Grand Prix Lille just concluded, and left me just shy of a Top 8—my first in a Grand Prix—surpassing my expectations.

I had a mediocre Day 1 where I finished 6-2, but Day 2 was another story: I had good draws and played at my peak, but after my 6-0 start on Day 2 the wheels fell off against Carlos Moral in round 15, where I was defeated after a heartbreaking game 3.

To many of you, it might seem weird for a Platinum player with three Pro Tour Top 8s and two Worlds appearances to have never Top 8’d a GP after 66 tries (yes, I count them) but the truth is that I never practice much for GPs, whereas I work way harder in preparation for Pro Tours. It’s also worth noting that European GPs are enormous, and the only two times I’ve been 12-2, I couldn’t ID and lost that crucial round.

I firmly believe that Magic is not about talent. It’s about preparation, and GP Lille was proof. Since I finished all of my studies, I only focused on Magic and I did 52 Standard Leagues on Magic Online in preparation for GP Lille and Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica, with a win percentage of 65% (yes, I have them all listed in a spreadsheet that Excel master Zen Takahashi prepared for the team), and going into GP Lille, I was more confident than I had ever been for a Grand Prix.

The main motivation for working this hard is my friend and teammate, World Champion Javier Dominguez, whom I’ll join in Valencia tomorrow. Javier joined our team roughly two years ago, and I’ve watched him grow quickly ever since. He plays Magic Online every day, reads every article online, listens to every bit of information, and despite his success remains humble. His results are astonishing. I look up to him, as should every Magic player.

Not everyone can afford to dedicate themselves to a game day and night, but since I am one of the blessed few, I will work as hard as I can to one day realize my dream of Top 8’ing a Grand Prix.

But let’s get back to my deck list and card choices:

B/G Midrange

Andrea Mengucci, 15th place at GP Lille

After trying many different options, from Boros Aggro to U/R Phoenix, I decided to settle on the archetype I feel most confident with: B/G Midrange. B/G Midrange is a strong deck that can never be the wrong choice. It has good matchups versus the white and red aggro deck and generally suffers against control decks, but you have tools to fight them.

I’ve played Llanowar Elves since Day 1 and I’ve never changed my mind. It’s close to a Time Walk in the mirror match. Playing an early planeswalker can create an advantage that’s too hard to recover from, even after a Vraska’s Contempt, and helps you double-spell, which is crucial. Against aggressive decks it helps you cast your Ravenous Chupacabra on turn 3 or your Finality on turn 5. Versus U/R Phoenix it lets you ramp to a Carnage Tyrant and race. It is bad against any deck with Deafening Clarion, and in those matchups you do sideboard it out. I am positive that Llanowar Elves is the way to go if you want to play B/G Midrange.

I’m also very high on Carnage Tyrant. It is the reason why control decks don’t dominate the format. I played versus Jeskai Control seven times at GP Lille, and ended up 5-2 against them. Their deck sometimes betrayed them with too few or too many lands, whereas my deck can control its draw steps a little bit better thanks to explore. My wins were mostly thanks to Carnage Tyrant, which plays around countermagic and forces them to react, often with two spells (two Deafening Clarion or one plus Expansion // Explosion), and once they tap out to answer your first Carnage Tyrant, you drop a planeswalker or another Carnage Tyrant (you can buy it back with Find // Finality, Memorial to Folly, or Golgari Findbroker) to put them in a tough spot.

Some other games go in a different direction, and if Jeskai Control manages to answer all of your early threats and protect a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, they’ll snowball the game and Carnage Tyrant won’t be enough.

Other than my last round loss, where my opponent Carlos Moral played masterfully—I’m not sure many other players would have won that game—I picked up my other loss against Jeskai Azor’s Gateway, where a Detection Tower got the best of me, paired with Justice Strike and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria to get rid of my Carnage Tyrants.

The Golgari vs. Jeskai matchup is one of the most challenging in the format, and reminds me a lot of last summer’s Temur Energy vs. U/B Control matchups. It’s a grind fest that’s very hard to navigate.

The last matchup I want to talk about is white aggressive decks. They’re very good versus Jeskai Control, but they struggle against some cards, such as Finality or Golden Demise. I played against white aggro a lot on Magic Online and just once at the GP (in round 14). The matchup revolves around Wildgrowth Walker, which is a nightmare your opponent has to answer, or they won’t be able to race you. Tocatli Honor Guard is now the most played card in these white aggro decks, and that’s why you need cheap removal spells and Vraska, Golgari Queen in your deck.

This weekend it’ll be GP Atlanta. I try to play every nearby GP, and I could never miss one in the same city as the Pro Tour.

This GP was first scheduled to be a Limited one, but now Wizards thinks Magic players only care about Modern, and if you take a look at the GP schedule for next year you have to work very hard to find a non-Modern GP. I hope they realize soon that with the advent of MTG Arena and the rotation of Kaladesh, Magic players will start liking Standard again, and that in order for competitive Magic to continue, we need competitive Limited events.