4 Lessons from Grand Prix Bologna

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The Result

This weekend’s Grand Prix Bologna saw the long-awaited arrival of Dominaria to the stage of premier play, and a splendid showcase of what is shaping up to be one of the best Limited formats in recent memory. Magic’s homecoming to the plane on which it all started has generated a fair bit of hype and excitement, and it looks like this set is here to deliver the goods.

Team Sealed splits 12 packs between teams of three, offering the opportunity for many teams to put together some pretty spectacular Limited decks. Despite this, there was an almost complete lack of aggro decks of any kind. Dominaria is a much slower format, where early aggression is close to nonexistent. The success of many teams was down to their focus on dominating the later turns of the game, something you should seek to do at your next Draft, too.

The Top 4 consisted of the Finnish Joonas Eloranta, Jori Hukka, and Matti Kuisma, who topped the Swiss, the Britishmen Matthew Foulkes, Fabrizio Anteri, and Peter Ward, Foulkes perhaps better known as popular streamer YUGIOHPLAYER1942, the Slovenians Andrej Rutar, Robin Dolar, and Davor Detecnik, with Dolar hunting down his third GP win, and the Italians Antonio Pinto, Davide Miani, and Usama Sajjad, defending the home turf in Bologna. The first Team Draft saw the Slovenians and Finns knocked out, and after a thrilling final it was the Italian trio of Pinto, Miani, and Sajjad who walked away with the title!

The Moment

GPs are an opportunity to enjoy a lot more than competitive Magic. Oof course, there’s the main event and a squillion different side events in which powerful wizards can test their mettle, but we’re seeing GPs become more and more of a celebration of the game we all love.

Cosplaying has been a huge part of Magic’s culture for quite some time now, and Atlas Crafts brought one of the most striking pieces of work you’re likely to see.

Nissa Cosplay’s new Jhoira was another standout masterwork, with characteristic attention to detail—but it was the mighty Karn that stole the show this weekend. Standing more than two meters high—that’s 0.001 furlongs for anyone in the U.S.—this incredible costume was a crowd favorite all weekend. Karn even made an appearance on coverage!

You can watch the entire interview—and you definitely should—here.

The Deck

We’ve already characterized Dominaria as a slow format, with aggressive decks a little difficult to stitch together. Whether that changes in the fullness of time remains to be seen, and if it does, it will use decks like Fabrizio Anteri’s finals list as a blueprint. Generally speaking, people aren’t too hot on the cheaper creatures in Dominaria, but that didn’t stop Anteri from prioritizing them during the very last Draft of the tournament.

Red-White Aggro

Fabrizio Anteri, 2nd place at GP Bologna 2018

If there truly are viable aggro decks in Dominaria Limited, they’ll look something like this. A high concentration of quality aggressive creatures—Knight of Grace, Danitha Capashen, Benalish Marshal—in conjunction with good equipment and good removal. It doesn’t hurt that Anteri snagged the immensely powerful History of Benalia to go with all the other Knights he drafted!

All the same, ultimately it wasn’t enough. The average toughness of most creatures is high enough to hold off quick starts, and there are cards like Cloudreader Sphinx, Mammoth Spider, and Baird, Steward of Argive acting as powerful roadblocks. Throughout the weekend, decks like this didn’t really resonate, even with the format being Team Sealed. We’ll have to keep an eye on the fortunes of aggressive strategies in Dominaria moving forward, and see if they pick up any pace.

The Takeaway

As you’re almost certainly aware by now, Dominaria is a slow, grindy format defined by small edges gained over longer periods of game play. The format is typified by higher curves and an emphasis on power rather than speed, with Sagas, powerful removal, and flexible kicker cards all proving their worth time and time again. This is a format in which you need to be prepared to win the long game, whether that’s with enormous evasive beaters to break through board stalls, a splashy rare to break parity, or a late-game value engine to generate an incremental advantage.

For the most part, the 2-drops of Dominaria are much, much worse than what we’ve become accustomed to, and as a result you need a good reason to play anything approaching an aggro deck. It’s common to see games in which the first play is made on turn 3 or 4. The way things stand now, you’re not likely to be punished for a slow curve and a focus on expensive cards. Of course, maybe we just haven’t figured out how to build the right aggro deck just yet, but from how things are shaping up, it may not even really exist.

Equipment is doing a lot more work than usual in this format. While the mighty Pirate’s Cutlass of Ixalan helped to fuel aggressive curve-outs, equipment in Dominaria serves a different purpose. With boards stalling out very often indeed, particularly when the black-green Saproling deck gets going, having something like a Jousting Lance to punch through blockers can be the key to pulling ahead during a stalemate.

The evaluation of key commons is still in a state of flux. Initially unassuming cards like Cloudreader Sphinx are starting to gain recognition as critical to success in games that go to 12 or 14 turns. Kicker cards like Ghitu Lavarunner and Caligo Skin-Witch mitigate the effects of late-game flooding, but drawing extra lands in the late game can be a huge issue. Dark Bargain is beginning to see more play as it provides both card advantage and filtering. Be on the lookout for more cards that serve a role like this as games go long.

Next week we’re off to Dallas to see how things develop further in Dominaria Limited, and I’ll be back with everything you need to know about what happened there. See you next week!


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