. The others would go home with six wins and three losses. In three of those four matches, one player was piloting Raphaël Lévy's "Frites" deck, the reanimation strategy the Hall of Famer had first played at Pro Tour Dark Ascension in Honolulu.

    James Chilcott and Raphaël Lévy

    In the first match, Raphaël Lévy himself won a quick game one against James Chilcott, but lost an equally quick game two, when his opponent played a total of three copies of Champion of the Parish on the first two turns, followed by Loyal Cathar. For what might be the last game in Lévy's GP Lille 2012, Chilcott once again led with Champion of the Parish on turn one, but this time he didn't have quite as an insane follow-up. I went to take a look at another match, and when I came back no more than 30 seconds later, Lévy controlled Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite and James Chilcott was debating whether to concede straight away or continue to watch Levy's deck work its Magic a little longer.

    "What turn was that Elesh Norn?" I asked.

    "Turn three," Levy said and shrugged. "It happens."

    Raphaël Lévy 2 – James Chilcott 1

    Elias Watsfeldt and Benjamin Leitner

    In the second match, Elias Watsfeldt and his Delver deck fought valiantly with Phantasmal Image and Oblivion Ring. But Benjamin Leitner accumulated enough mana to hard-cast his fatties, fair and square, and between this and Unburial Rites Watsfeldt couldn't keep up. In the deciding game, Watsfeld was severely manaflooded and Leitner's plethora of flashback spells ground out a win with relative ease. Trading two for one against the likes of Unburial Rites proved to be—more than hard—downright impossible.

    Elias Watsfeldt 0 – Benjamin Leitner 2

    Elie Pichon and Dalibo Szegho

    Meanwhile, Elie Pichon's reanimator deck gave him a quick victory in the first game over Dalibo Szegho and his Delver deck. For the second game, Pichon boarded out his Unburial Rites to blank his opponent's Surgical Extractions, and beat down with Strangleroot Geists and Thrun, the Last Troll instead. That took a while longer, but him got him there just the same.

    Elie Pichon 2 – Dalibo Szegho 0

    Tomas Vanek and Kenny Öberg

    And in the fourth match, the only one without any reanimation, Kenny Öberg and his green-white beatdown deck squared off against Tomas Vanek playing Wolf Run Ramp. They split the first two games, with mere minutes left on the clock. However, a Strangleroot Geist which picked up a Sword of War and Peace, and then got attached to a Sword of Feast and Famine too, managed to end the game in Öberg's favor well in time.

    Kenny Öberg 2 – Tomas Vanek 1

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