With Grand Prix Singapore and New Jersey in the books, Ixalan has had its final curtain call as a Limited format. It may have received a golf clap rather than a standing ovation, but for better or for worse, Ixalan is behind us as the release of Rivals of Ixalan approaches to shake things up. The format notwithstanding, we had some truly spectacular Top 8s assemble on both sides of the Pacific this weekend.
In Singapore, some of Japan’s finest were out and about, with Shuhei Nakamura and Tomoharu Saito joining recently-crowned World Magic Cup victor Kenta Harane in representing the might of the Land of the Rising Sun. In addition to these superstars, perennial Top 8 competitor and Hazoret, the Fervent collector Yam Wing Chun also made his fourth GP Top 8 appearance, but it was hometown hero Lim “Master” Zhong Li who defended his home turf and won the day—well done indeed!
— Magic Pro Tour (@magicprotour) December 17, 2017
If you thought the Singaporean Top 8 was nonstop hits, just look at how things shook out in New Jersey. Of course Seth Manfield was there—I understand that they put aside a spot for him at the Top 8 Draft table while setting up the venue on Thursday—but check out how the Top 8 ending up looking:
Former Magic World Champion Seth Manfield
Current Star Wars: Destiny World Champion Daniel Weiser
Limited Format-Breaker Nicholas Mohammed
Three-Time GP Champion Gerard Fabiano
Canadian National Champion Kale Thompson
Former Austrian National Champion Valentin Mackl
SCG Invitational Superstar Josh Taylor
2015 Player of the Year Mike Sigrist
Your #GPNJ Top 8:
(16) Mike Sigrist, Josh Taylor, Gerard Fabiano, Nicholas Mohammed, Valentin Mackl, (1) Seth Manfield, Dan Weiser and Kale Thompson
Drafting soon on https://t.co/glt0Vc0v0l! pic.twitter.com/Fc6fjKWN5h
— Magic Pro Tour (@magicprotour) December 17, 2017
In the end, it wasn’t so much the siege of Detroit as it was the siege of New Jersey, with the Canadian hero Kale Thompson taking us back to 1812 as he cut a swath of destruction through his American foes. One must imagine that he apologized politely after mercilessly vanquishing his foes but all the same, to the victor go the spoils. Congratulations to Kale Thompson on a well-deserved GP win!
After unseating (16) Mike Sigrist, Kale Thompson wasn't done.
He's just defeated (1) Seth Manfield in the finals at #GPNJ!
Kale Thompson—from Canadian National Champ to Grand Prix Champ! pic.twitter.com/bBnb8iaJuy
— Magic Pro Tour (@magicprotour) December 18, 2017
Given the excitement that surrounded the recent release of Unstable, there was a bit of a change of pace during the side events for GP New Jersey. A huge number of Unstable Limited events were taking place across the weekend. Given the deep, complex, and highly sophisticated rules and interactions involved in this format, a specialist arbiter was brought in to oversee things.
RT maro254: RT magicprotour: Meet Charles Featherer ("Dr. Judge" to you!), heading up the Unstable events at #GPNJ.
He's equipped with a jeweler's loupe to see if cards are actually in the Cramped Bunker, and a three-foot cane to measure Slaying Mantis … pic.twitter.com/qisvq9V3cb
— MTG and Chill (@mtgchill) December 17, 2017
Charles “Dr. Judge” Featherer was on hand all weekend to resolve any issues that arose while players were underway with what some are saying is Magic at its most pure. Aside from being equipped to deal with mechanical interactions such as those mentioned above, Dr. Judge spent the weekend timing people giving high fives, determining if compliments were nice enough to pass the Chivalrous Chevalier test, and letting people who cast Very Cryptic Command basically do whatever they wanted to.
Unstable has proven itself to be immensely popular, offering a welcome diversion to many from the ruthlessly competitive and spiky side of Magic. Hordes of those in attendance at GP New Jersey took advantage of the events on offer—from Drafts to full-box Sealed—and had a great time augmenting Hosts, tutoring for banned cards, and ignoring state-based effects. Having Dr. Judge and his minions on hand to make the tough calls only contributed to the success of these Unstable events!
— Magic Pro Tour (@magicprotour) December 16, 2017
Honorable “The Moment” Mention: Marshall chains “Boosty D” into “Carny T.” He’s a master.
Gallons of digital ink have been spilled on Ixalan as a Limited format, and heading into this weekend, you would be forgiven for thinking that there wasn’t too much juice left for us to squeeze out of this particular orange. Broadly speaking this isn’t too far from the truth, but there were a few interesting data points to take away from the weekend.
Nicholas Mohammed was a man with a plan this weekend, forcing Vampires at every opportunity. Putting the blinkers on and drilling down into your lane isn’t something that everyone likes (or even is able) to do, but Mohammed stuck to his guns and was richly rewarded for it.
Nicholas Mohammed, Top 8 at GP New Jersey
This deck is emblematic of Mohammed’s strategy, and this approach has a thing or two going for it. In the same way that formats like Modern and Legacy reward players who pick a deck and stick with it, forcing a certain strategy in Draft means that you will be intimately familiar with specific, corner-case interactions that emerge while playing the same kinds of cards over and over.
It’s a boring truth, but practice does make perfect, and Mohammed showed us the way in which going deep on a single archetype can result in enormous success. Having a wealth of experience to lean on when confronted with challenging board states or games can quickly translate to easier victories, as Mohammed showed us late on Day 2—he plays to his outs (and topdecks like a fiend) to win the match!
The long-awaited arrival of Rivals of Ixalan will be with us shortly to mix things up for the new year. With little left to say about Ixalan Limited as a standalone format, the time has now come to examine the standout and potential sleeper cards in the departing format and try to figure out which will be the movers and shakers in our new Limited format.
Do cards like Anointed Deacon or Pirate’s Cutlass get better, or worse? Will a particular 2-color Pirate or Dinosaur deck begin to eclipse all others? Will Ancient Brontodon finally become playable? Some of these questions are a little easier to answer than others, but the point to remember is that things are about to change. Now is the time to revisit the traditional thinking of Ixalan’s Limited dynamic. Think about how Hour of Devastation completely flipped the script on Amonkhet—that could happen again in a few short weeks!
GPs are set to undergo a range of changes as we move into 2018. If you haven’t seen it already, Scott Larabee covered what will be different next year. Not only will you receive a Mutavault just for showing up to play at a GP, there’s now a cut at 6-2 irrespective of format, and round schedules will look a little different. If you’re planning to attend a GP next year—and you definitely should—make sure you get across these changes.
Finally, from a coverage perspective, my boss Greg Collins recently outlined what you can expect to see from team coverage into next year. Essentially, it comes down to this—almost 40 events will be covered throughout the entire year, which will total over 1,000 hours of live coverage. I’m very excited to be part of all this as we move towards 2018, and I’m looking forward to your company as we bring you the very best from tournaments around the world!