gpphx14

Berni's Devotion Pays off in Phoenix

  • Print

The letter A!ustin, Texas resident Robert Berni got his first opportunity at nearly achieving a Grand Prix title back in July of 2013, where he reached the Top 8 of Grand Prix Kansas City. However, his hopes of a win were shut down by Seth Manfield that day, the eventual winner of the event.

Today, however, was a different story. Overcoming a field of 1463 players, Berni's Mono-Black Devotion deck earned him win after win through two Days of Standard action before he finally cemented his place in the Top 8 at the top of the standings. Once he reached the Top 8, he had to overcome three different archetypes in order to claim the title. In the Quarterfinals, he dispatched Daniel Ward, the sole Bant Control player in the Top 8. In the Semifinals, he overcame William Levin's Jund Monsters.

And then, it all came down to his final match against Nathan Holiday, who was looking to add a second Grand Prix title to his name. However, it was not to be for Holiday, and Berni's Nightveil Specters utterly devastated his opponent in the third and final game, stealing not one, not two, but three of Holiday's own copies of the creature off of the top of his deck in sequential attacks.

While the Standard format has evolved with each week in the last four Grand Prix main events, it was ultimately the more traditional Black and Blue Devotion decks that found their way into the final match of the weekend. And, much like the last few months have played out, it was black that managed to rise above its devoted rival. And for Robert Berni, it was a chance to finally claim a title for his own, after his first title eluded him last year.




Quarterfinals   Semifinals   Finals   Champion
1 Robert Berni   Robert Berni, 2-0        
8 Daniel Ward   Robert Berni, 2-0
       
4 Art Macurda   William Levin, 2-0   Robert Berni, 2-1
5 William Levin    
       
2 Nathan Holiday   Nathan Holiday, 2-0
7 Brandon Bercovich   Nathan Holiday, 2-1
       
3 Gary Wong   Gary Wong, 2-1
6 Eric Froehlich    








What's being said about us...
Join the Conversation







EVENT COVERAGE INFORMATION

  • by Mike Rosenberg and Adam Styborski
    Top 5 Cards

  • by Mike Rosenberg
    Finals
    Robert Berni (Black Devotion) vs. Nathan Holiday (Blue Devotion)

  • by Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa
    Semifinals
    Nathan Holiday (Mono-Blue Devotion) vs. Gary Wong (Blue Devotion splashing White)

  • by Adam Styborski
    Semifinals
    Will Levin (Jund Monsters) vs. Robert Berni (Mono-Black Devotion)

  • by Mike Rosenberg
    Quarterfinals
    (23) Eric Froehlich (B/r Devotion) vs. Gary Wong (U/w Devotion)

  • by Mike Rosenberg
    Quarterfinals
    Brandon Bercovich (Black Devotion) vs. Nathan Holiday (Blue Devotion)

  • by Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa
    Quarterfinals
    Robert Berni (Black Devotion) vs. Daniel Ward (Bant Control)

  • by Adam Styborski
    Quarterfinals
    Will Levin (Jund Monsters) vs. Art Macurda (Jund Monsters)

  • by Event Coverage Staff
    Top 8 Profiles

  • by Event Coverage Staff
    Top 16 Decklists

  • by Event Coverage Staff
    Top 8 Decklists

  • by Event Coverage Staff
    Day 2 Blog
  • by Event Coverage Staff
    Day 1 Blog
  • by Event Coverage Staff
    Info: Fact Sheet
 1.  Robert Berni $4,000
 2.  Nathan Holiday $2,700
 3.  Gary Wong $1,500
 4.  William Levin $1,500
 5.  Art Macurda $1,000
 6.  Eric Froehlich $1,000
 7.  Brandon Bercovich $1,000
 8.  Daniel Ward $1,000
Pairings Results Standings
Final

15
14
13
12
11
10
15
14
13
12
11
10
15
14
13
12
11
10

9
8
7
6
5
4
3
2
1
9
8
7
6
5
4
3
2
1
9
8
7
6
5
4
3
2
1

 

  • Top 8 Decklists

    by Event Coverage Staff

  • Robert Berni’s Black Devotion
    Standard - Grand Prix Phoenix 2014


    Nathan Holiday's Mono-Blue Devotion
    Standard - Grand Prix Phoenix 2014


    Gary Wong’s U/w Devotion
    Standard - Grand Prix Phoenix 2014




    Eric Froehlich's B/r Devotion
    Standard - Grand Prix Phoenix 2014


    Brandon Bercovich’s Black Devotion
    Standard - Grand Prix Phoenix 2014





     

  • Top 16 Decklists

    by Event Coverage Staff






  • Nathannael Maliszewski - Mono-Blue Devotion



    Jon Stern - Mono-Black Devotion




     

  • Top 8 Profiles

    by Event Coverage Staff


  • Robert Berni

    Age: 28
    Hometown: Austin, TX
    Occupation: Sports Betting Consultant


    Previous Magic Accomplishments:
    Top 8 GP KC

    What deck are you playing this weekend and why?
    Mono Black, Thoughtseize + Pack Rat is pretty good.

    How did you prepare for this weekend?
    Won the Hunter Burton Memorial a few weeks ago.

    Which card in your deck has performed the best for you this weekend?
    Gray Merchant of Asphodel

    Which deck have you most hoped to face this weekend?
    Mono Blue




    Nathan Holiday

    Age: 22
    Hometown: Santa Cruz, CA
    Occupation: Student


    Previous Magic Accomplishments:
    GP San Diego 2013 Winner, 27th PT San Diego 2013, cashed a couple other Gps.

    What deck are you playing this weekend and why?
    Mono Blue! Thassa good card.

    How did you prepare for this weekend?
    Tested with Michael Boland, Sam Pardee, and other NorCalers. Jammed a bunch of matches on MTGO.

    Which card in your deck has performed the best for you this weekend?
    Thassa!

    Which deck have you most hoped to face this weekend?
    Mono Red Weenie




    Gary Wong

    Age: 25
    Hometown: Phoenix, AZ
    Occupation: Phimus, Jax, and Abong Look-a-likes


    Previous Magic Accomplishments:
    States Champion

    What deck are you playing this weekend and why?
    U/W Devotion. Meta shifted and Esper has declined.

    How did you prepare for this weekend?
    Southern Ami Tournament (Local)

    Which card in your deck has performed the best for you this weekend?
    Detention Sphere

    Which deck have you most hoped to face this weekend?
    Mono Black, Red, R/G/B Monsters, Mirror. Basically everything but Esper.




    Art Marcurda

    Age: 27
    Hometown: San Diego, CA
    Occupation: Student


    Previous Magic Accomplishments:
    JSS, Nationals, SCG Top 8

    What deck are you playing this weekend and why?
    Jund, It has something for everyone.

    How did you prepare for this weekend?
    MTGO

    Which card in your deck has performed the best for you this weekend?
    Stormbreath Dragon!

    Which deck have you most hoped to face this weekend?
    Sphinx Control




    Will Levin

    Age: 36
    Hometown: Mesa, AZ
    Occupation: Engineer (Software/Electrical)


    Previous Magic Accomplishments:
    Game Day Born of the Gods winner

    What deck are you playing this weekend and why?
    Jund Good Stuff - It matches well against the field with Esper/Black Devotion/RG Monsters so prevalent. It is also a lot of fun.

    How did you prepare for this weekend?
    Playing with friends and at FNM.

    Which card in your deck has performed the best for you this weekend?
    Sire of Insanity has been an ALL STAR against Esper. Stormbreath Dragon was the heavy worker pulling a lot weight. Domri/Xenagos did some work too.

    Which deck have you most hoped to face this weekend?
    Esper Control




    Eric Froehlich

    Age: 30
    Hometown: Las Vegas
    Occupation: Poker Player/ChannelFireball Writer


    Previous Magic Accomplishments:
    3 PT Top 8s, 11 GP Top 8s

    What deck are you playing this weekend and why?
    Black/Red Devotion, tune into ChannelFireball.com for details.

    How did you prepare for this weekend?
    Tested solo, talked to Orat.

    Which card in your deck has performed the best for you this weekend?
    Whip of Erebos won 5 matches. Erebos himself was fantastic, and Rakdos’s Return is busted.

    Which deck have you most hoped to face this weekend?
    Bring It.




    Brandon Bercovich

    Age: 31
    Hometown: San Leandro
    Occupation: Lead Systems Administrator


    Previous Magic Accomplishments:
    Went 11-4 at the largest GP ever.

    What deck are you playing this weekend and why?
    Mono-Black Devotion. I wanted to play Thoughtseize and didn’t like the mana issues with Esper.

    How did you prepare for this weekend?
    I playtested with friend and used Magic Online.

    Which card in your deck has performed the best for you this weekend?
    Gray Merchant of Asphodel

    Which deck have you most hoped to face this weekend?
    Splinter Twin




    Daniel Ward

    Age: 29
    Hometown: Catskill, NY
    Occupation: Air Traffic Control


    Previous Magic Accomplishments:
    Lots of win and ins.

    What deck are you playing this weekend and why?
    BANT. I like it against the other control decks plus creature decks are free wins.

    How did you prepare for this weekend?
    Watching John Kassari test online.

    Which card in your deck has performed the best for you this weekend?
    Aetherling (It’s Bonkers).

    Which deck have you most hoped to face this weekend?
    Mono Blue.




     

  • Quarterfinals - Will Levin (Jund Monsters) vs. Art Macurda (Jund Monsters)

    by Adam Styborski

  • "My only losses are to myself: I showed up late and got a match loss Day One. This morning, showed up late and got a game loss." Art Macurda said. It was an interesting way to introduce himself and start both days of a Grand Prix, but for Macurda who "wanted Jund to make something happen," getting his first Grand Prix Top 8.

    Will Levin was just as jovial. "I never do anything like this," he said. "I usually just play drafts Friday nights at my local shop, Gotham. I was expecting all this." He, too, found his first Grand Prix Top 8 as well.

    Looking over each other's lists led to some raised eyebrows. Both took inspiration from Chris VanMeter's Jund Monsters list, tweaking and changing things to suit their own tastes.

    "Let's get this party started," Levin said when he played an untapped Stomping Ground to take the first damage of game, playing Courser of Kruphix on turn three. While Macurda has Dreadbore for it immediately, Levin followed with an unanswered second.

    If Macurda casting Xenegos, the Reveler counted as going unanswered, that is.

    It turned out it did mean that as it allowed Levin to add the fifth land for Stormbreath Dragon, attacking and destroying Macurda's Xenagos. Levin leveled the satyr planeswalker up casting Xenagos, God of Revels and delivered 8 damage to Macurda. Domri Rade joined Levin's side after Dreadbore cleared the way for another 8 damage.

    It didn't take long for Macurda to check his hand and sigh.

    "I had double Dragon!" Macurda exclaimed as he conceded the first game and revealed his hand. "Domri's just game there."

    "I never played the mirror," Levin admitted. "I was expecting Red-Green Monsters."

    "Give me Mono-Black. Give me Esper Control." Macurda with a grin.

    The second game was defined by Macurda's proclaimation: "I'm going aggressive!" Dreadbore and Scavenging Ooze led Macurda take an early lead on life, knocking Levin down to 13, but Mizzium Mortars and a Scavenging Ooze of his down put the game leader back into the drivers seat.

    "It's a guessing game. I know your list. Did you bring them in?" Macurda asked rhetorically before casting Polukranos, World Eater.

    Reaper of the Wilds was all Levin mustered as he missed his land drop. Ultimate Price helped clear the way, but Macurda forget about Levin's untapped Sylvan Caryatid when Domri Rade made Polukranos and Reaper of the Wilds fight.

    "Excuse my language." Macurda said after the obligatory response.

    Stormbreath Dragon finished off the planeswalker, but a second Polukranos from Macurda didn't phase Levin. A second Dreadbore put Macurda into a tighter position, and he was dwelling on the Domri play.

    "It's all about the Domri play." he said as he played and tried to attack with a Strombreath Dragon in his second main phase. Mizzium Mortars cleared the way for Levin to continue attacking with his Dragon, and Courser of Kruphix began to filter lands into play for his.

    Stormbreath Dragon was the next card on top of Levin's library.

    "Light's out!" Macurda said as he fell to 3 life.

    "I had the third Stormbreath in my hand." Levin said.

    "Good game." Macurda grinned as he extended his hand.

    "Don't worry, you'll be a Twitch all-star. That's what they keep telling me."

    They parted just as they started: Laughing.

    Will Levin defeated Art Macurda, 2-0.




     

  • Quarterfinals - Robert Berni (Black Devotion) vs. Daniel Ward (Bant Control)

    by Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa

  • This match features Robert Berni's Black Devotion deck against Daniel Ward's Bant Control deck. The match-up should be familiar for both players - Ward surely had to beat many Mono Black decks to get to the top 8, and even though this is Berni's first time playing against Bant Control, the difference between White-Blue, Esper, and Bant are very small, especially where this matchup is concerned (Sylvan Caryatid and Kiora, the Crashing Wave are the only green cards in Ward's deck).

    Game one, in general, should be good for the control deck; the black deck has six removal spells that have almost no targets and few meaningful threats, letting the Bant deck just go over the top eventually. After board, things get a lot closer since Ward has access to four Duress and two Erebos, God of the Dead, replacing the cards that were previously very bad with all-stars, whereas Bant changes very little in terms of power level. The Games

    The match started slowly, with both players having no action in the first turns. On turn two, Ward played an untapped dual land, taking 2 and representing Syncopate. Now, Berni had a choice, he could call the bluff (or choose to get the Syncopate out of the way), or he could wait a turn. He chose to wait a turn, in the likelihood that Ward does not have another untapped land. He did just take two to play his land after all, which he would not have done if he had a basic land to play instead, so there is a decent chance he will not be able to cast Syncopate for two on the following turn. Ward played another untapped dual land on turn three, and Berni decided he's had enough waiting and cast a Nightveil Specter, which sure enough drew out the Syncopate.

    Daniel Ward

    Ward missed his third land drop, but declined to cycle Azorius Charm to keep his mana up and represent a counterspell, which ended up backfiring once Berni went for Underworld Connections regardless. The first Connection got an immediate response in Detention Sphere, but the second one stayed in play and began to push Berni ahead. Another Detention Sphere followed, but so did a third Underworld Connections, which is great for Berni because it's the most important card in this

    first game. Ward played Jace, Architect of Thought, but Ward had to use its plus ability because Berni had a Mutavault, so it ended up breaking even in an exchange of cards when Berni took it down with Hero's Downfall. That was fine for Ward, though, since he had an upgrade in Elspeth, Sun's Champion, and now one Hero's Downfall was out of the way. Thoughtseize grabbed a Sphinx's Revelation, but as long as Elspeth was in play, Ward doesn't really need anything else to win the game, and it did't look like it's going away anytime soon since Berni was out of Downfalls. Berni then played a Bile Blight, killing the Elspeth tokens (since they are all named "Soldier") and attacked Elspeth with Mutavault. On the next turn, he tried the same thing, but his Bile Blight got Dissolved; he then played another one and finally managed to kill the planeswalker with Mutavault attacks only, a feat we rarely see since it makes three blockers a turn. So much for Bile Blight being a "dead removal spell", I suppose.

    "Wow, triple Bile Bright!", exclaimed Ward.

    "Yeah, but you had to draw the Dissolve to stop one," Berni responded.Ward drew another Elspeth, which threatened to pull the game away, but Berni had the fourth Underworld Connections, and managed to draw into double Gray Merchant of Asphodel before the Elspeth could ultimate and kill him.

    Robert Berni

    Both players kept their opening hands for Game 2 and Ward started with a turn two Sylvan Caryatid, a card that most Bant decks don't play because of the negative interaction with Supreme Verdict but that is nonetheless very powerful and combos very well with planeswalkers by allowing you to both play them a turn earlier and to protect them with a blocker. Duress stripped out a Revelation, leaving an Elspeth, Sun's Champion, a Last Breath, and a Revoke Existence, and with the coast clear, Berni knew he could go for a Lifebane Zombie.

    Desecration Demon came into play next for Berni, which presented a problem for Ward, but he managed to draw Supreme Verdict to deal with both of Berni's Creatures. Unfortunately for him, it also killed his Sylvan Caryatid, which put him even further away from casting the Elspeth in his hand. Stuck on four lands and facing a Pack Rat, Ward had the choice to play a Sphinx's Revelation for one to try to find a fifth land, but declined to do that, instead hoping that he will draw a land next turn to be able to play Revelation for two.

    Berni made a Pack Rat token at the end of the turn, tapping out and giving Ward an opportunity to Last Breath one of his Rats before they can grow to 3/3. Ward chose not to, and decided to Last Breath them during the attack phase instead, giving Berni the opportunity to grow one of his Rats before the Last Breath resolves, but Berni decided to just let it die. In the end, the army of Pack Rats and Mutavaults is too much to handle and Berni Berni advanced to the Semifinals.

    Robert Berni defeats Daniel Ward 2-0 and advances to the Semifinals!




     

  • Quarterfinals – Brandon Bercovich (Black Devotion) vs. Nathan Holiday (Blue Devotion)

    by Mike Rosenberg

  • Brandon Bercovich and Nathan Holiday sat down for what has been a classic Standard match-up between the two popular Devotion strategies of the Constructed format: black versus blue. Oftentimes the match-up has a lot of weight placed on who can be on the play, favoring who can get their spells online first.

    Holiday, who entered today undefeated and sat at the second seed, had the luxury to choosing this preferred option of being on the play.

    The Games

    Holiday had a back-breaking start with Tidebinder Mage, Thassa, God of the Sea, and his one main-deck copy of Domesication for Bercovich's Nightveil Specter on the second through fourth turns, prompting Bercovich to burn a Hero's Downfall on his stolen creature to prevent himself from an early demise.

    Brandon Bercovich

    However, it was to little avail. Despite a Desecration racing to take our Holiday, it was Holiday who was in the driver's seat, and in control of whether the Demon could block. A few key turns where Holiday could tap the Demon left Bercovich needing to draw into a removal spell and Gray Merchant of Asphodel in sequence in order to steal the game, falling to 1 on Holiday's attack going into his last turn. When the Merchant was not waiting for him, Bercovich moved to the second game.

    Holiday fought through a first-turn Thoughtseize in the second game, building his board early with Judge's Familiar and Nightveil Specter. However, both creatures paled in comparison to Bercovich's fourth-turn Desecration Demon, which threatened to go the distance as Holiday struggled to find a fourth land or any relevant action. Despite the 6/6 flying creature staring him down, the Nighveil Specter did a good job of keeping the Demon back, as Bercovich instead held the demon on defense.

    Nathan Holiday

    Holiday however was content to feed the demon in order to get a few attacks in with the Nightveil Specter, digging for lands to cast the Hero's Downfall he previously exiled with his creature's attack, all the while whittling Holiday down all the way to 7. When Holiday went for an attack with both Mutavaults though, after a series of attacks with his team, a Bile Blight was waiting for him. Pack Rat came next for Bercovich and suddenly the tides turned.

    Despite the set-back of a drawn Bile Blight, Holiday was still able to buy time, and his Specter was still alive and well. When Bercovich did not draw a way to stop the Specter, Holiday's blue-black hybrid creature did its work, finding two black sources for Holiday to play, along with a Gray Merchant of Asphodel on the final turn to finish off Bercovich in what became a tight race.

    Nathan Holiday defeats Brandon Bercovich 2-0 and advances to the Semifinals!




     

  • Quarterfinals - (23) Eric Froehlich (B/r Devotion) vs. Gary Wong (U/w Devotion)

    by Mike Rosenberg

  • For No. 23 Player Eric Froehlich, another Grand Prix Top 8 was a welcome sight. After narrowly missing the Top 8 of Grand Prix Cincinnati with a very similar version of the Black/red Devotion deck he brought with him today, the Las Vegas resident and Platinum pro made up for two weekends ago with an incredible run through the last two days, finishing Day One as one of five undefeated players and locking up his spot in the Top 8 with a draw in the fourteenth round.

    His opponent, Phoenix Arizona local Gary Wong, was also rocking a newer iteration of an old archetype. His Blue Devotion deck splashed white, a decision that has become increasingly popular due to the inclusion of Temple of Enlightenment and the ability to play Detention Sphere, a card that has made the match-up against Pack Rat decks far better than previous.

    It was a match-up Froehlich was not thrilled to start his Top 8 with, but the Vegas resident and ChannelFireball team member puts up incredible and consistent numbers at each event. If there is anyone that can overcome a rough match-up in this Top 8, it is him.

    The Games

    The first game looked fine for Wong in the first two turns, who had three flying creatures on the first turn that could set up a potentially devastating early Bident of Thassa if Wong had it. However, what Wong did not have was a third land or even a second blue source, his Godless Shrine proving to be a burden.

    No. 23 Ranked Player Eric Froehlich

    This gave Froehlich more than enough time to sculpt an otherwise unexciting hand with Underworld Connections, and the No. 23 Ranked Player buried Wong in the first game while he struggled to cast anything.

    The second game was a reversal of mana troubles. While Froehlich's start was the powerful one-two punch of Thoughtseize into Pack Rat, a third land never materialized, and Wong had ample time to create an army to lock up the game with before Froehlich could get started.

    The third game started with both players going to six cards thanks to mulligans. "At least we're both taking mulligans this game," Wong said. "It's funny that out of six opening hands, we've only had one good one between us," Froehlich added.

    Gary Wong

    Froehlich's first-turn Duress (discarding Bident of Thassa) into a second-turn Pack Rat seemed like a good start, but a Detention Sphere off the top in the following turns from Wong undid the damage from Froehlich's powerful early start. From there, Froehlich was stymied, and unable to draw out of the situation, his early lead immediately halted by the time Sphere off the top. Wong did not let up, following up with a series of powerful plays, and Froehlich succumbed to Wong's quickly growing board.

    Gary Wong defeats Eric Froehlich 2-1 and advances to the Semifinals!




     

  • Semifinals – Will Levin (Jund Monsters) vs. Robert Berni (Mono-Black Devotion)

    by Adam Styborski

  • "It's my first everything. First Grand Prix Top 8. First Pro Tour qualification. I'm so excited and nervous." Will Levin said has he introduced himself, sliding into position across his opponent.

    "It's my second," Robert Berni shared back. "My first was Kansas City last year." Both players met the mark for heading to Pro Tour Magic 2015 in Portland this year, and were pleased to be among the elite four for the weekend.

    It was the continuation of things both players has seen throughout the Grand Prix so far. Mono-Black Devotion was among the most represented deck for the weekend, and Jund Monsters was a choice of many to slay the black nemesis with Dragons.

    It was uphill battle the entire way for Levin.

    Unlike his two games in the Quarterfinals, Levin started off going down to five cards on mulligans. "Five lands and Reaper of the Wilds isn't going to get me there." He said.

    "I agree." Berni nodded along. It was a decision that Levin would later regret.

    Thoughtseize from Berni plucked Sylvan Caryatid to start the first game. "You know what's coming next!" Levin played Courser of Kruphix and began to filter the lands from the top of his library into play. However, gaining life wasn't going to outrace the damage Desecration Demon was delivering for Berni. Dreadbore finally answered it, and Levin jammed damage back with a fresh Stormbreath Dragon after adding Domri Rade to his side.

    Berni paused for a long time. "Sorry, just... thinking."

    "Seems like an important match. Take your time." Levin offered.

    Robert Berni was in his second Grand Prix Top 8, and his composure reflected the previous experience.

    Whip of Erebos brought back Desecration Demon for a turn, but Levin sacrificed Courser of Kruphix to stop most of the damage Berni had aimed, taking just a Mutavault instead. Next turn, Berni's Gray Merchant of Asphodel drained 6 life, putting Levin down to just 7. When Levin tried to make the Merchant and Stormbreath Dragon fight, Devour Flesh removed the Dragon and returned Levin to 14 life.

    Berni was looking for something in his deck, adding and using a second Underworld Connections to draw a third card on the turn. Levin attacked into the Merchant, and Berni obliged with a block, but there wasn't any follow up. When Berni cast Nightveil Specter then tried to bring Gray Merchant of Asphodel back, Levin used monstrosity to mitigate some of the life gain but it still left him at just 2 life.

    After scrying away the top and trying a peek at his library with Domri Rade, Levin scooped up his cards.

    "Going to game two I guess," he said.

    Will Levin was as ecstatic to play in his semifinal match.

    The second game was an affair built on trading removal and discard spells. Berni's Pack Rat was stripped by Thoughtseize. Levin's Elvish Mystic and Stormbreath Dragon met their ends to Devour Flesh and Thoughtseize. Duress whiffed for Berni as Levin followed up with his second Stormbreath Dragon. He made it monstrous in response to Berni's Hero's Downfall, leveling the life totals at Levin's 8 to Berni's 6.

    Berni's Nightveil Specter was small, but keeping the much larger Desecration Demon at bay was the bigger problem for Levin. Nightveil Specter stole a third Stormbreath Dragon off the top of Levin's library, and dropping to just 2 life was too much for the Monsters players.

    "That's game!" Levin said as he extended the hands. "Thanks again, Berni. Good luck on your travel plans."

    "Thanks." Berni said. "You too."

    Levin paused as he was packing up his deck. "I should have kept that hand," he said about his first game mulligan. "I had Mutavault, and the top card of my library was Sylvan Caryatid. It would have been fine."

    "Nervousness gets the best of us." Berni offered. Levin just smiled and nodded in agreement.

    Robert Berni defeated Will Levin, 2-0.




     

  • Semifinals – Nathan Holiday (Mono-Blue Devotion) vs. Gary Wong (Blue Devotion splashing White)

    by Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa

  • This semifinal match was between two very similar decks: Mono-Blue Devotion with Nathan Holiday, and Blue Devotion splashing White with Gary Wong. Though the creatures are all identical, Wong had access to four Detention Spheres, whereas Holiday had no convenient answer for an opposing Thassa, God of the Sea. In return, the Mono-Blue deck has access to Cyclonic Rift which is the ultimate trump in the matchup if it could get to seven mana. The white version was slightly clunkier as well, with lands that come into play tapped or that deal you damage, and that was a problem as Holiday was on the play.

    Holiday fired off the game with a Cloudfin Raptor, which was matched by Judge's Familiar by Wong.

    "Mine's not as good", says Wong, disappointed. This proved to be accurate as a turn two Frostburn Weird and subsequent Nightveil Specter made the Cloudfin Raptor a 2/3. The Specter was hit by Detention Sphere, but Holiday had a much stronger board presence and added more with a second Cloudfin Raptor and a Thassa, already an active 5/5 with devotion and evolved his original Raptor to a 3/4.

    Gary Wong's Detention Spheres added unique utility to the Blue Devotion archetype.

    Wong had another Detention Sphere but was forced to target the Raptors since 3/4 is already bigger than anything else in his deck, leaving Thassa alive. Now Holiday only needed a card that costs double blue to be able to activate it again, and he found it in the form of another Frostburn Weird. After some deliberation, Holiday attacked with both his guys and made Thassa unblockable, denying Wong the opportunity to block with the second Judge's Familiar he had in play. Instead, Wong blocked the Frostburn Weird, going down to 7 life and facing unblockable lethal damage the next turn unless he can find a third Detention Sphere or his one Rapid Hybridization.

    He didn't, and they moved onto game two.

    After sideboarding, Wong had two Domestications and a number of counterspells which he could board in, though the three Gainsays were almost surely going to be in his deck. If he had Revoke Existence he would also probably board it in but he opted for Glare of Heresy as his "Detention SphereRemover" of choice; He would have to rely solely on his own Spheres to deal with Thassa, no doubt expecting the ability to kill Elspeth, Sun's Champion to be more important than the eventual mirror match.

    Holiday brought in the same number of Counterspells, a second Domestication and a Cyclonic Rift.

    Holiday had the first play with Cloudfin Raptor. Wong had a turn two Tidebinder Mage, and Holiday followed with Frostburn Weird. Some players like to take out Frostburn Weird in the mirror match, since it gets hit by Tidebinder Mage, but Holiday didn't think this was a big deal here. "I don't like Frostburn much, but on the draw it's ok." He said. "On the play it's really bad because I can go turn two Frostburn Weird and he can follow it up with turn two Tidebinder Mage, tapping it; I take them all out on the play and keep some Judge's Familiars, since at least it can let you resolve Thassa and Nightveil Specter through a Gainsay. Basically they are both bad but you have to keep some cards in."

    Thassa came out for Wong, and Holiday couldn't match it because was missing a third land. Wong didn't find a fourth land of his own despite putting a card on the bottom with Thassa's scry, so he missed a play too. A Tidebinder Mage from Holiday was met with Gainsay from Wong, who finally drew his fourth land to be able to play the Master of Waves he was holding. Holiday missed again, and cast Cyclonic Rift on the Master to buy himself a turn. The Master was replayed, but Holiday finally drew his third land which lets him cast Nightveil Specter, evolving his Cloudfin Raptor to a 2/3 and gaining a breath of fresh air since he could now block most of the Elemental tokens.

    Wong was unfazed and played a second Master of Waves, which pumped all his tokens and let them trade with the 2/3 blockers that Holiday was counting on. That, coupled with an active Thassa, meant Holiday couldn't do anything even if he drew a fourth land to play his own Master of Waves.

    They went to game three.

    "I had the two most important cards in the matchup and he didn't", said Wong when prompted by a spectator, no doubt referring to Thassa, God of the Sea and Master of Waves.

    Holiday is on the play now, and, after some deliberation, kept his hand. Wong chose to mulligan and was the one to lead with Cloudfin Raptor this time, though he had no two-drop to follow it up. He did have Gainsay for Holiday's Nightveil Specter. Holiday drew another Specter, but choose to wait for turn five to play it, since he can then back it up with Gainsay - which proved to be the smart movie since Wong had a second Gainsay of his own. After a counter war, the Specter resolved but Wong had two Tidebinder Mages to evolve his Cloudfin Raptor, creating a standoff. He played a Temple of Enlightenment and, after thinking about it, chose to put the card on the bottom.

    "I can't risk you getting this card," said Wong, referring to the fact that Holiday could have a removal spell for his blocker and then would get to steal whatever was kept on top with an attack from Nightveil Specter.

    Holiday did have the Rapid Hybridization to kill the Cloudfin Raptor, and he got to attack and steal a Nightveil Specter from Wong.

    "That's even better than the card I put on the bottom!" lamented Wong.

    Nathan Holiday's Nightveil Specters proved invaluable throughout the third game.

    It seemed like Wong was falling behind quickly, but he found an active Thassa, God of the Sea to turn the game into a race rather than one about card advantage, making Holiday's Specters much worse since they only hit for two each. Holiday attacked with both of his Specters and hit a Hallowed Fountain and an Island, which didn't offer any immediate help but meant he could cast a Detention Sphere if he hit that the following turn.

    Holiday played a seventh land and, after the scry from Thassa resolved, overloaded Cyclonic Rift and denied Wong the opportunity to draw into a counterspell. The Rift reset all of Wong's board, including the Frog creature token from Rapid Hybridization, and all he could muster as a follow-up was a Cloudfin Raptor and a Tidebinder Mage. This let Holiday attack with both Specters once again, this time revealing a Detention Sphere that he could now cast. With a Gainsay in Holiday's hand still, things were looking very good for him. He cast the Detention Sphere to get rid of the soon-to-be 2/3 Cloudfin Raptor.

    Wong attempted a Nightveil Specter of his own, which was met with the Gainsay from Holiday. Holiday followed it up with a Thassa and, after some calculations, Wong extended the hand.

    Nathan Holiday defeated Gary Wong, 2-1.




     

  • Finals – Robert Berni (Black Devotion) vs. Nathan Holiday (Blue Devotion)

    by Mike Rosenberg

  • For Robert Berni, his appearance in the final match of Grand Prix Phoenix 2014 was a chance to claim what was lost in Grand Prix Kansas City 2013, where his chances at a trophy were dashed by eventual winner Seth Manfield in their Semifinal match.

    For Nathan Holiday, Grand Prix Phoenix 2014 was a chance for him to add another trophy to his collection. The Grand Prix San Diego 2013 Champion had already earned one Constructed title, and a win in Phoenix would cement his place among the United States' best Grand Prix Constructed competitors.

    The two faced off with relatively classic takes on Black and Blue Devotion, respectively. In a tournament where many were ready with splashes and new tech, it came down to a match between two decks that are synonymous with the post-Theros Standard metagame. Which one would win in this classic showdown?

    The Games

    Holiday spent his second and third turn deploying Cloudfin Raptor, then growing it with a Judge's Familiar with Tidebinder Mage. A Bident of Thassa threatened to over-take the game, despite Berni's best efforts at controlling the board with a hand of multiple Bile Blights. Domestication on Nightveil Specter cleared the path for another swing with his only remaining creature, a Judge's Familiar.

    While Berni had spot-removal to answer most of Holiday's creatures, including for his own stolen Nightveil Specter, it was too slow and not enough, as Holiday continued to fuel his hand with cards courtesy of his Bident of Thassa. A Master of Waves made things elementary, and Berni was more than willing to move to a second game.

    Robert Berni

    When Berni's Thoughseize on the second turn of Game 2 revealed Bident of Thassa, it almost immediately hit the graveyard. Holiday's Nightveil Specter met a Hero's Downfall, and Desecration Demon gave Berni an optimal start and a speedy, flying clock. That clock was downgraded to a frog lizard courtesy of Rapid Hybridization on the next turn, though the 3/3 creature was still larger than Holiday's Frostburn Weird and Tidebinder Mage. Master of Waves unsurprisingly was disposed of by Berni almost immediately upon entering play, and Pack Rat gave Berni a way to mount an offense over the next couple of turns.

    Domestication, however, cleared the frog lizard path and allowed Holiday to get an attack in with his Tidebinder Mage and Mutavault. Berni's rats began to increase in number. One traded with an attacking Frostburn Weird on the next turn, and another Rat traded with the domesticated frog lizard a turn after that. When Holiday was out of threats, Berni took the opportunity to start attacking with his Pack Rats.

    Nathan Holiday

    One of Standard's lessons: when an army of giant rats start going after you, the game doesn't last long. When Cyclonic Rift was not awaiting Holiday before his demise, he conceded. As added insult to injury, Holiday flipped the top card as he died to the rats, revealing the Cyclonic Rift that eluded him. The final moved to its third and final game.

    Holiday started a card down due to a mulligan, and Duress made that hand smaller, stripping Holiday of Rapid Hybridization and leaving him with two Tidebinder Mages, Master of Waves, and an Island. While Holiday burned a Cyclonic Rift to hold back Berni's Nightveil Specter, he couldn't stop it on the next turn. When it attacked, it exiled a Nightveil Specter of Holiday's, to the chuckle of both players, as Berni cast it.

    When the Specter duo attacked on the next turn, Berni found another one of Holiday's Specters and immediately cast it from exile.

    Sure enough, a turn later, and Berni had a fourth Specter in play: three owned by Holiday. The game was all but over, and when Holiday found nothing waiting, he offered the handshake.

    Congratulations to Robert Berni, Grand Prix Phoenix 2014 Champion!




     

  • Top 5 Cards

    by Mike Rosenberg and Adam Styborski



  • 5. Stormbreath Dragon

    Red-Green and Jund Monsters were two of the decks of choice for players looking to fight the various devotion and control decks at the top of the Standard metagame. Backed by potent removal like Dreadbore and Mizzium Mortars, Stormbreath Dragon often ruled the skies and pummeled opponents that weren't expecting it. In combination with Domri Rade or Xenagos, God of Revels, Top 4 competitor William Levin closed out several games swinging for 7 and 8 damage chunks. Giving opponents just one turn to answer it was often not enough.






    4. Gainsay

    The steady performance of Esper and Azorius Control decks, as well as the continuous presence of Blue Devotion, meant there was more than enough blue around to dedicate sideboard space for color-mirror showdowns. Gainsay's efficiency as a hard counter for blue spells was critical for protecting trumps, as Nathan Holiday did setting up resolving Nightveil Specter against his semifinal opponent Gary Wong. Once he secured the potent flier, the flow of cards shifted dramatically in Holiday's favor. Gainsay may not be splashy, but hedging the right direction in the metagame was precisely what players needed throughout the weekend.





    3. Rakdos's Return

    "Rakdos's Return is one of the most powerful cards in Standard, but at the same time it needs complements." - Eric Froehlich, No. 23 Ranked Player

    Froehlich's Black Devotion deck, splashing a little red, made use of Rakdos's Return two weeks ago in Cincinnati, and while the powerful Rakdos X spell found its way into the sideboard of his deck for this tournament, it did some major work for him and those who saw its power all weekend. For Black Devotion, one of its weak points was trading card-for-card with a Sphinx's Revelation deck, then losing to it when they resolved their key card-drawing spell to re-fuel. Rakdos's Return gives Black Devotion a new way to attack those strategies. By saving your Thoughtseizes and Duresses to draw out countermagic, and by not playing good targets for Esper Control's one-for-one removal, you can leave their Detention Spheres and assorted removal in their hand for the turn where you go big with Rakdos's Return.

    The card's power level in the sideboard, combined with Froehlich's accurate read on how to attack Standard's key archetypes, allowed the No. 23 Ranked Player to lock up a Top 8 slot with a Round 14 draw, giving the Las Vegas resident his tenth Grand Prix Top 8.



    2. Bile Blight

    As the Standard format has evolved in the past few weeks, one change we've seen in Black Devotion lists has been the movement away from Bile Blight. After all, if you're expecting a field full of monstrously large creatures, much like the ones out of the Jund Monsters deck, Bile Blight is far from at its best.

    What it is good at, however, is a few things that proved to be key this weekend. Aside from being a way to control an early Pack Rat, giving you a larger window to deal with the rat infestation before it gets out of control, it also kills soldier tokens. All of them. This allows the Black Devotion decks, which can be held off for an extended period of time by an active Elspeth, Sun's Champion, to actually punch through and take down the six mana planeswalker through attacks. We saw this in eventual winner Robert Berni's Quarterfinal match against Daniel Ward, where three copies of Bile Blight allowed Berni to fight through Elspeth's tokens, take her out, and eventually win him the game.



    1. Nightveil Specter

    Part of what makes both the Black and Blue Devotion decks tick is the card advantage engines they carry. Nightveil Specter is shared between them, and its ability to rip valuable, useful cards from opponents is a sword striking twice: Not only does the attacking player "draw" an extra card but it's one less copy the opponent has access to. Runner up Nathan Holiday pulled lands and another copy of the advantageous card during his semifinal match against the white version of the Blue Devotion deck, all this after Holiday cast Brandon Bercovich's Gray Merchant of Asphodel for a lethal life swing in the Quarterfinal. Winner Robert Berni stole no less than three in his decisive third game march over Holiday in maintaining the dominance of Black Devotion.

    That's all in addition to counting for three devotion for either blue and black - a fact that turned many Thassa, God of the Sea into unblockable five damage chunks throughout the weekend. Neightveil Specter does work, and its power in the devotion strategies cannot go unchecked.




    • Planeswalker Points
    • Facebook Twitter
    • Gatherer: The Magic Card Database
    • Forums: Connect with the Magic Community
    • Magic Locator