Coverage of Grand Prix Manchester

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It's been a great first day here at Grand Prix Manchester 2014, full of exciting games, interesting decks, and close calls. 1,403 players had started the event this morning, and through nine grueling rounds of Swiss the field has now been whittled down to just 151. These 151 went 7-2 or better, earning the right to return tomorrow and play for cash prizes, pro points, as well as the fame and glory of the Top 8 and the title of Grand Prix champion.

Two weeks after Pro Tour Journey into Nyx had set the stage, Theros Block Constructed proved to still hold some surprises. We've seen blowouts induced by Hour of Need, complete games turn around thanks to Dictate of Heliod, and armies literally swept away by Scourge of Fleets. Of course, we've also seen quite a number of Courser of Kruphix decks grind their way to the top, but there's always more space to explore, even within a card pool this small.

Overnight, three players lead the field with perfect records of 9-0: Valentin Mackl, Adam Bajerowicz, and Richard Grint. They may have a head start tomorrow, but fierce competition isn't far behind, with former Grand Prix and Pro Tour champions Fabrizio Anteri, Florian Koch, Samuele Estratti, Martin Jůza, Kai Budde, Christian Seibold, Wenzel Krautmann, Patrick Dickmann, and Antti Malin all returning to tomorrow.

Join us then, as we bring you all the updates and news, all the stories and insights, and all the action straight from the battlefield of Grand Prix Manchester. Until then, good night!


  • Saturday, 9:09 a.m. – It's a Conspiracy!

    by Tobi Henke

  • Gordian Knot Games, who were running this Grand Prix, had organized three events free of charge, for people to watch and to take part in, to happen on Friday. As usual, there was Rich Hagon's Trivia Game Show; in preparation for the tournament itself, Frank Karsten held a seminar on the ins and outs of Theros Block Constructed; and then there was one thing on the agenda simply advertised as "a televised booster draft." Now, the idea to show a regular booster draft at a Block Constructed Grand Prix seemed rather odd. Surely, some strange scheme was afoot ...

    As it turned out, it was a conspiracy. About Conspiracy, best described in the irreverent words of host Richard Hagon: "Now, as I understand it, Conspiracy is a 'multiplayer draft format.' Which is funny because I thought that's what draft was."

    Tournament organizer Glen White and Wizards' European Community Manager Dan Barrett had conspired to bring about this showcase of the new set and invited eight players to sit down in the spotlight. Among them were coverage veteran Tim Willoughby, darling of the streaming community Jan van der Vegt, the weekend's head judge Kim Warren, and Hall of Famer Raphaël Lévy.

    The last few spots at the table were then filled with lucky people from the crowd and one person who had entered into Dan Barrett's Facebook contest, his name drawn live from a hat. "Well, this may look like an envelope but it is, in fact, a hat," Barrett insisted. He and Rich Hagon set the tone for the quite casual fun to follow. "While drafting, don't look at your neighbor. Don't look to your left or your right—just look at the big screen over here!" Hagon explained the rather loose rules.

    And so it was. Friendly banter and frequent outbursts of laughter abounded, especially whenever cards like Cogwork Librarian and Agent of Acquisitions got involved, and much fun was had by all. More of it was caught on video by our indispensable cameraman Steven Leeming and will be shown throughout the weekend on the stream. You should definitely check it out. Until then, we'll leave you with a few impressions of the resulting decks:


  • Saturday, 9:55 a.m. – Grand Prix Trial Winners' Decklists

    by Tobi Henke

  • While the action of the main event only begins on Saturday, the Friday before a Grand Prix routinely sees hundreds of players try their luck in one of the many Grand Prix Trials. These are five-round single-elimination tournaments offering, in addition to booster prizes, the last chance to earn two byes for the actual Grand Prix.

    So all of the following decks' pilots managed to go 5-0, giving us an early glimpse of what to expect over the course of the weekend. Which seems to be, well in accordance with our expectations, a lot of copies of Courser of Kruphix. However, there were some surprises too, like the deck with Dictate of Kruphix, Master of Waves, and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx-powered Scourge of Fleets. Didn't see that one coming, did you?

    Jakob Olbrich
    Grand Prix Manchester 2014 Trial Winner

    Mark Hollowell
    Grand Prix Manchester 2014 Trial Winner

    Adam Breeden
    Grand Prix Manchester 2014 Trial Winner


  • Saturday, 10:36 a.m. – Theros Block Constructed Metagame Overview

    by Frank Karsten

  • For those of you looking to get into Block Constructed for the first time, or interested in learning more about the big decks that will be running around the room this weekend, allow me to introduce you to the wondrous world of Theros Block.

    I like to base these pieces on data, so I tallied up these Theros Block Constructed decks:

    All decks from Pro Tour Journey into Nyx that had 6-4 or better records in the Block Constructed portion;

    All decks from Magic Online Dailies that had 4-0 records in the week after the Pro Tour.

    I added up all the numbers on how often each archetype was represented in this data set, which gave me a percentage for every major archetype. This metagame overview should give a reasonable forecast for what to expect here in Manchester today. But keep in mind that the percentages I will show are based merely on the above-described data set.

    For the Top 10 archetypes, I also took the liberty of calculating the mathematically average decklist, with the numbers rounded to integers for readability. This yields a good sketch of what a each deck archetype looks like.

    10. U/B Inspired (3%)

    Turn one Springleaf Drum into turn two Pain Seer is a powerful combo. This deck also has the capability of stealing Stormbreath Dragon via Daring Thief or Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver, and then activating its monstrosity via the Gold tokens of King Macar, the Gold-Cursed.

    U/B Inspired – Average decklist

    Main Deck

    60 cards

    10  Swamp
    Temple of Deceit

    22 lands

    Brain Maggot
    Daring Thief
    King Macar, the Gold-Cursed
    Pain Seer
    Prognostic Sphinx

    20 creatures

    Bile Blight
    Hero's Downfall
    Springleaf Drum
    Triton Tactics

    14 other spells

    Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver

    4 planeswalkers

    Bile Blight
    Dark Betrayal
    Feast of Dreams
    Prognostic Sphinx

    15 sideboard cards

    9. Reanimator (4%)

    Dump Ashen Rider of Abhorrent Overlord into the graveyard with Satyr Wayfinder, and subsequently return it from the dead. Whip of Erebos is one of the best late-game engines in the format.

    8. Mono Red Aggro (4%)

    In 1998, red mages would play a Jackal Pup on turn one and an Incinerate on turn two. In 2014, red mages will play a Firedrinker Satyr on turn one and a Lightning Strike on turn two. So, not much has changed over the years... However, boosting Prophetic Flamespeaker with Mogis's Warhound and Titan's Strength is unique to Theros Block.

    7. Junk Midrange (5%)

    The first deck with Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix in this list, it additionally features all the best cards in black and white as well. This includes Hero's Downfall; Fleecemane Lion; and Elspeth, Sun's Champion. Since this deck took the Pro Tour trophy, it seems reasonable to expect more than 5% of the players here in Manchester to sleeve up this deck.

    6. W/U Heroic (6%)

    Loading up Hero of Iroas with Ordeal of Thassa and Aqueous Form is an easy route to victory. Crucially, this deck contains Gods Willing to protect its heroes from removal spells.

    5. Esper Control (7%)

    This deck just says no: Thoughtseize, Dissolve, Silence the Believers---whatever you try, this deck will stop you. Eventually, Prognostic Sphinx can lock up the game, while taking out Elspeth, dodging removal spells, and setting up your draw steps.

    Overall, this deck contains a bunch of good cards, but no real synergy, and you run the risk of having too many reactive cards and situational answers stuck in your hand, while being unable to quickly punish opponents for mana stumbles.

    4. Mono Black Aggro (11%)

    The most popular aggro deck in the format contains Pain Seer and Herald of Torment as its major threats, along with powerful disruption in Thoughtseize and Hero's Downfall.

    This deck is consistent, aggressive, and powerful. However, it is susceptible to mana flood, and it may have difficulty punching through blockers like Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix if you don't draw Boon of Erebos or Mogis's Marauder.

    3. Junk Constellation (12%)

    This deck is filled to the brim with solid enchantments like Brain Maggot and Banishing Light, and capitalizes on them with the constellation mechanic, Eidolon of Blossoms and Doomwake Giant in particular.

    This deck contains a powerful, synergistic late-game card-advantage engine, but it can be weak to cards like Polis Crusher and Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver.

    2. Naya Midrange (16%)

    I am not calling this RG Elspeth as I don't want to shun the stray Banishing Light and Chained to the Rocks, even if a red/green monster deck splashing Elspeth is essentially what this archetype comes down to.

    This deck has game against everything, and ramping into big monsters and planeswalkers is a time-tested, reasonable game plan.

    1. BUG Control (21%)

    This is the deck that most members of Team ChannelFireball: Pantheon and Team ChannelFireball (including myself) played at the Pro Tour. Although the name says "control," it actually tries to play a proactive protect-the-planeswalker game most of the time, gaining small advantages with Ashiok and Kiora wherever possible.

    This deck contains some of the best cards in the block, even if it lacks good ways to get real card advantage, which means that it may fall behind to cards like Eidolon of Blossoms and Ajani, Mentor of Heroes.

    Putting everything together, we get this picture:

    That is still a lot of information to digest, so let's break it down into something that is a little easier to grasp:

    Wow! About 65% of the decks in the data set that I considered were running 4 Sylvan Caryatid and 4 Courser of Kruphix. This means that this format is as midrange as they come---Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix are truly the defining cards of the format, and trying to swarm the opponent with 2/1 creatures is not going to work.

    Indeed, aggro is not popular: Only 25% of the metagame consisted of aggressive decks. Creature strategies in general have a hard time in this block, as they also have to evade Drown in Sorrow and Hero's Downfall. Due to the prevalence of those black removal cards, creatures with three toughness and/or hexproof may be best. Hence, Fleecemane Lion is such a crucial part of Patrick Chapin's Junk Midrange deck.

    So what is the best way to attack this format? That is exactly the question that will be answered this weekend.

    Maybe players will try to overpower midrange strategies with Strength from the Fallen and Nylea, God of the Hunt? Go for card advantage with Eidolon of Blossoms and/or Ajani, Mentor of Heroes? Punish opponents for blocking with Dictate of Heliod or Savage Surge? Go over the top with Fated Retribution? Go deep with Setessan Griffin? Attack with burn spells like Font of Ire? Or any other creative angle?

    We're about to see...

    Tune in throughout the weekend to see the innovation unfold!


  • Saturday, 12:53 p.m. – Metagame of the 20

    by Frank Karsten

  • With 1,403 players in the room there's no chance we could tell you about the whole of the Day 1 metagame. Something we can tell you about, however, is the deck choices of a select group of 20 players that we picked to shine a spotlight on:

    Anssi Alkio, Fabrizio Anteri, Michael Bonde, Kai Budde, Patrick Dickmann, Samuele Estratti, Martin Juza, Wenzel Krautmann, Bernhard Lehner, Alessandro Lippi, Valentin Mackl, Antti Malin, Josh Mcclain, Marcin Sciesinski, Shahar Shenhar, Chapman Sim, Max Sjoblom, Jan van der Vegt, Travis Woo, and Matej Zatlkaj.

    Here's the archetype breakdown of what this group of Pro Tour champions, Hall of Famers, Platinum pros, Grand Prix winners, world travelers, and experienced veterans are playing:

    Junk Midrange 5
    Naya Midrange 5
    BUG 4
    Bant Control 1
    Reanimator 1
    Strength from the Fallen 1
    UB Inspired 1
    UW Heroic 1
    WB Control 1

    As expected, Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix are out in force. However, there is a variety of non-green archetypes that is seeing play as well.

    More on Sunday, when we have a detailed breakdown of all Day 2 decks for you!


  • Saturday, 1:11 p.m. – Talking to the Traders

    by Tobi Henke

  • This Grand Prix comes hot on the heels of Pro Tour Journey into Nyx, sharing the same Constructed format and both informing the Standard format of the future. With that in mind, it should prove particularly interesting to hear what cards were on the top of players' wishlists on Friday and Saturday before the start of the tournament. We've checked with the traders to find out.

    "We're almost sold out of Elspeth, Sun's Champion and Temple of Malady, and we've also moved a lot of Sylvan Caryatid, Courser of Kruphix, many Thoughtseizes and many copies of Brimaz, King of Oreskos. Basically, every card that was in [Patrick] Chapin's PT-winning deck," said one of the busy dealers. "Mana Confluence and Silence the Believers are also almost all gone," added another.

    "Surprisingly, we've sold almost no red cards. The aggressive mono-red deck which seems to exist in almost every format usually is the first choice for players looking for a last-minute deck or audible," he explained. "There's also very little demand for blue cards, though that was to be expected." Still, Temple of Deceit could claim the runner-up spot for most popular Temple, right behind its black-green counterpart.

    Further surprises included Ajani, Mentor of Heroes moving up on the bestseller list, "as well as virtually all the mono-black cards, Brain Maggot in particular." As for sideboard cards, white was most popular here, with Reprisal but expecially Glare of Heresy. "Elspeth, beware!"

    Overall, the traders stressed the popularity of Magic's latest set: "Business is good, great actually, and most of the top-sellers are from Journey into Nyx."


  • Quick Question #1 - Most Underrated Card in The Format?

    by Tobi Henke

  • Raphaël Lévy: Springleaf Drum!
    Martin Jůza: Probably Brimaz, King of Oreskos. While it's a little hard on the mana for the green-black decks, there is just so much Bile Blight, Feast of Dreams, and red burn going around ...

    Fabrizio Anteri: Destructive Revelry seems like a good card that isn't played as much as it should be.
    Florian Koch: Pharika's Chosen. Better than the Sedge Scorpion many people are running as it can block against Mogis's Marauder.


  • Round 4 Feature Match – Josh Mcclain (Naya Midrange) vs Daniel Antoniou (Bant Midrange)

    by Frank Karsten

  • The Players

    Josh Mcclain is one of the two players from the Top 25 rankings in attendance today. (The other one is No. 13 Shahar Shenhar). Notably, Jeremy Dezani (the No. 2-ranked player) and Stanislav Cifka (the No. 3-ranked player) did not show up, most likely because they already locked up Platinum and a World Championships invite and are not in the hunt for pro points anymore.

    But for Josh Mcclain, the No. 18-ranked player, pro points are all that he is looking for. And he flew all the way from the United States in the hopes of getting them. "Two or three additional points might qualify me for Worlds," Josh explained. "And although at 44 points I'm already locked for Platinum, if I get just one more pro point, then I reach Platinum level before Pro Tour M15 in Portland, which means that I will get the appearance fee associated with Platinum there already. But I'm here mostly because of Worlds. And because I love to play Grands Prix."

    Daniel Antoniou, on the other side of the table, is a regular on the European Grand Prix circuit and a full-time Magic Online player. He still hasn't had his breakout finish, but he's come close to a Grand Top 8 on several occasions. In this tournament, he's looking for pro points as well: he is looking to overtake Michalis Pantelides, who is two pro points ahead of him right now, for the World Magic Cup race in Cyprus.

    The Decks

    Josh played the Infinite Blossoms Bant deck at the Pro Tour, but he switched to Naya Midrange here in Manchester. "Actually, the only deck I brought with me was Infinite Blossoms Bant deck, but I played it in some grinders and didn't too well," Josh told me. "So I switched to Naya. It has the right tools to beat any matchup."

    Josh's deck had several interesting tweaks that he felt gave him a better shot for the Theros Block environment. "I am playing with Fleecemane Lion and cut most of the removal from the deck. I also have two copies of Dictate of Heliod, which is a very strong card in this metagame. In addition, extra copies of Ajani, Mentor of Heroes should help against BUG."

    Daniel, meanwhile, chose to go with Bant. "I tested this format a lot, and I'm addicted to Fleecemane Lion; Brimaz, King of Oreskos; and Elspeth, Sun's Champion," Daniel explained. "I wanted to beat BUG, and blue gave me the tools to do that. Prognostic Sphinx is a great card, and Hour of Need allows me to break stalemates or survive a strived Silence the Believers."

    Game 1

    Josh got the early advantage with Ajani, Mentor of Heroes and Elspeth, Sun's Champion. Daniel tried to pressure the planeswalkers with double Fleecemane Lion, but a 4/5 Voyaging Satyr (boosted by Ajani) was able to fend them off.

    Daniel Antoniou

    Pressing his advantage, Josh added Stormbreath Dragon to the board and boosted all of his creatures with Dictate of Heliod. Daniel's only out was an Elspeth of his own to sweep most of Josh's creatures---there are downsides to Dictate of Heliod---but Josh realized that and wisely held on to his Fleecemane Lion as a post-Elspeth threat. As it turned out, Daniel didn't even have the planeswalker and scooped up his cards.

    Josh Mcclain 1 – Daniel Antoniou 0

    Game 2

    Daniel ramped into a turn-3 Polukranos, World Eater, allowing him to pressure Josh from the get-go. Daniel also showed that he knew all the timing tricks when he played Unravel the Æther on Courser of Kruphix during Josh's draw step. This way, Josh never got to play an extra land from the top, but Daniel got more information on Josh's draws.

    As the game progressed, Daniel added more threats to the board in the form of Courser of Kruphix and Prognostic Sphinx, while Josh was stuck with multiple copies of Glare of Heresy in hand. This card is an excellent answer to Fleecemane Lion; Elspeth, Sun's Champion; Brimaz, King of Oreskos; and Banishing Light, but it is horrible against non-white cards. Unable to muster a defense, Josh fell to Daniel's green and blue creatures.

    Josh Mcclain 1 – Daniel Antoniou 1

    Game 3

    On turn four, Josh paused for a while, deliberating how to approach the game. His board was Temple of Triumph, Temple of Triumph, Forest, Sylvan Caryatid, and Fleecemane Lion, while Daniel had lands, Sylvan Caryatid, and Courser of Cruphix in play. Josh's hand was Courser of Kruphix; Brimaz, King of Oreskos; Xenagos the Reveler; Polukranos, World Eater; and Stormbreath Dragon.

    What's the play?

    Josh's solution: Play Xenagos, make a token, and say go.

    Given that his hand was filled with spells and no more lands, Josh observed that mana generation was potentially huge, and he wanted to have access to the +1 ability on Xenagos to power out the rest of his cards sooner rather than later.

    No. 18 Ranked Player Josh Mcclain

    Indeed, on the next turn, a freshly drawn Sylvan Caryatid and Stormbreath Dragon came down. And on the turn after that, he played Courser of Kruphix; Brimaz, King of Oreskos; and Polukranos, World Eater. All in the same turn!

    If you thought that Xenagos was only in the deck to make 2/2 tokens, then you would be very mistaken.

    However, Daniel was not defeated yet. He fought back with Elspeth, Sun's Champion and Prognostic Sphinx, and the game turned into a long, drawn-out affair, with both players struggling to get an edge. Banishing Light took out Polukranos; Glare of Heresy got rid of Elspeth; Prognostic Sphinx improved draw steps; and Courser of Kruphix was netting free cards. You know, the usual Theros Block Constructed midrange grindfest.

    Eventually, however, Daniel drew a trump that allowed him to break the creature stall: Hour of Need. With enough mana to strive it multiple times, Daniel got several flying tokens, and attacked for lethal right away!

    Josh Mcclain 1 – Daniel Antoniou 2


  • Round 5 Feature Match – Antti Malin vs. Travis Woo

    by Tobi Henke

  • "That was a long, long time ago ...," Antti Malin allayed when Travis Woo inquired about the former's World Championship title. And indeed, being the 2008 World Champion was Malin's main claim to fame to date, with another Pro Tour Top 8 and a Grand Prix Top 8 even further in the past. Travis Woo, on the other hand, had reached the Top 8 of Grand Prix twice this decade and made a name for himself as the creator of wacky but highly competitive decks.

    Both players entered the round on still pristine records of 4-0, suggesting that Woo's brew for this tournament may have been more competitive than wacky. He brought a mostly white and black control deck with all the best removal in the format and just a few choice threats for the late game. Malin, meanwhile, relied on other people's innovation and came equipped with what looked like a pretty exact copy of Pro Tour champion Patrick Chapin's green-white-black deck.

    Game 1

    Game one was quick affair. Malin led with Thoughtseize and took Elspeth, Sun's Champion out of Woo's hand, leaving him with just one lonely Quarry Colossus and a bunch of lands. Fleecemane Lion, Courser of Kruphix, and Brimaz, King of Oreskos followed, while all Woo's deck could come up with was a Nyx-Fleece Ram.

    Antti Malin

    Ajani, Mentor of Heroes was the final nail in the coffin and soon Woo revealed his hand in concession: He had drawn a total of ten lands to go along with his total of three spells. "That's not even funny," Malin remarked. "It's kinda funny," Woo sighed. "I could have mulliganed."

    Antti Malin 1-0 Travis Woo

    Game 2

    This time Woo opened on Nyx-Fleece Ram and Malin followed suit with the dynamic duo of the format: Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix. Next, Malin's Thoughtseize took Read the Bones out of a hand chock-full of removal, with Glare of Heresy, Banishing Light, and multiple Hero's Downfalls. Woo, however, ripped another Read the Bones from the top and further cemented his stranglehold on the game.

    Travis Woo

    Malin lost Elspeth, Sun's Champion to Glare of Heresy and Courser of Kruphix to Banishing Light; he wasn't getting anywhere, at least for the time being. Slowly, though, he managed to nibble away at Woo's lifetotal with his Soldier tokens and a monstrous Fleecemane Lion. Another pair Fleecemane Lions increased the pressure. At first, Woo couldn't kill either with his spot removal as Malin was able to keep five mana up, then he at least got rid of one by using two Hero's Downfalls.

    Still the clock was ticking and soon Woo's life was in the single digits. He had another Nyx-Fleece Ram but lost it to Malin's removal. Woo had no answer and died to tokens and Lions.

    Antti Malin 2-0 Travis Woo

    After the match, Malin was curious about Woo's deck and the latter revealed Elspeth, Sun's Champion and Fated Retribution which, at several points during the second game, would have utterly destroyed Malin. (Though, at the end, even Fated Retribution would have been powerless against indestructible Fleecemane Lions.) Assessing the matchup as it might have played out, Malin said, "I guess I was lucky I was so aggressive in both games, especially with the multiple Fleecemane Lions."


  • Deck Tech - Release the Kraken!

    by Tom Reeve

  • While the broader field for Grand Prix Manchester was set by Pro Tour Journey into Nyx two weeks ago, it seems that Theros Block Constructed still has some surprises ready to drag the unwary to a watery grave. The first warning flare went up earlier today when the decklists of our Grand Prix Trial winners were posted, as expected cards like Sylvan Caryatid, Courser of Kruphix, and Stormbreath Dragon fell under the shadow of a very different kind of monster: the Scourge of Fleets! While it was in the hands of GPT winner Mark Hollowell that the deck first surfaced in our coverage, a full team of English players, most from Nottingham, are playing the deck. With encouraging results coming in from the early rounds, I went in search of the men who dared to release the Kraken!

    Neil Rigby is one of England's most recognizable players, a veteran of the tournament scene with two Grand Prix Top 8s to his name, while David Inglis, at university in Nottingham, has stepped up his game recently, picking up strong finishes in Pro Tour Qualifiers and beyond.

    Neil Rigby, Mono-Blue Devotion
    Grand Prix Manchester 2014 – Block Constructed

    So where did the idea for the deck come from, and what makes it so suited for the Grand Prix Manchester field?

    Neil: Before Pro Tour Journey into Nyx,on the way back from a Pro Tour Qualifier in Manchester, myself, Matt Light, and Greg Wiggett were brainstorming for Block Constructed. Howling Mine, and cards like it, have been around forever, but Dictate of Kruphix has two big advantages; it provides two devotion, and you get to draw the first extra card. We actually started with blue/green, for cards like Prophet of Kruphix and Sedge Scorpion in the board for Mistcutter Hydra.

    David: We were expecting a lot more Mono-Black Aggro at the Pro Tour, so we didn't consider the deck a serious contender at first. When it turned out that everyone was playing Courser of Kruphix/Sylvan Caryatid decks like Junk and BUG, it suddenly seemed a lot more interesting

    Neil: When I turned up this weekend, I had a choice of three decks; the mono-blue deck, Junk, and UW Heroic. After taking a look at the decks being played in the Grand Prix Trials and the number of Junk decks around, the decision was almost made for me, as Junk is an incredible matchup. You ignore so many of their most important cards that there's often little they can do to disrupt you.

    So how many people are playing the deck?

    Neil: Around ten – mostly Nottingham players, and some other players that David brought into the fold. Although, it isn't the easiest deck to sell people on. For some reason not everyone is excited to play Dakra Mystic and Scourge of Fleets!

    It seems like you have some differences in your builds – which cards are the core of the deck?

    David: I'd say the core of the deck is Dakra Mystic, Omenspeaker, Prognostic Sphinx, Scourge of Fleets, Dictate of Kruphix, and Whelming Wave.

    Neil: Sphinx was actually quite a late addition. As I said, we originally had a blue/green build of the deck, but it was struggling to deal with planeswalkers. We originally also had more Thassa, God of the Sea, which got worse as the white decks moved to Deicide as a possible answer. When we cut the green, Sphinx was added, particularly to help with planeswalkers like Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver and Kiora, the Crashing Wave. Retraction Helix was also added, partly to reset Ashiok to a more manageable size, and partly so that we had the "bounce and counter" plan available against problem cards.

    The deck itself is unusual enough, but any particularly strange tech in either of your lists?

    David: Well, Cloaked Siren in the board for the BUG matchup is probably the biggest surprise for most people! When I'm on the play I want to play draw-go, with flash cards and counterspells (four Gainsay and four Dissolve post board). I wanted more flash cards than just Dictate, and Siren can also kill Kiora and put a lot of pressure on Ashiok (sometimes alongside Mystic and Omenspeaker). Perplexing Chimera is just amazing, particularly against slower decks. It trumps every trump; I bring it in against any slow deck, any planeswalker deck, the red-green monstrosity deck. The ability to reset it with Whelming Wave means you can sometimes get even more value out of it than usual.

    Neil: David and I are both running one copy of Thassa's Ire. You draw so many cards, and scry so much, that it can have a big impact in longer games. It adds a bit of hard-to-kill devotion, and it's a good outlet for Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx mana. Chimera is great – at one point I used it to steal a Stormbreath Dragon, and things only got better from there. I played Scourge of Fleets, more or less forcing him to swap the Chimera back to me for the Scourge. That meant I had the chance to steal Xenagos, the Reveler as well, then drew Nykthos to activate monstrosity on the Stormbreath Dragon to exactly kill him with the one card in his hand!

    A few rounds in, are there any cards you wish you were playing, or wish you had more of?

    David: I wish I were playing more Kiora's Dismissal, and maybe a third Cloaked Siren – the two Sirens I am playing have already won me two games. Dismissal is incredible against the mono-black deck, as it hits all of their most important cards.

    So you mentioned earlier that the thought of a Pro Tour full of Mono-Black aggro scared you off initially, what are the rest of your matchups like?

    David: The BUG matchup is a little soft game one, as they can have tough draws like Ashiok into Kiora, but it's generally favorable. The other green decks are pretty easy, with Junk being particularly straightforward. The heroic matchups are fine, with the blue-white deck being tougher. The most important card against them is Whelming Wave, as it ignores Gods Willing and Ajani's Presence. Against the blue-white decks they can get their guys big enough to play around Scourge. The Mono-Black Aggro matchup is the worst, but even then I only narrowly lost to it in the last round.

    A number of the deck's pilots are 4-1 and 5-0, so we'll hopefully be seeing more of the deck over the rest of the tournament!


  • Saturday, 7:12 p.m. – A tough mulligan decision with Patrick Dickmann

    by Frank Karsten

  • As I was walking around the hall, Patrick Dickmann approached me with an interesting question.

    During Round 4, the Pro Tour Born of the Gods Top 4 competitor was paired against Martin Juza, and quickly lost Game 1 to a fast aggro draw from Martin's UW Heroic deck. For game 2, on the play, Patrick looked at the following seven cards:

    Temple of Abandon
    Magma Spray
    Sylvan Caryatid
    Courser of Kruphix
    Glare of Heresy
    Banishing Light
    Stormbreath Dragon

    This hand contains a number of great cards, including enough removal spells to fend off Martin's heroic creatures. However, it contains only one land.

    The big question, of course, is: Keep or mulligan?

    Patrick, as he told me, decided to keep this hand. He explained his thought process to me as follows. "I realize that keeping one-landers is often not right, but I think this hand was an exception because the land was a scry-land, I had a one-mana removal spell, and the rest of the cards were so good. If I have at least one land anywhere in my top 3 cards, I just win: I can play Magma Jet on his first creature, and then Sylvan Caryatid on turn two. Caryatid gives me the white mana for Glare of Heresy and Banishing Light, which provide enough time for me to win with Courser of Kruphix and Stormbreath Dragon. And I felt that the probability of hitting that land in the top 3 cards was high enough to justify the keep."

    For the record, the actual probability of being able to have a land by turn three (taking into account that you can scry any non-land card to the bottom and that there were 30 non-land lands remaining in Patrick's 53-card deck) is 1-(30/53)*(29/52)*(28/51)=83%. Given that Patrick was extremely likely to win the game if he did find the land in time, it appears that keeping the hand gives a better chance to win the game than taking a mulligan to six.

    As it turns out, Patrick never found his second land and quickly succumbed to Fabled Hero. With that outcome in mind, it made sense that he was wondering whether or not he had made the right decision. But it seems that the mathematics are on Patrick's side and that he played the percentages correctly.

    Patrick Dickmann is still wondering about his mulligan decision.

    Sometimes you make the correct play and lose. That, too, is part of Magic.


  • Saturday, 8:25 p.m. – How to beat Courser and Caryatid?

    by Frank Karsten

  • Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix are two of the defining cards in the format. A quick stroll along the top tables revealed that (at least on those tables) over 2/3rds of the players are running green.

    This, of course, begs the question: How to beat 'em?

    To get the pros' take on this question, I spoke with a group of veterans who all have at least one Grand Prix Top 8 finish to their name: Grand Prix Antwerp 2013 champion Patrick Dickmann, Grand Prix Strasbourg 2013 Top 8 competitor Michael Bonde, Grand Prix Cape Town 2001 champion Ben Seck, Grand Prix Krakow 2007 Top 8 competitor Matej Zatlkaj, Grand Prix Detriot 2013 champion Josh Mcclain, and Grand Prix Birmingham 1998 champion Craig Jones.

    Dickmann: "Unfortunately, I have to say that the best way to beat Courser and Caryatid is to play them both yourself. But because they are so dominant, you have to prepare for the mirror matches. I think that a good way to do that is to include good removal that actually kills the amazingly powerful Courser of Kruphix. Destructive Revelry and Banishing Light are good; Lightning Strike and Bile Blight are not."

    Bonde: "Go bigger. All decks pretty much want to trade 1-for-1 and then win on card advantage with Courser of Kruphix. As most games come down to a ramp war and an attrition war, every card should be an imminent threat by itself. Dictate of Heliod and Ajani, Mentor of Heroes are great threats that can allow you to go over the top of what other people are doing."

    Seck: "You need a higher density of threats. Without an efficient sweeper, everything trades 1-for-1 or at best 2-for-1, so you need to maximize the number of threats in your deck. I wouldn't go as far as cutting Sylvan Caryatid from the main deck because you still have to respect aggro decks, but you can board them out against other midrange decks."

    Zatlkaj: "The main problems with most Caryatid/Courser decks is that all their scry lands make them slow and that they don't have a quick clock. The best decks attack from a different angle that exploits those weaknesses. The Mono-Blue Dictate of Kruphix deck and the Mono-Green Strength from the Fallen do exactly that. Alternatively, it's best have cards that are aggressive but that are good at all stages of the game: I think this is going to be a breakout tournament for Ajani, Mentor of Heroes, and Dictate of Heliod; Reaper of the Wilds; Fleecemane Lion; and Brimaz, King of Oreskos are all good as well."

    Mcclain: "You have to go over the top of what they are doing. I actually like the Infinite Blossoms Bant deck that I played at the Pro Tour for that reason; it generates more mana and can cast more spells per turn than most of the other green decks. The deck wasn't good enough against aggro, but if I was guaranteed to play against Caryatid decks every round, then I would've just gone with Infinite Blossoms Bant again."



  • Quick Question #2 – Number of Courser of Kruphix in the Top 8?

    by Tobi Henke

  • Raphaël Lévy: My best guess would be 22, but that's obviously just because it's going to be either 20 or 24.
    Martin Jůza: 28. It seems that everyone is running Courser and Sylvan Caryatid with some combination of black, blue, and/or white.

    Fabrizio Anteri: Seven times four makes 28? Then at least 28.
    Florian Koch: If someone did manage it at the Pro Tour, then someone will make it without Courser here as well. That leaves 28.


  • Round 7 Feature Match – Craig Jones (Chromanticore) – Ben Coleman (Naya Midrange)

    by Tom Reeve

  • Craig Jones is a man with a past. A past that he cannot escape. While he has a Grand Prix title to his name, and won the last Great British Nationals that he could before he moved to Curacao some years back, he's best known for a single moment.

    "It's Lightning Helix!"

    The recipient of one of the game's most famous topdecks (a topdeck that he had very carefully set up, mind you) Craig has made the trip over to Grand Prix Manchester with a deck that trades consistency for sheer spectacle. Disguised as a conventional Sylvan Caryatid/Courser of Kruphix multicolored midrange deck, his deck plays more hexproof creatures than would otherwise be normal. The reason? Why, he needs somewhere safe to put Chromanticore, of course!

    His opponent, Ben Coleman, has had some solid finishes at past Grand Prix, and has himself taken a turn behind the coverage desk in the past. In typically English fashion, Craig won the race to the first self-deprecating remarks. "I'm averaging three or four mistakes per game at the moment, so we'll see how this goes! Tim Willoughby and Raphaël Lévy were watching my first round, and I don't think they were very impressed!" Both players are 5-1 going into Round 7, and neither wants to give up that last extra life in the battle for Day 2.

    Game 1

    Craig's exactly average 7 trumped Coleman's 'rubbish' 5 on two dice, and we were off to the races. Not the fastest of races, as it turned out: both players starting off with Temples. Would Jones's Mystery trump Coleman's Plenty? He was certainly first on the board, with Sylvan Caryatid, matched promptly by Coleman. While Coleman's deck was the more aggressive on paper, it was Jones who went small, with Eidolon of Blossoms, Courser of Kruphix, and Fleecemane Lion up against Coleman's anything-but-small Xenagos, the Reveler into Elspeth, Sun's Champion. Dictate of Heliod from Coleman made a mess of Jones's first block, the attack dealing a full 10 and costing him his Courser, and a Stormbreath Dragon from Coleman (with monstrosity, thanks to a full board and Xenagos's mana-generating ability) was more than enough to put the first game away.

    Craig Jones 0 – Ben Coleman 1

    Craig went for his sideboard: "I think I'll play, not that it helped last time! The mana ability on Xenagos really is something, as if the Satyrs weren't good enough!"

    Game 2

    Both players had particularly devout starts, with Temples of Plenty aplenty. Jones kicked things off with Courser of Kruphix, and a steady stream of threats from Coleman were answered in turn. Brimaz, King of Oreskos? Gild. A second? Glare of Heresy. Elspeth, Sun's Champion? Hero's Downfall. Stormbreath Dragon? Elspeth, Sun's Champion! Elspeth fell to one of Coleman's remaining Soldier tokens, but even Dictate of Heliod wasn't enough to let Coleman keep up as Jones pulled together a board of Fleecemane Lion, Bassara Tower Archer, and Reaper of the Wilds. With both players on low life totals, Coleman in particular danger on a mere 3 life, who would be the first to find a way to go over the top?

    Well, if you're looking to go over the top, why not go over the top? Jones's deck, it turns out, can do just that in style, as he bestowed the power of Chromanticore on his Fleecemane Lion, sending it to the skies for a single lethal blow!

    Craig Jones 1 – Ben Coleman 1

    "This deck certainly isn't the most consistent, but it's a lot of fun"

    You know what, Craig? I think you're right.

    Game 3

    Coleman kicked off the final game, and Craig, on the draw, reached for his first land... "Actually, I supposed I'd better draw first? I'm a little scatterbrained today!" Coleman had kept a somewhat risky two-land hand, with the temptation of Fleecemane Lion into Brimaz too much to resist. He didn't find a land for his third turn, but he did have a Lightning Strike for Jones's Lion, drawing first blood with his own. That missing land came just in time, enabling Banishing Light on Jones's Reaper of the Wilds before he could untap and protect it. That early stumble looked set to cost Coleman dearly, however, as Jones flooded the board with Elspeth, two Tower Archers, and another Lion. One Tower Archer fell defending the Sun's Champion from Stormbreath Dragon, the planeswalker painfully close to activating her ultimate ability. A second Dragon foiled that plan, but another block by an Archer let Elspeth take out both Dragons with her -3 ability, although it exhausted her loyalty completely.

    The board was a monstrous Fleecemane Lion, an Eidolon of Blossoms and nine Soldier tokens for Jones, and a Fleecemane Lion and Courser of Kruphix for Coleman. As the end of the round was called, would either player be able to break through and claim victory? How about Stormbreath Dragon number three? That took Jones to 8, and he would need to either kill the Dragon, gain some life, or empty his hand entirely to survive its next attack. He went with door number one, Hero's Downfall snaring the beast. A cohort of Soldiers went for Coleman, driving the monstrous Fleecemane Lion before them, and Coleman fell to 8, a second Courser and a land taking him up to a seemingly comfortable 10. Wait, did I say comfortable? The Fleecemane Lion, already indestructible and hexproof, was infused with the power of the Chromanticore, gaining flying, first strike, vigilance, trample, and lifelink! That accounted for a full 9 points of Coleman's remaining 10 life, and the swarm of Soldiers threw themselves into the breach to force the final point through.

    Craig Jones 2 – Ben Coleman 1

    Ben Coleman's loss leaves him needing to win both of the last rounds of the day to make it through, while Craig Jones can breathe easy, those 'inconsistent' Chromanticores more than making up for the stress on his manabase with sheer, game-ending power.


  • Round 8 Feature Match – (13) Shahar Shenhar vs. James Cogbill

    by Tobi Henke

  • With scores of 5-2, both players were very much under the gun here. One more loss would spell elimination from Day 2 contention, two straight wins would be necessary to continue in the tournament. An unusual position for 2013's World Champion Shahar Shenhar to be in. Currently ranked 13 in the world, with 43 pro points in the season so far, the Israeli had already locked up Platinum status, but that didn't mean he wasn't determined to crush all opposition Englishman James Cogbill would be able to muster.

    The match-up here was Red-Green-White Midrange piloted by Shenhar versus Black-Green-White Midrange piloted by Cogbill. Despite obvious similarities between the two decks, red adds aggressive monsters, while black pushes back with removal, meaning Shenhar would likely be the aggressor here. Overall though, the battle would certainly be a war of attrition going back and forth for quite a while.

    Game 1

    Shenhar led with Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix, which incidentally never yielded a single extra card throughout the course of the game. Meanwhile, Cogbill's first play was Brimaz, King of Oreskos on turn three. Lots of trades followed: Stormbreath Dragon met Silence the Believers, various tokens and copies of Brimaz died on both sides.

    No. 13 Ranked Player Shahar Shenhar

    But in the end, the outcome of the game was dictated not by Cogbill's Dictate of Erebos (which was largely irrelevant and probably would have been better as Dictate of Heliod) but by the simply fact that Shenhar was able to stick an Elspeth, Sun's Champion first. The two Elspeths raced toward the ultimate and Shenhar crossed the finishing line first.

    (13) Shahar Shenhar 1-0 James Cogbill

    Game 2

    Again a lot of trading was going on: Shenhar killed two Fleecemane Lions with a pair of Glare of Heresy, Cogbill's Hero's Downfall destroyed Brimaz, King of Orsekos when the latter tried to block his Arbor Colossus together with its token and Courser of Kruphix. This trade-off in particular left Shenhar at some disadvantage, but he made up for it with another Brimaz, King of Oreskos and Banishing Light for Arbor Colossus.

    James Cogbill

    Next, Cogbill had Hero's Downfall for Elspeth, Sun's Champion, but Shenhar's Stormbreath Dragon finally stuck around. Incidental damage dealt by tokens and whatnot was now complemented by serious Dragon beatings, and soon Cogbill was falling low on life. At 3, he managed to get rid of Banishing Light to retrieve his Arbor Colossus, but between the need to block and empty his hand in the face of Stormbreath Dragon's impending monstrosity activation, he found no way to capitalize on that.

    In the end, Stormbreath Dragon killed the chump-blocking Arbor Colossus (instead of the other way around like it's supposed to happen) and then Cogbill.

    (13) Shahar Shenhar 2-0 James Cogbill

    "You could have killed the Dragon with Arbor Colossus," Shenhar pointed out after the match. "I didn't have the mana," Cogbill protested, but Shenhar explained: "You did if you counted Sylvan Caryatid. Not being able to block with Caryatid would have meant 1 more damage from a token, but then you wouldn't need to block Stormbreath Dragon anymore, so that's even."

    "Oh ... right. I completely failed to see that."

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