Another Grand Prix triple-header saw us explore Standard in the post-Pro Tour Ixalan landscape. Across three continents, various Energy lists maintained their positions atop a lofty pedestal of dominance, while a range of other strategies took the fight to Attune with Aether decks and attempted to topple them, to varying degrees of success.
In Shanghai, Song Huachao won out in a field dominated by Temur, Sultai, and 4-Color Energy—Ramunap Red was also strongly represented in China. Song, however, went with the tried-and-true Temur to get over the line, slogging through a Top 8 that included such names as everyone’s favorite Ramunap Red pilot Yam Wing Chun, Worlds Top 4 competitor Kelvin Chew, and of course Japanese Hall-of-Famer Yuuya Watanabe.
— Magic Pro Tour (@magicprotour) November 12, 2017
In Warsaw, it was Jean-Emmanuel Depraz who rose to the top at the end of the tournament, opting for 4-Color Energy (or “Grassy Grixis,” as many now refer to it) as his weapon of choice. The Top 8 included various Energy decks, Mardu Vehicles, God-Pharaoh’s Gift, and a supremely spicy Green-Blue Pummeler list. Europe’s finest were out in force this weekend, and despite not making Top 8, CFB’s own Joel Larsson, Andrea “Gucci Boi” Mengucci, and of course GP juggernaut Martin Juza still finished strongly.
— Magic Pro Tour (@magicprotour) November 12, 2017
In Atlanta, we saw Alex Young hustle and bustle through a stacked Top 8—not only did Corey Baumeister make his fourth consecutive Constructed GP Top 8 appearance, Young’s final boss was the Hall-of-Famer Ben Stark. Stark, described by his teammate Mike Sigrist as the “Constructed specialist” for Team CFB, had packed some heat with his new take on Ramunap Red, but ultimately, Young’s Esper Approach list was too much for Stark to handle!
New Hampshire's Alex Lloyd beats Hall of Famer Ben Stark in the #GpAtlanta finals 2-1 with his Esper Approach he just modified this week.
He is the Grand Prix Atlanta Champion! pic.twitter.com/uiUilh8tkl
— Magic Pro Tour (@magicprotour) November 13, 2017
There were a few blockbuster moments across the weekend, all of which added to the weekend’s entertainment. We had Takuma Morofuji crushing the Swiss in Shanghai with a perfect 15-0 record, a Sultai Energy turn-4 kill by Louis Bachaud in the quarterfinals in Warsaw, and of course Corey Baumeister slamming into a fourth consecutive Constructed GP Top 8 in Atlanta.
The moment that stood head and shoulders above all others, however, was in round 6 of GP Warsaw, where Lars Rosengren was playing White-Black Tokens against Kajetan Olas on White-Blue Approach. The game should be all over red rover, as it’s turn 4 of extra turns and the life totals are 40 to 32. Rosengren has other plans, however, after slamming a Ruthless Knave.
The Knave has never really made much of a mark outside of Limited, but it single-handedly carried Rosengren to victory with a ridiculous combo-like finish. Given the 2 Anointed Processions, each Knave activation gained Rosengren 8 Treasures, and when he started to “go off,” he had to get out the pen and paper!
From this point, Rosengren was able to churn through his deck, sacrificing creatures and Treasures like it was going out of style, and he knew exactly what he was looking for. Eventually, the Marionette Master arrived on the scene, and from there it was GG, WP, and of course no RE.
With more Treasure than the Nuestra Señora de Atocha, Rosengren fed them to the Master, dinging his opponent for 4 life each time. You think you’re safe on 32? You wouldn’t have been safe on 100!
The artificers in Kaladesh are all about innovation, and Okada Naoya well and truly channeled this creative energy when registering an absolutely buck wild Grixis Improvise list. It’s an energy deck of an entirely different nature! Some of the usual Standard suspects are in this list—cards like Chandra, Torch of Defiance and The Scarab God are too good not to play—but rather than Attune with Aether, Naoya was stuffing his energy stocking with Decoction Module.
This deck goes wider in the air than Harry Potter’s aunt Marge, with Maverick Thopterist and Aether Swooper aiding Standard all-star Whirler Virtuoso to help flood the board with tokens. This in turn keeps the energy flowing with Decoction Module—3 copies of which combos infinitely with the Virtuoso. Additionally, almost all of the creatures in this deck are Artificers, and as a result, Inventor’s Goggles fly in the face of all established wisdom and actually do something.
These powerful synergies continue through to the deck’s interactive elements, with Harnessed Lightning and Metallic Rebuke, but the real hot shot is Reverse Engineer, allowing you to draw three for (most of the time) just 2 mana! This deck caught us all a little by surprise but it got the job done for Naoya, propelling him to a Top 8 appearance in Shanghai.
Across the other events, some new approaches to existing archetypes were turning heads throughout the weekend. Honorable mentions for other newski brewskis go to Sascha Lüscher for his Blue-Black God-Pharaoh’s Gift list, and of course Ben Stark’s new take on red aggression with “Medium Red.”
During one of the feature matches they called it Medium Red. I thought that was a pretty apt name.
— ben stark (@BenS8528) November 13, 2017
There’s no doubt about it—energy, as a mechanic, is so utterly dominant that in the contest of beat ’em or join ’em #TeamJoinEm has been trending for quite a long time. Energy strategies will make up around 40% to 50% of a given Standard field, although it’s worth noting that the number is further broken down to constituent—and discrete—parts. Temur Energy and 4-Color Energy are obviously similar from a gameplay perspective, although they do take different tactical approaches to the game.
Sultai Energy, however, is a Cub of a different color. Despite being an Attune-Cub-Refiner deck, it is much more aggressive and focused on synergy than raw card quality. Nonetheless, Attune with Aether continues to be the scariest turn-1 play in Standard, and the question to ask yourself is how best to contest it.
There is a tension among Energy decks now as they attempt to spread themselves across all matchups by trimming previously sacred 4-ofs. Throughout the weekend, we saw different configurations of all of the stock Temur creatures, with some players going as low as 2 Longtusk Cubs! This means that some of the consistency of energy decks will suffer as they attempt to cover all bases, resulting in draw-dependent outcomes when they peel Vraska against Ramunap Red or Whirler Virtuoso against Fumigate.
Players who chose not to play energy responded this weekend by emulating PT Ixalan finalist Pascal Maynard. The rise in God-Pharaoh’s Gift decks is emblematic of a subset of players trying to not only go bigger, but also take an entirely different angle of attack. Reanimating a 6/6 haste, flying, vigilant, lifelinker is one way to swing a game, but I also think it’s worth considering the blue-black version of GPG. In particular, Gifted Aetherborn shines against midrange of all types while still not giving up percentage points against Ramunap Red.