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4 Lessons from GP Providence

The Result

It’s not often that release weekend kicks off with a huge event like a Grand Prix, but as Ixalan took the stage for its first Premier-level event, players converged to do battle in Rhode Island. Which, by the way, isn’t an island. I bet Jace would have preferred to be marooned on this “island” rather than useless Island—instead of getting ripped and meeting Vraska, he would have had a great time sitting on the beach and blasting Narragansett Autocrat Coffee Milk Stout.

Anyway. For anyone seeking to claim that Limited events are purely luck-based, GP Providence is just the latest in a long series of overwhelmingly strong counter-arguments. Yet again, this tournament saw arguably the greatest team in modern Magic—the Peach Garden Oath—go up against a team led by a man with 28 GP finals appearances.

William “Huey” Jensen, Owen Turtenwald, and Reid Duke ultimately went down to Martin Juza, Corey Burkhart, and Andrew Baeckstrom in the final match—these huge names are certainly enough to demonstrate that it takes a little more than good luck to succeed in arenas like this.

The Moment

The Peach Garden Oath are widely seen as the scourge of the high seas of team events, but they had to navigate some extremely choppy waters from a very early start. As they gave up two losses before the end of the first day, Huey, Reid, and Owen had to dig deep as we returned for Day 2—they couldn’t afford to drop a match if they wanted to make the finals. After a clean 4-0 start, the final round saw Jensen get up against Jared Calabrese while Turtenwald was battling hard against Stanley Pace. Duke and Bryon Wilkins were deep into game 2, and Wilkins had Duke on the ropes.

But the game had gone very slowly, and both Duke and Wilkins had more land than Jefferson after the Louisiana Purchase. The conclusion of the game highlighted an important lesson about succeeding in Ixalan Limited.

In a drawn-out, slow game like the one between Duke and Wilkins, fortunes will depend on players having some form of inevitability. We’ve already seen the way that boards stall out like a high schooler driving a stick shift, so having a way to ensure you can close out a game is absolutely critical. Duke’s deck illustrated one of the ways in which to pivot under pressure and find a way out with your back against the wall—he owed his victory in no small part to Cobbled Wings, Legion’s Landing, and of course Repeating Barrage.

Despite having the screws turned on him, ultimately Duke was able to position himself to take down the match thanks to having cards that ran his opponent out of resources. In beating Wilkins, Duke demonstrated the success bound for those prepared to go into the extreme late game, and secured his team a berth in the Top 4 as he did so!

The Drafts

Team Draft isn’t a format we see at the highest level of competition, although that’s set to change next August at the Team Pro Tour. Despite its lack of Premier-level exposure, it is one of the most favored formats of many who play competitively. GPs often wind down with six mates throwing together a quick Draft, and when those two (you know who you are) bail from the Draft night you had planned for weeks, then a six-person team Draft is generally the best option.

Given that we don’t often get to explore the texture of this format—one radically different from regular Draft—getting to watch four live Drafts from four different players in the Top 4 was absolutely terrific.

We started in the semifinals with Corey Burkhart navigating some confusing signals before moving on to Cody Delpozzo, whose Draft Marshall diplomatically described as “tough.” In the finals, we saw the vastly differing fortunes of Owen Turtenwald and Andrew Baeckstrom. Each of these four drafts was full of interesting decisions and complex questions to answer—many of them based around when to bolster your own picks and when to cut cards from opposing team members.

The wildly different decks these Drafts produced went a long way in showing the depth of Team Drafts generally, and the wildly different approaches taken to the Drafts themselves by different players gave us a lot of data on which cards the best in the biz have high on their radars. Have a look through these Drafts if you want to learn a thing or two about approaching both Ixalan Limited and Team Drafts in general!

The Takeaway

Ixalan Limited has big shoes to fill. Not only has it been one of the most-hyped sets in recent memory, it also comes directly after one of the best Limited environments in recent memory. The rich texture and diversity of strategies in Hour of Devastation Limited had set our expectations very high, and so far, Ixalan has had to cope with a slightly more mixed response. Even one of the eventual champions of the tournament still can’t seem to make up his mind about Ixalan.

There are some solid lessons to learn from the data we gathered this weekend. Firstly, Ixalan Limited is synergy-driven, as evidenced by the dominance of tribal strategies throughout the Sealed portion of the GP. In particular, Green-Blue Merfolk decks leveraging the power of cards such as River Heralds’ Boon highlighted the raw power that comes when a synergistic game plan is successfully executed. You should be looking to leverage these powerful tribal synergies at the Draft table or while building your Sealed decks, especially if Ixalan ultimately proves to be a format in which synergy trumps power level.

Secondly, with stonking great stompers dominating the ground, evasion is at an absolute premium. Taking flight with Cobbled Wings (especially attached to massive prehistoric beaters) is an exceptionally strong way to get ahead, and already it seems this innocuous piece of equipment may be a key piece of the puzzle that is Ixalan Limited. Outside of Cobbled Wings, look to leverage flyers, unblockable creatures, or tramplers to break through a stalled board.

Finally, in a format overrun with large ground creatures, it’s crucial to prioritize ways to win combat. As board stalls naturally favor the defender (due to the defender’s ability to double-block), finding ways to make profitable attacks will get you a long way ahead. For this reason, combat tricks are more important than ever. Ixalan’s removal options are conditional or slow. At this stage, it seems the best way to dominate the board is with assertive attacks backed up with cheap and efficient tricks to win combat. Or alternatively, assertive attacks backed up with nothing more than a ham sandwich. Never change, Osyp.

Next weekend I’m off to Boston for the World Championship, where the new Standard format will be put through its paces by the most powerful wizards on Earth. See you there!

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