Over the course of the last 6 weeks, I saw new parts of the world, covered several events, and brought Affinity to Vegas. In this article, I’ll recount the stories and decks.
Saturday, May 6: Grand Prix Bologna (Italy)
Let’s start with the weekend of the first Amonkhet Grand Prix. I wasn’t planning to play a lot of Grand Prix events this year as I’m not actively looking for Pro Points, but I figured that it was worth going nevertheless. The main reason was that I thought I would have a small edge since I would have time to draft the set all day on Magic Online the Thursday before the GP.
And then it was announced that Amonkhet’s Magic Online release would change from just before the GP to immediately after the prerelease. So much for my edge.
Now don’t get me wrong—the early release was an excellent change, and I hope that it will become the norm. But it did negate my main reason for going to Bologna. Either way, my trip was still fine, as I had a good time with friends and was able to visit nearby Venice on the Monday after.
I had been there before in 2003 when there was a Pro Tour in Venice, and I didn’t notice a difference in the water level. So the city isn’t sinking that rapidly, but it did turn into a real tourist trap. The sheer amount of tour groups I saw was absolutely unreal, and the hordes of people made it nearly impossible to walk around. I wouldn’t exactly recommend a visit, at least not at peak times.
Anyway, back to the Grand Prix. I built my deck in literally two minutes—a new record at the 3-bye table according to Martin Juza—and went 1-4 drop, but at least all of my games were close and filled with interesting decisions.
I also had two interesting questions for the judge staff. One of them worked out well for me. When I was opening my 6 packs, I noticed that one of them was already open at one of the corners. I pointed this out to a judge, and they decided to give me a replacement booster. The replacement then had 15 fully bent cards, which I again pointed out for another replacement. Naturally, the final replacement contained a Masterpiece Daze. Ding!
The judge question that didn’t work out in my favor was that I was not allowed to build my Sealed deck at 9 a.m. To give some background for that: At Grand Prix Prague a couple of months ago, concerns were raised about the potential for fraud at the sleep-in-special tables. People could show up at any time, sit down wherever they liked, and then register the deck of one of their friends. What’s more, there were few judges around to ensure that cards weren’t exchanged or added. Although I have no evidence that something afoul actually happened, it is a fair concern, and I was one of the people to point it out to the judging staff back then.
The proper solution is to just have pre-registered pools for the sleep-in-special players. That wasn’t an option for Grand Prix Prague because there was a fire at the event site on Friday. For Grand Prix Bologna, pre-registered pools were not available either, and the organizer’s solution was to have a separate build with random seating for all one-bye players at 10 a.m., a separate build with random seating for all two-bye players at 11 a.m., and a separate build with random seating for all three-bye players at 12 a.m. For me, a three-bye player who went to the event site at 9 a.m. with his zero-bye old-school friends, this was not exactly ideal. Despite my pleas, I was not allowed to abolish my sleep-in-special or join the one-bye players, and I had to wait for 3 hours before I could play a game of Magic. At least there was a proper system at Grand Prix Las Vegas several weeks later.
Saturday May 13: Pro Tour Amonkhet (Nashville, USA)
Even though I was qualified for the Pro Tour as a member of the Hall of Fame, I accepted an invitation to do text coverage. I enjoyed working behind the scenes, sifting through all the deck lists, and sharing my analysis. Since at least one person asked me: I did not actually count all 755 Aether Hubs or tally up all 1,457 Standard matches manually. Shoutout to the VLOOKUPs, the IF(AND(OR(AND($G9=L$6,$H9=L$8,$J9=1),AND($F9=L$8,$I9=L$6,$J9=0)),$G9<>$I9),1,) functions, and all the other tools I used.
For my Constructed articles, I was particularly happy with how my day 2 metagame breakdown turned out. I fear that my win percentage analysis may have accelerated the dominance of Marvel, but I still believe that giving out information can lead to a dynamic metagame as long as the format is balanced and there are ways to attack the most popular decks.
For the upcoming season, I don’t expect to be playing many Pro Tours because I would have to pay for my own flight and accommodation, and I don’t receive any appearance fees. For most players, a Pro Tour qualification is awesome as they get their flights paid, can hunt for Pro Points, or might achieve a breakthrough finish. For me, my expected profit minus the monetary value of my time to achieve a reasonable win percentage is close to negative, so I can’t afford to dedicate too much time to it.
Saturday May 20: Grand Prix Santiago (Chile)
After the Pro Tour, it was time for my first visit to Chile. As I found an incredibly cheap flight to Nashville and Santiago, a number of European pro players joined the trip. One of them was Grzegorz Kowalski, who made it to the finals.
It was nice to meet some of the local Chilean players, and the South American Magic community seemed like one big family. The city of Santiago, however, did not leave a strong impression on me. The people who spoke English were friendly and offered good recommendations, but there was a definite language barrier, as English was not widely spoken at all.
In the same vein, I had to spend several hours to decipher Spanish and Portuguese deck lists while doing text coverage. To all future Grand Prix attendees: Please write your deck list in English. If you don’t know the English card names, then please print out a deck list at home or write in legible capital letters. The combination of foreign card names and poor handwriting resulted in a sad text coverage reporter… still, I managed to get up the Top 8 and Top 32 deck lists on the website soon after round 15 ended.
Another text coverage-related PSA: I’m always happy to sign your card, playmat, or even your math textbook—yes, this happened—but not when I’m doing text coverage and the Top 8 is about to start or going on. This is the busiest time of the weekend, as I’m juggling player profiles, deck lists, website blurbs, pictures, tweets, bracket updates, and more all at the same time. That workload makes me the tournament bottleneck at that point, and I had to ask several people to come back a couple hours later (and sadly not everyone did). I believe that many players assume that the start of the Top 8 marks the end of the tournament and a perfect time to ask a writer-reporter for a signature or picture—sadly, the opposite is true. Literally any other time is better.
Saturday May 27: Easter Island (Chile)
After the GP, I traveled to Easter Island together with Ondrej Strasky and Shuhei Nakamura. Petr Sochurek was also supposed to go, but he forgot to book the Santiago-Easter Island part of his flight, and there were simply no more flights available when he found out.
Finding a new flight was tough because Easter Island, a 63 square-kilometer patch of land in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, as it is one of the most isolated islands on Earth. The only realistic way to get there is by taking one of the daily flights from Santiago. There’s also a weekly flight from Tahiti, but that’s pretty much it. The place had been on my bucket list for a while, and I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity when I saw that I was going to Santiago.
The island is mostly famous for its large statues called moai, which were carved out of volcanic rock centuries ago by the Polynesian settlers. Their society thrived initially, but collapsed (from a population of 15,000 to a mere 111 survivors in 1877) after several centuries of being on the island. The most likely causes are ecological overshoot and deforestation, so in a way, it’s an isolated warning of the dangers of plundering natural resources and an example of what might happen on a global scale this century if we don’t change our ways.
Their industrious society left behind hundreds of huge states, and although most of the completed ones were eventually toppled or broken, some were still standing upright for a magnificent sight. There were also lots of statues in various stages of completion left behind in the quarry.
Besides the statues, the island had a sandy tropical beach, volcano craters, and other beautiful spots to explore. It was definitely one of the more unique places I’ve ever been to, and I’ve been to a lot by now. Magic has brought me to numerous countries all over the globe, which I’m very thankful for. For me, the game is only part of the experience—the tournament travels allowed me to experience different cultures, breathtaking landscapes, and world wonders. For this trip, I even got to do so with friends from the Czech Republic and Japan that I would have never met if it weren’t for Magic, so this card game has expanded my horizons in ways that few other hobbies would have.
Saturday June 3: Grand Prix Amsterdam (Netherlands)
After a 61-hour door-to-door trip from Easter Island to my home in the Netherlands—almost surely a personal record—I got to do laundry, sleep in my own bed for a night, and then travel back to Amsterdam for text coverage of the Grand Prix.
I did my best to pick interesting non-Marvel decks for the feature matches every round, and in the end, Lukas Blohon smoked the competition with his black-green deck.
Saturday June 10: Banff National Park (Canada)
Wait, Canada? Didn’t I just fly over the Atlantic in the opposite direction?
Well, yes. My travel schedule is indeed a little crazy this year, and I’m only getting started.
I just didn’t want to fly over the Atlantic just for Grand Prix Las Vegas, so I found a convenient flight and added several days in Banff, Canada’s first national park. Given that the largest hill in the Netherlands is only 323 metres, I found it a beautiful place to visit. I did several nice hikes with resident Canadian Eduardo Sajgalik, and I really enjoyed the area.
Saturday June 17: Grand Prix Las Vegas (USA)
And then it was time for Las Vegas.
It was great to experience the 5-day extravaganza. The sheer number of artists, vendors, side events, cosplayers, and panels was impressive—the 3 main events had around 3,000 players each—and I haven’t even mentioned that there were spell-slinging tables, card previews, and an art show! It was more convention than tournament, and if this was any indication of what to expect from ChannelFireball events, then I’m looking forward to the next year!
As for myself, I started off with some spell-slinging and bounty events, met a lot of other awesome content creators, and participated in multiple Grand Prix. In between rounds, I didn’t dare to go outside because it was 45 degrees Celsius, but fortunately there were nice panels to attend instead.
While spell-slinging, I discovered that my Modern Affinity deck could easily compete with my opponent’s Legacy decks, as long as I added Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas and 12 extra artifact lands. To make room, I removed all Blinkmoths, a few Citadels, a few Glimmervoids, a Drum, a basic land, and a Galvanic Blast. The performance of my deck didn’t surprise me, as I made it to the Top 32 of the last Legacy Grand Prix I played with this Affinity deck. To be fair, that was in 2005, when half of Magic wasn’t printed yet. Nevertheless, I had a positive record in Legacy spell-slinging, and I expect that with some tweaks Affinity could be a serious competitor in the format. It’s probably wise to add a few interactive cards like Ethersworn Canonist or Chalice of the Void to the main deck, but I wouldn’t drift away too far from the tried-and-true Modern version.
Since the Limited GP didn’t go so well for me, I entered the Modern GP instead, allowing me to battle with my favorite deck. Sadly, I had played only a handful of games of Modern in the last half year or so and hadn’t kept up with the recent developments. Multiple players asked me what I thought about the matchup against Grixis Shadow or Eldrazi Tron, and I had to admit that I didn’t even know what cards were in those decks.
Fortunately, I still knew my own deck, and I got some advice from fellow Affinity aficionados Pedro Carvalho, Patrick Dickmann, Justin Robb, and Giuseppe Cerbero. Combining their recommendations with my own (untested) ideas, I registered the following list.
Frank Karsten, 11-4 at Grand Prix Las Vegas
As an alternative to this list, I also considered a burn-heavy version with Galvanic Blast and Shrapnel Blast. The idea of that approach was to burn out Grixis Shadow opponents who would be too liberal with their life total. That list had Sea Gate Wreckage and Inventors’ Fair over Inkmoth Nexus, and Etched Champion over Master of Etherium, with Blood Moon in the sideboard. It’s surely an interesting idea that may be worth testing, but I felt more comfortable with the list above.
— Frank Karsten (@karsten_frank) June 19, 2017
I answer the questions I received below, but first let me explain my overall philosophy. After all, for a colorless deck, my version was surprisingly colorful. In the past, I typically had no more than 6 colored spells in the main deck and preferred cards like Relic of Progenitus over Rest in Peace in the sideboard. That has changed, for two reasons.
First, the printing of Spire of Industry provided the deck with another 5-color land. By cutting a Blinkmoth Nexus for a fifth 5-color land, I got to add more colored spells, increasing the overall power level of the deck. Pedro Carvalho convinced me that the life lost downside of Spire of Industry was not as bad as the occasional forced mulligans caused by Glimmervoid, so I went for a 3-2 split.
Having an extra white source made it easier to include Rest in Peace over Relic of Progenitus, but another factor was that all Modern decks had gotten better over the last few years, while Affinity gained pretty much nothing. Whereas in the past I felt comfortable with an on-synergy card, by now I felt like I needed more power to compete with my opponents. A competent Dredge opponent can easily beat a single Relic of Progenitus, so Rest in Peace may be necessary, even if it doesn’t turn on Mox Opal or Cranial Plating. The anti-synergy with Arcbound Ravager is annoying too, but I could mitigate that by boarding out 1-2 Ravagers in some of the matchups where I’d be boarding in Rest in Peace.
In hindsight, it’s possible that 1 Rest in Peace and 1 Relic of Progenitus is better than 2 Rest in Peace, especially given that multiple copies of the enchantments are dead while Relic can be found with Glint-Nest Crane. Also, Rest in Peace was medium at best when I drew it against a Grixis Shadow opponent. But if decks like Dredge or Gifts Storm are popular, then Rest in Peace is still probably your best bet.
Dispatch in the sideboard seems awesome, how was it for you?
— Parth Khatri (@parthkhatri1) June 19, 2017
I used to have Dismember in this slot, but Primeval Titan and Death’s Shadow have gotten more popular, and they tend to have 6+ toughness. The extra colored source in Spire of Industry also smoothed colored requirements.
At the actual event, I think I only drew Dispatch once, and that was when I only had 2 artifacts in play after a bunch of mulligans and trades. So my experience was bad, but the theory is sound.
I even considered Dispatch for the main deck instead of Galvanic Blast, but I didn’t want to risk having a dead or weak card against part of the Modern metagame. It also didn’t fit the more aggressive orientation of the main deck.
What matchups is the Tezz for? How did it preform for you?
— Mirror Scott🤜🐸 (@skrefetz) June 19, 2017
Planeswalkers are often seen in the sideboard of aggro decks in Standard (Mardu Vehicles is a great example) because opponents often bring in removal spells. As a result, post-board games are more grindy and tend to last longer, which means that planeswalkers have a chance to shine. This insight also applies to Modern.
What proportion of the time is Tezz sitting uncastable in your hand on 4 mana vs castable? And did that matter?
— Alex Capaldi (@ajcapaldi) June 19, 2017
Tezzeret will sit in my hand uncastable on turn 4 in roughly 85% of the games. That’s not ideal, but I still chose to include one. In the matchups where I would bring it in, I would semi-aggressively mulligan to at least 1 colored source anyway, and the nature of the games would be grindy and long. This would give me more time to eventually find the second colored source, I hoped. I never actually drew Tezzeret during the GP, so it’s still a speculative slot.
why no champs mainboard? grixis seems to have been a big % of the meta
— Andy!! (@AyBe) June 19, 2017
Etched Champion is indeed one of your best cards against decks like Grixis Shadow. But it’s weak versus Eldrazi, fast combo decks, and the mirror, and it’s the type of card that simply gets better after sideboard when opponents try to play a more interactive game with cards like Ancient Grudge.
By contrast, Master of Etherium is easy to answer, but it provides a fast clock and it’s never dead. This makes it the perfect game-1 card, when opponents don’t have enough removal to interact with your primary game plan, and it increases the range of opening hands you can keep.
As I explained for Tezzeret, games play out differently post-board. For these reasons, I prefer to have Etched Champion in the sideboard when possible.
With all the death shadow decks and their 1-for-1s do you think a tempered steel version of affinity could be good in the current meta?
— Josh temple (@templeofdeceit) June 19, 2017
Tempered Steel isn’t particularly good if opponents use 1-for-1 removal to deal with each and every one of your creatures.
The biggest issue with Tempered Steel has always been the mana base. Unless you’re willing to replace all copies of Blinkmoth Nexus with white sources (which is an approach that I wouldn’t recommend), I don’t think you can cast Tempered Steel consistently enough.
I'm playtest with chalice of the void in sideboard and like it. Do you test this or another things in your side?
— Celso Godoy Jr. (@celsogodoyjr) June 19, 2017
I didn’t test anything this year. That said, Chalice of the Void has been in my sideboard before, and I used to like it against decks like Living End or the old mono-1-drop Death’s Shadow Zoo lists. Against Grixis Shadow, the card is good when you’re on the play and I would board it in, but I don’t think it’s exciting enough to dedicate a slot to it.
How real were the cranes? I've played two main and they were good, but not great.
— Spencer Zimmerman (@Spencer_AZ) June 19, 2017
I cast Glint-Nest Crane exactly once at the Grand Prix, but it was stellar in that game. It carried a Plating and helped me recover from my opponent’s removal spells. It was better than Thoughtcast, at least. In theory, the Crane should be good versus Grixis Shadow and the mirror match. But I wouldn’t play more than 2 because of mana curve reasons.
Thank you for all the questions—now let’s continue to sideboard plans!
The following piece of paper was folded in my deck box. I never follow this blindly, but I always like to have a baseline to start from. I also used these sideboard notes to jog my memory on popular sideboard cards that I might face.
Mani Davoudi, the Modern GP winner, told me that everything about his deck felt just right, and the card choices in his list also seems perfectly reasonable to me. There are some differences, but they are minor and can come down to personal preferences.
Saturday June 24: Home
Although I’m flying to Japan on July 19 and I will be racking up even more miles in the months thereafter, it’s going to be good to be home for several weeks. Travel is fun, but it takes a toll.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back with Hour of Devastation brews next week!