gpvan14

Day 2 Coverage of Grand Prix Vancouver 2014

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The letter A! total of 128 mages emerge from the early morning fog that hangs over Vancouver, and silently file in to the Convention Center. They face a gauntlet of six rounds of mortal combat. Only those who survive will reach the promised land - The Top 8.

It's a star-studded Day 2. Eight of the Top 25 Ranked players are still in the hunt, with plenty of other big names besides. The format is Standard Constructed, and it looks like a metagame where the Big Three decks - Mono-Black, Mono-Blue Devotion, and Blue-White-based Control - have left enough room for innovation. The variety of decks on display is staggering.

Join Marshall Sutcliffe, Brian David-Marshall, and Hall of Famer Randy Buehler as they bring you all the action. Will Canada represent? Will a rogue deck shock the world? Stay tuned!











 

  • Day 1 Undefeated Decklists

    by Marc Calderaro

  • Matt Sperling – Mono-Black Devotion (9-0)
    GP Vancouver Day 1 Undefeated Decklists



    Ryan Bemrose – Azorius Control (9-0)
    GP Vancouver Day 1 Undefeated Decklists


    Wilson Mok – Azorius Control (8-0-1)
    GP Vancouver Day 1 Undefeated Decklists




     

  • Round 10 Feature Match: Matt Sperling (Mono-Black Devotion) vs. Travis Boese (Colossal Gruul)

    by Marc Calderaro

  • Four undefeated players remained going into Round 10 (if you count one 8-0-1). Two of those were ChannelFireball mainstay Matt Sperling, slinging Packs Rats and Gray Merchant of Asphodel, and his opponent, Travis Boese, who playing's a version of Colossal Gruul with Ruric Thar, the Unbowed and Sylvan Primordial. If you know Boese's name, it could be because he finished in the Top 16 of Grand Prix Vegas, or because he wrote this awesome tournament report for ChannelFireball.com(http://www.channelfireball.com/articles/as-i-saw-it-gp-las-vegas/) which also touched on his path as a Magic player who is blind.

    Boese knew Colossal Gruul would be a good pick for this metagame. He said, "most Mono-Black decks are playing just copying Owen [Turtenwald's] deck—playing Pharika's Cure and Hero's Downfall. I play nine planeswalkers and Ruric Thar; that's not enough removal."

    He was right in general, although Sperling's deck was not a Owen clone, and played Ultimate Price as additional creature kill. Though the Gruul deck was still probably above 50% to win the match, it was not as high a percentage as against other builds. Sometimes Gruul could just march right over Mono-Black if the swamp-slingers had a slow start. But Sperling had made a Twitter post last night announcing that he was going to 9-0 again today. If he was to make good on his boast, he'd have to start here. And when Sperling started the first game with two Temple of Silence, he was afraid he would experience that exact "marching-over" thing.


    Travis Boese

    Game 1

    Boese started with a Burning-Tree Emissary into a Voyaging Satyr, a pretty perfect opening for him. However, he just followed up with a Domri Rade and an attack. Matt Sperling had the Hero's Downfall for the planeswalker, then had a 6/6 Desecration Demon the following turn and then a Pack Rat after that. And Boese's quick beginning quickly faded.

    Though Boese had began well, and threatened to bowl over Sperling, he didn't follow it up with anything of substance. He had two Voyaging Satyr and two Burning-Tree Emissary, but noting else of note. All the mana stuff, and none of the beef. If this were the 70s, I'd likely make some cool fast-food commercial reference or something. But I will not.

    It was 11-14 in Boese's favor, but with a mounting number of Rat tokens, and an ever-growing flying black demon, his lead was dwindling fast.

    Boese mustered a Ruric Thar, the Unbowed, and often this was the turning point. With Sperling at 11, he would lose over half his life just to remove the 6/6 monster. But Sperling barely flinched. Such is the power of the Rat—well the Rat and some helpful removal. A Hero's Downfall took out the Legendary ogre, then Sperling announced "...and I'll attack with four Rats." Boese knew that was that. He only had some 1/1 dorks around, and those rats weren't going to stop anytime soon. Pack Rat had done its job, as it so often does – his opponent packed it in.

    Matt Sperling 1 – 0 Travis Boese



    Game 2


    Matt Sperling

    Another couple of Voyaging Satyr on the back of Burning-Tree Emissary for Boese. And this time he had some gas to follow up—he cast a turn-four Garruk, Caller of Beasts then drew three cards.

    Sperling started with a Lifebane Zombie, Mutavault, a Devour Flesh nabbing the Emissary, and a Hero's Downfall taking down the Garruk. Though the green planeswalker helped Boese draw some cards, it didn't stick around. In fact, it looked like Sperling's fresh Underworld Connections would probably draw more cards in the long run.

    But Boese pressed on. From his extra cards he cast a Polukranos, World Eater and two Elvish Mystic. The monster used monstrosity to kill Sperling's only creature, the Lifebane Zombie, then attacked, making the life totals 10-19 in Boese's favor.

    Defending against the march, on Boese's next attack, Sperling used a Pack Rat and a Mutavault to block the Mystics, and an Ultimate Price took out the eater of worlds. Boese simply replaced it, then re-bigged the 5/5 into a 6/6 to kill a Pack Rat. Did you catch that there? Boese did. Immediately after targeting the Pat Rack with the one-damage monstrosity effect he said, "Oh no. That was wrong." He realized that because both the Mutavault and the Pack Rat had one damage from the Elvish Mystics, if he had instead targeted the Mutavault, the rat's toughness would have shrunk to 1, and state-based effects would have escorted it to the graveyard. This small errorcould prove fatal for Boese.

    However, the beats kept coming and coming. Boese followed his second Polukranos by drawing a Mistcutter off a fresh Domri Rade then playing it as a 4/4. Even though another kill spell took out the Polukranos, Sperling still sunk to 5 on the attack and then 4 on an Underworld Connections. Boese was still kicking himself, because at this point, if Sperling didn't have a Mutavault blocker he would already be dead. He shook it off and kept going.

    Sperling took his time with his next turn. He had a Gray Merchant of Asphodel in his hand, but he needed to make sure the math was right. He cast it and gained four life—the totals becoming 8-15—but he didn't sound too happy when he cast it. When he passed the turn, another Underworld Connections, a Pack Rat, and a Devour Flesh were sitting in his hand.

    Sperling sunk back down to 4 from the Mistcutter Hydra, and though Domri Rade whiffed, it still ticked up to five counters. Sperling drew a second Pack Rat and cast them both, leaving up enough mana to make a new Rat or draw off the Underworld Connections.

    This next was when Sperling turned it around. The apprehension that marked his spell-casting last turn was replaced by resolve. Boese had no good attacks and so he had to just pass it back after bringing Domri Rade to six counters. Sperling confidently made another Rat before untapping, and with a Mutavault to make them all temporarily 4/4 he was all set to attack.

    And just like last game, a bunch of Pack Rats packed Boese bags for him. Travis Boese exited the undefeated category, and after the round finished, Matt Sperling was the only player left at 10-0. So far, Sperling had made good on his promise.

    Matt Sperling 2 – 0 Travis Boese




     

  • Round 11 Feature Match: Eric Froehlich (15) vs Paul Rietzl (16)

    by Josh Bennett

  • The Preamble

    Two of the game's titans in a metagame-defining matchup. Both in the Top 25 Ranked players. Froehlich with three Pro Tour Top 8's. Rietzl with four, including a win at Amsterdam in 2010. They're also teammates on Channel Fireball. This weekend, Froehlich is playing Mono-Blue Devotion. Rietzl is with Mono-Black.

    The Match

    "I will snap keep." - Eric Froehlich

    "Alright, let's do it." - Paul Rietzl

    Froehlich led with island and Cloudfin Raptor, then laughed as Rietzl played Temple of Deceit and scryed, saying "Well now I have no information."

    "It's true. My range here is fairly broad."

    "Rietzl minutes ago swore on his life he has never mulliganed a hand with a scry land, ever."


    Paul Rietzl

    Froehlich's draw was almost ideal. He followed his Raptor with a Tidebinder mage and then Thassa, God of the Sea after Rietzl played an ineffectual Pack Rat. Rietzl added Nightveil Specter to his board and passed. Froehlich didn't have a fourth land, but a second Cloudfin Raptor meant he could hit with Thassa, then he evolved both his fliers with Frostburn Weird.

    Now that Froehlich's God was active, Rietzl's options were dwindling. He Thoughtseized, and Froehlich turned over Master of Waves and Domestication. Rietzl just shrugged in despair. He decided to take Domestication and play it out. The game didn't last much longer. Froehlich attacked with Thassa again, not bothering to make it unblockable. Rietzl thought for a moment before deciding to take it. Froehlich turned over the fourth land he had drew and played the Master of Waves. That was enough for Rietzl.

    Froehlich 1 - Rietzl 0



    As they sideboarded, Froehlich jokingly asked Rietzl if he knew how to sideboard for the matchup.

    "Let's just say that Matthew and I have been talking."

    "That's Matthew of Castle Sperling?"

    Rietzl nodded. "His theories are... avant garde."

    Rietzl looked at his opener and theatrically snapped his fingers. Froehlich kept as well. The early turns played out with almost every threat from Froehlich met by an answer from Rietzl. Judge's Familiar fell to Devour Flesh. Nightveil Specter met Hero's Downfall. Master of Waves died to Pharika's Cure. Only Frostburnn Weird was allowed ot stay on the table.

    Rietzl finally tapped out on his own turn to put down a Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Froehlich played Cloudfin Raptor and a Master of Waves for four tokens. When Rietzl took this last out with Doom Blade, all Froehlich could say was "Heavens." Rietzl also had another Devour Flesh. Froehlich sacrificed Frostburn Weird, keeping his flier. Both players were down to just one card in hand.

    Froehlich untapped. "How about one time?" He drew and played out his hand of two Frostburn Weirds. Still another Devour Flesh from Rietzl. Froehlich animated Mutavault and sacrificed it. Now both players were empty-handed and playing off the top. Froehlich drew island, played it, and attacked all-out. Rietzl blocked one Weird with Gray Merchant and a Mutavault. Froehlich pumped to kill the Merchant, and spent the rest of his mana on extra damage on the unblocked Weird.

    Rietzl untapped and drew, then immediately put down Nightveil Specter. He passed the turn.

    "Cmon justice!" said Froehlich as he drew his card

    "No! No justice!"


    Eric Froehlich

    It was Bident of Thassa, tipping the balance back in Froehlich's favour. His 3/4 Cloudfin Raptor now giving him a card as it attacked. Rietzl hit back with his Specter and scored a land off the top of Froehlich's deck, but still had no way to stop the Raptor. Worse, Froehlich drew Domestication to steal the Nightveil Specter. Rietzl extended the hand.

    Eric Froehlich defeats Paul Rietzl 2-0



    The Aftermath

    "Close one," joked Rietzl, "I played my heart out."

    "I agree. No-one has more heart than you."

    Later I asked Froehlich about the matchup. He had this to say:

    "I think if you have average players playing average builds of both decks, it's a little in Mono-Blue's favor. If you have an average player against Owen playing Mono-Black, then it's in Mono-Black's favor. If you have an average player against Sam Black playing Mono-Blue, then it's in Mono-Blue's favor. There's a lot of play, and the games vary with the different draws."

    I asked him about his own Mono-Blue. He said that he was getting an advantage from playing Domestication main and more in the sideboard, as well as extra Rapid Hybridizations.

    I also asked Paul Rietzl about Mono-Black's game post-board. He said that you want to bring in extra removal, because if you can stop their pressure, then Mono-Black has a lot of cards that let them get way ahead.




     

  • Round 12 Feature Match: Neal Oliver (Mono-Black Devotion) vs. (18) Alexander Hayne (Azorius Control)

    by Marc Calderaro

  • No. 18 Alexander Hayne is out here defending his national home turf. Coming into this round at 9-1, both he and his opponent, Grand Prix Las Vegas winner Neal Oliver, are in great positions to Top 8. They just need to win these last precious rounds.

    "I don't think I've ever won game one in this match-up," Oliver quipped. Hayne laughed and agreed. The two talked about how there are so many dead cards from Mono-Black Devotion, there's just no way to reliably get an edge against Azorius Control.

    Hayne says Mono-Black usually just "isn't quite fast enough."He continued that it "can rip apart the hand, but can't stop what's on the top of the deck." Game one demonstrated exactly that.


    Alexander Hayne

    Game 1

    Any early action from Neal Oliver was immediately quelled by Alexander Hayne. The Canadian had three Last Breath that were liberally used on Oliver's first creatures—a Nightveil Specter and two animated Mutavault. Oliver followed with a third Mutavault, but it was now turn six and Hayne still had a healthy life total—18-32 in Oliver's favor. That's not usually a good thing for Mono-Black.

    Hayne cast a Jace, Architect of Thought and made his opponent pile some cards. Oliver split the stack into one pile of Azorius Guildgate, then the other into a second Jace and Sphinx's Revelation. Though an odd-looking hand, Hayne was light on land and Oliver knew it. Hayne took the land.

    Oliver kept trying to mount pressure, but each time he seemed thwarted by the control deck. Desecration Demon was trumped by Elspeth, Sun's Champion tokens; and once there were too many creatures from Oliver, a Supreme Verdict started the quest anew. While Oliver was playing the game of "Keeping a Creature on the Board," Hayne was playing his own mini-game: "Find this turn's land drop." Though he was hitting just about every one of them, it was a struggle each time. He played small Sphinx's Revelations and suicidal Jaces, all in the name of hitting that precious land drop. After another Supreme Verdict wiped things again, it was 14-39 in Oliver's favor, and Hayne had hit this turn's land.

    Oliver had finally started making some headway with the third Mutavault when Hayne cast his first big Sphinx's Revelation (X=7), then cast another Elspeth (the first had been taken out with a Hero's Downfall). Now back around 16 life again, Hayne had just closed it up. The big revelations usually do that.

    Oliver cast a Thoughtseize, but it didn't seem like he cast it to win. Rather, he was just seeing whether he should scoop this turn or not. Hayne splayed a hand of goodies and Oliver thought, "Yes, this is the turn I will scoop." Even though he was still at 28 life, Oliver knew it wasn't getting better than this.

    Alexander Hayne 1 – 0 Neal Oliver



    Game 2

    Though the first game is miserable, there are tons of cards out of the sideboard can really shore up this match for Mono-Black. Though still not the best, most of the chaff is removed, and if Mono-Black can go card-for-card while keeping draws flowing with Erebos, God of the Dead and Underworld Connections, Mono-Black Devotion can do pretty well for itself.

    Or it can just cast a turn-two Pack Rat and have the opponent stutter for a second while the Rats munch on his corpse.

    Oliver cleared the way for his Rat by nabbing a Last Breath with his Thoughtseize. Hayne had neither a Supreme Verdict nor the fourth land to cast it, so Oliver felt the coast was clear to go on the Pack-Rat plan.


    Neal Oliver

    He made a second-turn rat, then a third-turn rat, and then, on the fourth turn . . . he made a rat. With the Mutavault already on the board, Oliver was threatening lethal on his next turn. Hayne had drawn not one, but two Supreme Verdicts, but had yet to draw the fourth land.

    "Let's see if you're a master." Oliver smirked at his opponent.

    Hayne drew and sat for a few moments, then scooped up his cards. So after all that planning for Plan A, Oliver just went with Plan B—Pack Rat + Smash = Win.

    "Well that was a faster one," Oliver said.

    Hayne smiled. "The games you win tend to be a bit faster."

    Because Hayne's deck doesn't play Divination, it is much more reliant on early scry to find its land drops. This still sets up smooth late games, but can sometimes make for awkward early games. Pack Rat loves awkward early games.

    Alexander Hayne 1 – 1 Neal Oliver



    Game 3

    Mirroring the second game, Oliver cast a first-turn Thoughtseize and saw Jace, Architect of Thought, Dissolve, two Elspeth, Sun's Champion, and two more land (both Temples). The Jace hit the bin. Letting Hayne keep the six-drops was a good play. Oliver was hoping to be far enough ahead by then to win, or at least have drawn and played some of his other discard spells to take them later.

    Oliver went for a second-turn Pack Rat, confident after seeing no way for Hayne to deal with it last turn. But a drawn Dark Betrayal took it out in short order. And in similar fashion, a second Pack Rat met the fate of a Supreme Verdict. Hayne got an empty board handed back to him with the totals even at 18-18. This was not a repeat of the game two.

    (For those keeping count, Hayne's deck, which was very much an Azorius Control deck, splashed black for Dark Betrayal out of the side board.)

    Seemingly unable to find his lands on time, Hayne kept the battlefield relatively clear, but started doing silly things like casting Sphinx's Revelation for 1 on his main phase. He needed to get something going. But Oliver went Thoughtseize, Duress, Duress and Hayne was left with a Sphinx's Revelation and a Dissolve with only four land in play.


    Oliver had just two Mutavaults and an Erebos, God of the Dead to his name, but it was enough to keep the pressure on and keep his hand full. It shut off the life gain from Sphinx's Revelation and Oliver was smacking for four a turn. It was 10-12 in Hayne's favor (because of all the Erebos greedy draws). Oliver tried to regain life with a Gray Merchant of Asphodel, but Dissolve kept Hayne in the game. If Oliver wanted those cards, he was going to have to pay for them.

    It was very, very late in the game when Hayne finally laid his sixth land. And even then it was a Guildgate—Hayne still did not have six mana available. The land came too late. Oliver found an Underworld Connections and a Lifebane Zombie. This turned on Erebos. And the Black God combined with two demigods (Mutavaults, which are also Gods) were more than enough pressure to make the Pro Tour winner scoop up his cards.

    Neal Oliver 2 – 1 Alexander Hayne


    Neal Oliver advances to 11-1; No. 18 Alexander Hayne sinks to 10-2.




     

  • Sunday, 2:00 p.m. – Day 2 Metagame Breakdown

    by Josh Bennett

  • Thanks to the latest pseudoscientific advances, we are able to bring you a breakdown of the 128 decks that made it into Day 2 here at Grand Prix Vancouver. We hope that this will provide you insight into the texture of the current standard metagame, and perhaps spark some innovation here in the last weeks before Born of the Gods.

    Mono-Blue Devotion: 25

    After arriving with thunderous success at Pro Tour Theros, the Mono-Blue Devotion deck has been one of the decks to beat. Combining some of the most powerful cards in Theros, it comes out fast and can easily overwhelm the opponent. When Master of Waves shows up with five friends, the game often doesn't last much longer. Thassa, God of the Sea keeps the good cards coming, and also lets you slip through for the last few points of damage. She can also beat the opponent about the face and neck, provided you are sufficiently devoted.

    Mono-Black Control: 22

    It wasn't until the discovery of Pack Rat as a constructed powerhouse that the Mono-Black deck went from Threat to Menace. No less a player than Owen Turtenwald declared that the opening of Thoughtseize into Pack Rat was the most powerful in the format, then backed it up by winning Grand Prix Albuquerque. The ability of the deck to shift gears from aggro to control, and its multiple angles of attack make it a daunting opponent.

    Blue-White Control: 16

    There's no denying the power of Sphinx's Revelation. However, players have yet to agree on the right way to harness that power. Earlier in the format, Esper Control was the gold standard. These days it's trimmed down to just blue-white, with a bunch of black scry-lands to help smooth out draws and provide some narrow sideboard options, like Dark Betrayal.

    Mono-Black Splashing White: 14

    One day you're the new hotness, the next you're old and busted. The numbers say that compromising the Mono-Black machine to fit in cards like Last Breath, Blood Baron of Vizkopa and Elspeth, Sun's Champion just isn't worth it, but maybe a more varied toolbox suits a metagame with so many decks?

    Red-Green Monsters: 12

    Don't mistake this for Masahiko Mihara's Colossal Gruul deck from Pro Tour Theros. This deck hits the ground running and doesn't mess about with Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. Efficient attackers backed by Ghor-Clan Rampager and planeswalkers make for very short games.

    Mono-Red Devotion with Chained to the Rocks: 9

    Now here's a deck that cherishes a Nykthos. Early attackers with plenty of red mana symbols, then Purphoros, God of the Forge, Stormbreath Dragon, and Fanatic of Mogis to set the opponent on fire. Chained to the Rocks provides an answer for otherwise troubling creatures.

    Young Pyromancer Burn: 5

    A new addition to the metagame, this Red-White deck does what its name implies. Both Chandra and her Phoenix help give it staying power.

    Esper "Humans": 4

    This deck made a splash at Grand Prix Shizuoka, surprising everyone with its mix of aggressive humans and control elements. Xathrid Necromancer is the all-star here.

    The Rest: 21

    Plenty of other options made it into Sunday if none of those strike your fancy, including Naya Midrange, Colossal Gruul, Golgari Control, White-Black Humans, White-Weenie with Red, Maze's End, Agent of Fates Aggro, and Blue-White-Red Control.




     

  • Sunday, 3:00 p.m. – Round 13 Top Table Archetypes

    by Marc Calderaro

  • I took a quick peek at the first twenty tables during Round 13 to see what decks are up at the forefront. Though Josh Bennett's complete archetype breakdown will provide a grander picture of this Sunday's bout, not everyone who is in Day 2 can make Top 8—if you catch my drift (sorry Rapter and Ocho). Looking towards the top end will likely better serve as a portal to see exactly what will make Top 8 in three more rounds.

    Top 20 Tables by Archetype:

    Archetype # of players
    Colossal Gruul 1
    Golgari Midrange 1
    Pyromancer Red 1
    Orzhov Humans 1
    Maze's End 1
    Esper Control 2
    Gruul Monsters 2
    Boros Devotion 2
    Orzhov Control 4
    Mono-Black Devotion 5
    Azorius Control 6
    Mono-Blue Devotion 14

    So what can we glean from this besides the obvious that Mono-Blue Devotion is consistently performing well—very well? Firstly, there are about as many Orzhov Control decks as there are Mono-Black Devotion decks. Many have been saying that the evolution of the Black decks has gone away from the Gray Merchant of Asphodel and going towards Elspeth, Sun's Champion and Blood Baron of Vizkopa. The deck still gets the Underworld Connections, Hero's Downfall and the Pack Rat that make the deck so solid, but the end game becomes way more consistent. The six-cost planeswalker is clearly an incredible boss, and not beholden to the whims of something as silly as black mana symbols.

    Additionally, Azorius Control seems the clear winner over Esper Control. The deck's consistent mana allows for more than enough ways to deal with the other decks. Now that the format is pretty figured out, control pilots know what spells to counter and what spells not to. The addition of black is likely not worth the effort. Divination is a good-enough drawer; Jace, Architect of Thought is a good-enough Planeswalker; Dissolve is a good-enough counterspell. I talked to Huey Jensen on this issue—he's already had great success with the Azorius Control deck, and is making a Top 8 run today. He talked about how Last Breath is an acceptable replacement for Hero's Downfall, considering the beating double-black casting cost does to the manabase. He then looked up, laughed and said, "I like my lands to come into play untapped if I can help it." Makes sense.


    William Jensen

    And the recipient of all those Hero's Downfalls and Last Breaths, at the bottom of the list are all of the aggressive decks. They are there, but are struggling. If you want to be "aggressive," the most consistent way is the slower, devotion-heavy paths that Blue and Black provide. Boros Devotion and Pyromancer Red are awesome and disruptive, but Fanatic of Mogis is almost out of reach from the top of the standings.


    The top three decks, Mono-Blue Devotion, Mono-Black Devotion, and Azorius Control make up exactly 50% of the decks in the top tables. That sounds healthy to me. Though not a traditional rock-paper-scissors format, having three viable strong decks that are at the forefront, but still allow for (at least) ten other viable deck archetypes percolating below the surface shows a strong format. If you want consistency, there are some good choices, and if you want to go out of the fringes but remain competitive, there are some good choices too.

    So now, back to the obvious. Mono-Blue Devotion is everywhere. Does this mean it's the clear "best deck"? It's certainly not overpowered the way that Affinity, Caw-Blade, Faeries, or Jund seemed in their respective Standard environments. The deck is beatable for sure; but the consistency with which it can beat just about any deck is a real draw. And the deck is streamlined such that it's fairly easy to play—at least compared to the control decks in the format. So although there are options in each color, if you want to be casting creatures and attacking—if you know how to pilot Mono-Blue and you can prepare for the mirror matches, full of Gainsays and Domestications—you should sleeve up the servants of Thassa, and shoot for the stars.


    Top Tables

    The big question what will break through into the Top 8? Here's a relevant number to consider. There were a total of 25 Mono-Blue Devotion decks that made Day 2. So it's just shy of 20% of the decks in Day 2, but a whopping 32.5% of the decks in the Top 20 tables. This data should be taken with a grain of salt—there were still more decks past Table 20 that are in contention for the Top 8; but that percentage is still powerful.

    It's almost time to ask the question how many Mono-Blue Devotion decks will make the Top 8, rather than if the deck will. There was only one Grand Prix this season that Mono-Blue Devotion did not finish in the top eight decks. It seems likely that it will stay that way.

    There's still three rounds to play before the cut. Anything can happen!




     

  • Round 13 Feature Match: Jon Stern (25) vs Greg Ogreenc

    by Josh Bennett

  • The Preamble

    Greg Ogreenc was last seen finishing second at Grand Prix Toronto, and is looking to put up another big Canadian finish. Canada's Jon Stern has only recently clawed his way back into the Top 25 Ranked players, and wants a win to make sure he stays. They're playing the format's marquee matchup: Mono-Blue Devotion for Ogreenc vs Mono-Black for Stern.

    The Match

    Ogreenc won the roll and led with island, Cloudfin Raptor. Next came Judge's Familiar, and it dove in the path of Pharika's Cure. This was replaced with Tidebinder Mage while Stern sifted with a Temple of Silence. Ogreenc tapped four to drop a potentially backbreaking Bident of Thassa, but Stern had Devour Flesh to take some of the sting out of it. Ogreenc hit for two, drew a card, and passed.

    Stern came down with a big roadblock: Desecration Demon. Ogreenc thought hard about his next move. Eventually he settled on playing Jace, Architect of Thought and minused it to get cards. He flipped over three very unexciting islands. He frowned, then animated his Mutavault to sacrifice it to Desecration Demon, allowing his Cloudfin to hit for damage and a card. Stern was down to 13. He hit back for seven with the Demon and summoned Nightveil Specter, stuck on four land.

    Again Ogreenc went into the tank, this time emerging with a play of Master of Waves for six tokens. He plussed Jace and passed the turn. Unfortunately for him, Stern was ready with Pharika's Cure for the Master. Nightveil Specter had to stay home, but the Demon got in for another six. Stern played a Pack Rat and passed. Ogreenc needed more gas. He minused Jace and found a Nightveil Specter and a land. He played Frostburn Weird, hit for three and drew a card, then played out the Specter. It looked like he might be pulling ahead. He had to sacrifice Frostburn Weird to tap the Demon, which let Stern sneak an attacker through to kill Jace. Unfortunately for him, he had run out of time. A turn later Stern found a fifth land, and Gray Merchant of Asphodel was lethal.

    Stern 1 - Ogreenc 0

    It was bad news for Ogreenc in game two. After stopping Thoughtseize with Judge's Familiar, he played a replacement, but a turn later he still hadn't found a third land, and did nothing but attack for damage with his Mutavault. Stern dropped Nightveil Specter and Ogreenc's only answer was Ratchet Bomb. It would be a while before that could remove the Specter.

    Stern hit for two and stole Mutavault from the top of Ogreenc's deck, then played Desecration Dmeon. Ogreenc finally found a land and played Thassa. Devour Flesh took out the second Familiar and Stern hit for eight. His specter gave him an island from Ogreenc's deck, and he played a second Nightveil Specter. It would get him a card before the Ratchet Bomb could come online.

    Ogreenc kept his top card but it wasn't a fourth land. He passed, then removed the Demon with Rapid Hybridization. Stern simply attacked with his Specters and Mutavault, turning up Thassa and yet another Nightveil.

    "The top of my deck has been GAS for you."

    "Oh it has."

    He happily put Thassa into play on his side of the board. From there, things were all but impossible for Ogreenc. He had taken too much damage, and the unblockability from Thassa meant he could survive only a few turns. Soon enough, Stern had taken the match.

    Jon Stern defeats Greg Ogreenc 2-0



    The Aftermath

    Ogreenc reassembled his opening hand and showed it to Stern for a consult. It was Island, Mutavault, two Familiars, Thassa, Ratchet Bomb, and Master of Waves. Ogreenc had this to say on the matter.

    "So the real decision point is turn two, and I played Familiar instead of Ratchet Bomb wanting to play conservatively, and I was immediately punished. I just couldn't play Bomb onto an empty board."

    I also asked Ogreenc about his fifth turn in the first game, when he played Jace. He said that his hand was terrible, and his only alternative play was Master of Waves, easily answerable by Mono-Black. He needed to dig, not just for threats, but especially Rapid Hybridization for the Demon. Otherwise Stern would defeat him too quickly.




     

  • Round 14 Feature Match: William Jensen (Azorius Control) vs. Robert Smith (Mono-Blue Devotion)

    by Marc Calderaro

  • Coming into Round 14, both of these players, Hall-of-Famer William "Huey" Jensen and two-time Grand Prix Top 8 finisher Robert Smith need to win the next two rounds to break into the Top 8. If Huey makes it, this will be his third Theros Standard Top 8, and his second piloting his Azorius Control deck. It has a strong game against Robert Smith's Mono-Blue Devotion deck, as long as it can contain Thassa, God of the Sea and Bident of Thassa.

    Game One

    Smith and Jensen faced off Islands, then Robert Smith started the aggression with a Tidebinder Mage, Mutavault, and an Omenspeaker. This was not the most aggressive of starts and it didn't take much effort for Huey Jensen to put the kibosh on the assault.


    William Jensen

    Smith knew this first wave wouldn't actually win the game, so he went for the mid-game route of Thassa, God of the Sea and her Bident of Thassa—those two cards I just mentioned earlier. But both require other cards to operate. Huey tried to keep everything else clear from the board to blunt the effectiveness of the two problems.

    Both players cast Jace, Architect of Thought. Jensen used his to make attackers smaller and Smith used it to gain some more cards. His opponent had an Omenspeaker, Nightveil Specter, and two Mutavault on the board, so Jensen had to be mindful of not just the damage they could do, but the cards Bident of Thassa would provide. The score was 14-24 in Smith's favor when Jensen predictably swept the board with a Supreme Verdict to reset much of Smith's efforts.

    After a couple turns, Smith's Jace was down to one counter and Jensen's was up to seven. Smith was no closer getting Huey down to 0 life than he was four turns ago. This was bad news for him. When the Elspeth, Sun's Champion came down and made three tokens, it was the beginning of the end for Smith. He looked at his hand and shook his head while considering how to get out of this jam—if at all he could.

    Both of Jensen's Planeswalkers had practical and helpful effects that added loyalty counters. So not only would it be hard to damage Jensen, it was going to be hard to damage the 'walkers too. How many turns would it take for Smith to pack it in? He made tons of creatures to try and keep pace, but Jensen simply shrugged. He cast Supreme Verdict whenever he felt behind on the creature count, then just made three more tokens.

    Jensen was so shruggy, he just shrugged again when he used Jace's ultimate ability to take a Thassa, God of the Sea from his opponent's deck and a Divination from his own—an ultimate shrug.

    Yeah, it was time for Smith to scoop.

    William Jensen 1 – 0 Robert Smith



    Game Two

    In the second game, Jensen again stopped early aggression from Smith with ease. Smith cast the same Frostburn Weird three times. Each time he attacked, he pumped it up to maximum attacking size. The first two times Azorius Charm wasted turns' worth of mana. But finally, on the third go-around Jensen ran out of stall tactics. He went down to 16, to 12, and to 8 before he sacrificed an Elixir of Immortality to buy more time.


    Robert Smith

    Jensen cast a Supreme Verdict, seeming despondent about it. He wasn't happy getting a 1-for-3 against a two-drop that had already dealt him 12 damage. But regardless, he was sitting comfortably at 13 life because of his plays, and he cast a Dissolve on the next Frostburn Weird. So when he passed the turn back with seven untapped lands, three cards in his hand, and no creatures in sight, Jensen was feeling pretty good.

    Huey cast his first Revelation for three (leaving up two mana), and Smith let that resolve. Smith realized that the Gainsay, Dissolve, and Negate would be better used on the subsequent cards Sphinx's Revelation drew.

    But sadly for Smith, it didn't work out that way. Each time Huey had the answer. Gainsay may have stopped the first Detention Sphere, but the second Sphere made it through, thanks to Huey's Syncopate on Smith's Dissolve. And the last card in Smith's hand, Negate, tried to stop the second Sphinx's Revelation and that was met with a Gainsay.

    After that counterspell flurry that spanned two turns, Huey confidently cast the third Sphinx's Revelation, and the first big one of the game (X=7). Ladies and gents, generally after that amount of Revelations, it's all done. And let me tell you, it was done. Jensen was casting stuff just so that he wouldn't have to discard too much. Smith stuck strong in the game for the next few turns, but it was over long before he extended his hand.

    William Jensen 2 – 0 Robert Smith

    Huey's Top 8 hopes stay alive as he moves to 12-2!




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