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Grand Prix Quebec City
Day 1 Coverage

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  • Saturday, 10:47 a.m. – Grand Prix Quebec City Winning Grinder Decklists

    by Nate Price



  • Derek Foot
    GP Quebec City Winning Grinder Decklists





     

  • Saturday, 2:03 p.m. – View from the Top: Round 3

    by Nate Price


  • Two rounds are in the books here in Quebec City, and we've got a healthy variety of Standard decks floating around the room. Just as at Pro Tour Gatecrash last weekend, there are a few decks that seem to be out in slightly larger numbers than others, but there is still an incredible amount of both variety and parity amongst the decks in the field. After this round, a number of new players will join the top tables after having sat out their three byes. Before that happens, let's get a quick look at how the top twenty tables look.

    Esper Control - 7

    Wolf Run Bant – 6

    Jund Midrange – 5

    UWR – 4

    Humans Reanimator – 4

    Jund Aggro – 3

    Naya Midrange – 2

    Saito Zoo – 2

    The Aristocrats – 2

    BWR Aggro – 1

    UW Humans – 1

    Bant Auras – 1

    Gruul Aggro – 1

    BUG Control - 1

    Not a bad spread. As expected, the big decks from the previous week are again out in force. Esper Control tops the list, followed closely by Wolf RunBant, Jund Midrange, and UWR. All of these decks had a large amount of success in Montreal, each represented in the Top 8 of the Pro Tour. The surprise so far is the resurgence of Humans Reanimator as a major player. Reanimator decks were fairly strong towards the middle to late part of last season's Standard metagame, but they fell off sharply, hardly making a blip on the radar at Pro Tour Gatecrash. This is understandable. Though bolstered by the addition of Cartel Aristocrat and Burning-Tree Emissary, the Reanimator strategy can be difficult to run if the format is unknown. After seeing the relative lack of both the Reanimator strategy and hate for it at the Pro Tour, it is perfectly reasonable for players to believe that the deck is positioned well for this Grand Prix.

    That being said, here's a quick breakdown of the things that make the biggest of these decks tick:

    Esper Control – Runs a suite of spot removal, such as Devour Flesh, Victim of Night, and Ultimate Price. Mass removal includes Supreme Verdict and the occasional Planar Cleansing. Traditional kill condition is Nephalia Drownyard. Standard creature package is Augur of Bolas, Snapcaster Mage, and Restoration Angel. Other control elements include a small variety of counterspells and a reliance on Sphinx's Revelation.

    Wolf Run Bant – An evolution of the previous Bant Control that takes advantage of Stomping Ground to activate Kessig Wolf Run. This gives the Wolf RunBant deck a way to close games quickly, something it previously lacked. The deck tends to be a more creature-based version of control, using the Thragtusk/Restoration Angel engine to tie up the board and gain life. Other than that, the standard control backbone of Augur of Bolas, Snapcaster Mage, Supreme Verdict, and Sphinx's Revelation supports the deck.

    Jund Midrange – Running cards like Olivia Voldaren, Bonfire of the Damned, and Thragtusk, this version of Jund is designed to go bigger than the aggressive decks while still possessing large enough threats and disruption to take the control decks on. Just like early iterations of Jund, the deck tends to rely on one-for-one removal spells to control the board, like Abrupt Decay, Dreadbore, and Ulitmate Price.

    UWR – UWR has many versions which are slight variations on one another. The creature base is generally built from a pool containing Augur of Bolas, Snapcaster Mage, Restoration Angel, Boros Reckoner, and Geist of Saint Traft. Supreme Verdict, Mizzium Mortars, Azorius Charm, and Izzet Charm provide protection, while Sphinx's Revelation keeps hands full and life totals high. Most have a one-shot finishing combo that involves Boros Reckoner and either Blasphemous Act or Harvest Pyre.

    Humans Reanimator – Reanimation-based deck that uses Angel of Glory's Rise, Fiend Hunter, and Cartel Aristocrat to set up an infinite recursion loop. Add in Huntmaster of the Fells to gain infinite life and 2/2s, or Falkenrath Aristocrat to get an unnecessarily large, hasty attacker.

    Jund Aggro – This version of Jund is fully aggressive, using Burning-Tree Emissary to power out incredibly fast starts supported by a hasty suite of Flinthoof Boars and Dreg Manglers. Other cheap, yet powerful, creatures, such as Experiment One and Rakdos Cackler, round out the creature base. These are supported by Dreadbore, Searing Spear, and Ghor-Clan Rampager, which allow this deck to punch through and finish wounded opponents.

    Saito Zoo – Playing nearly all creatures, Saito Zoo runs many of the same creatures that make up the Jund Aggro list. In place of Experiment One and Ghor-Clan Rampager, Saito Zoo leans on Loxodon Smiter, Boros Reckoner, and the deceptively large Gyre Sage to put pressure on opponents. The only spells in the deck tend to be Mizzium Mortars, which gives an advantage in the creature mirrors, and Domri Rade, which takes advantage of the large number of creatures in the deck to get maximum value out of his first ability.

    The Aristocrats – Designed by Sam Black, the Aristocrats is built on a couple of the most powerful creatures in the format, Falkenrath Aristocrat and Champion of the Parish, and a cadre of cards that interact with them in an incredibly synergistic manner. Cards like Doomed Traveler and Orzhov Charm provide the deck with a large number of options in order to cope in most situations. Rounding the deck out is the Boros Reckoner/Blasphemous Act combo, which is often capable of finishing opponents off out of nowhere.




     

  • Saturday, 2:28 p.m. – Early Lessons from the Pro Tour

    by Nate Price

  • Magic is at its heart a game of information. Each event that is played adds more data to the ever-growing pool of information that players use to make their decisions: decisions about decks, decisions about how to draft, even decisions about who to prepare with. Last week, Pro Tour Gatecrash took place, giving us the first professional level event to feature the new Gatecrash Standard format. Here in Quebec City, just one week later, we have a chance to see what players have gleaned from the multitude of new things learned in Montreal.


    Justin Cheung

    "I played in Montreal," Grinder winner Justin Cheung informed me, "But I have switched decks since then."

    Originally on Jund Midrange, which he declared to be a "safe choice," Cheung switched to a controllish build of UWR reminiscent of Gerry Thompson's Top 8 deck to secure his three byes here in Quebec City.

    "Two of my three losses at the Pro Tour were to this deck," he conceded. "After seeing the deck in action, I understand how powerful it is. Plus, I really like the style of the deck. I was always a big Faeries player, and this deck has a very similar feel to it. I like decks that do a lot at instant speed, that always seem to be scrambling to pull ahead, and this UWR deck is a lot like that."

    We saw a number of variations on UWR in Montreal, ranging from heavy control to full-on aggro. All benefited greatly from Gatecrash's favorite son, Boros Reckoner, but they differed somewhat in how they used him. Cheung admitted that this version, which errs on the control side of the spectrum, though not as hardcore as decks like the ones played by Makihito Mihara or the Slovak and Czech contingents. As such, finding one that fits your personal play style is academic.

    Still, Cheung realizes the deck's weak spots.

    "I don't really want to see many Reanimator decks," he explained. "This deck has answers to the strategy, but they aren't incredibly reliable. I had a couple of answer in my sideboard, too. How many answers players are packing in their sideboards to deal with Reanimator is a pretty good way to judge both how good and how played the deck is at the time. Right now, I'm not expecting to see too much of it."

    Another player that certainly took a lesson home from the previous week is Frédéric Mercier, who used his newfound knowledge and experience to win a Grinder of his own.


    Frédéric Mercier

    "I played Bant Control over the weekend in Montreal," Mercier explained, "But I decided to switch to Esper Control this weekend, specifically the version Ben Stark played."

    Esper Control wasn't exactly a breakout deck this past weekend, having been a major player in the format throughout much of the second half of last season's Standard, but it did have some interesting innovations that secured Ben Stark a spot in the Top 8 last week.

    "It is a better control deck than Bant in my mind," Mercier told me. "Bant is too reliant on creatures, which puts it a step behind against Esper. My deck has enough removal to deal with the more aggressive decks in the format, so it can certainly deal with those in Bant Control. I'm not running any planeswalkers in my maindeck, just like Ben Stark, and I'm running Planar Cleansing. It's a great card in the control matchups, able to deal with both opposing planeswalkers, Detention Spheres, and Witchbane Orbs. It's also another sweeper against the aggressive decks."

    The removal suite used by the Esper deck is one of the big reasons that Mercier wanted to play the deck in this Standard.

    "Standard is speeding up," he told me, "And the rest of the decks need to be able to deal with that."

    With the full suite of spot removal, a set of Supreme Verdicts, and Planar Cleansings, Esper has the tools necessary to crush the aggressive decks. It also runs perhaps the best strategy to win the control mirror matches Nephalia Drownyard. This one-two punch of answers leaves Esper Control as perhaps the most complete deck in Standard right now.

    Not everyone came away from last week looking to change their stance on Standard. Ari Lax, coming off of a strong performance at the Pro Tour, said that, if nothing else, the Pro Tour provided proof that he and his team had put in enough work.


    Ari Lax

    "It's not fair to say that I didn't learn anything from the Pro Tour," Lax said after some thought. "It was more of a culmination that the things we thought about how the new Standard was going to look were correct. We had a version of virtually all the decks at the event, the only real exceptions being Conley's deck and Bant Control. We didn't think Bant was viable in Standard so no one in our group built it. I guess you could say we learned that it is a real deck."

    Those things that were expected at the Pro Tour? Boros Reckoner was going to be a real card. Esper Control was going to have the tools needed to be a legitimate deck. Burning-Tree Emissary was going to add immensely to aggressive decks. These are just a few of the supposed truths of the format that we all learned to be true. With all of the work that Lax and his team put into preparing for the Pro Tour, it's no wonder that they made the correct read.

    This just goes to prove that there is always something to take away from an event, that opinions can always change. Even with a tremendous amount of work under your belt, you never know what might surprise you. As this event continues, it remains to be seen just what else players have learned from the previous week. It may be something big, such as a new, breakout deck. It may be something as simple as a few sideboard changes to account for a difference in expectations. Who knows? In any case, once this event is done, yet one more event will be in the books, providing yet more data to the growing pool of knowledge about Standard. And if you're smart, like Lax, Mercier, and Cheung, you'll take heed of this new information. Maybe your opinions, like theirs, will change.




     

  • Saturday, 4:07 p.m. – Quick Question: What do you think of Standard right now?

    by Josh Bennett

  • Jesse Hampton: It's decent. I wish the aggro decks weren't so explosive.
    Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa: I like it. All the decks are good, you can play what you want. All the games are interesting and you have to make good decisions.
    Robert Van Medevoort: I think the power level of cards is too high. I wish that the games were going longer.
    Shahar Shenhar: It's very diverse. There are 5-6 good decks, but nothing is way better than the others. I think it means you should stick with a deck you like and really champion it.
    Reid Duke: It's great. One of the best Standard formats I can remember.
    Ivan Floch: I don't know the metagame has changed since the Pro Tour, but the aggro decks are so good and not enough people were playing them.



     

  • Saturday, 5:24 p.m. – A Closer Look at Azorius Charm

    by Josh Bennett

  • When you watch a game of Magic, it's the big plays that stand out. The curve-out opening of an aggro deck that puts the control player on the back foot. The counter war over a game-ending threat. The surprise Restoration Angel that ambushes an attack, completely flipping the script. It's easy to gloss over the nuts-and-bolts cards that helped get the game to that position, and why they are so important. One such inconspicuous roleplayer is the humble Azorius Charm, who appears as a 4-of in control decks of both the Esper and Blue-White-Red varieties.

    I tracked down Pro Tour Philadelphia Champion Samuele Estratti to ask him about Azorius Charm in Esper. I had barely mentioned the card before he started nodding, explaining that it was very important to the deck. The first thing he mentioned was the ability to cash it in for a card. Esper wants to hit all of its land drops, so the fact that the Charm smooths out those early draws makes the "cycling" ability a major feature rather than an afterthought. It also means that your removal spell isn't useless against another dedicated control deck. In some aggressive matchups, you'll play Snapcaster Mage early because you need to trade it off for a creature, and the Charm gives you a cantrip in your graveyard to go up a card on the deal.

    Estratti went on to explain that naturally the removal mode of the card is the heart of things. Putting a creature back on top of their library might seem like just delaying the inevitable, especially in control decks such as these with so little countermagic, but Estratti waved those concerns away. First of all, the presence of cards like Nephalia Drownyard, Thought Scour and Jace, Memory Adept let Azorius Charm act as permanent removal in the late game. Secondly, even against the format's marquee haste creatures Falkenrath Aristocrat and Thundermaw Hellkite the Charm gives you a cheap reprieve for turns where you tap low, allowing you to untap a confront them with all your mana available. Lastly, in a deck with Sphinx's Revelation, your most important resource is time. If the game goes long, the Revelation will take control, so trading your card for theirs to buy a turn is often exactly what you're looking for.

    For the Blue-White-Red side of the story, I found Pro Tour Dark Ascension Top 8'er Matt Costa. He echoed a lot of Estratti's comments, and called Azorius Charm "The glue that holds the Blue-White control decks together". He, too, led off with the cycling ability. Sphinx's Revelation is your key card, so you want as many lands in play as possible when the time comes to play it.

    However, because Blue-White-Red has more creatures than Esper, the instant speed removal side of things gets even more interesting. Many aggressive decks are playing ways to get an edge in combat, such as Ghor-Clan Rampager in Aggro-Jund or even Giant Growth (remember that card?) in the ascendant Naya Humans deck. Reversing those advantages is tremendously powerful. You can even catch Gruul and Mono-Red trying some Volcanic Strength shenanigans. You also get to reset the format's growing creatures, such as Champion of the Parish, Experiment One and Gyre Sage. Not only do you deny them a strong attack, but you saddle them with a draw of a card that they might rather not have. The turn-five Experiment One is much worse than the turn-one.

    Another subtlety to the removal mode that Costa explained was the way it allows you steer your opponent's development. In a lot of games, a Snapcaster Mage flashing back Azorius Charm on an attack will put your opponent in a place where they're forced to commit two more creatures to the board or risk giving you too much time. As soon as they overcommit, Supreme Verdict will punish them. Costa explained that you'll often play an Azorius Charm in order to set up a Supreme Verdict two turns from away. He also mentioned that even against haste creatures, having a two-mana spell that can protect your Jace or face for a crucial turn can set up the backbreaking Sphinx's Revelation.

    Lastly, Costa was emphatic about the lifelink-granting ability. Estratti had said that in Esper, this really is a corner case because of their low creature count. However, in Blue-White-Red it is vital. After all, Blue-White-Red often wins by racing, and the Charm represents and immense life swing. Even with only a single Restoration Angel out, it can give you the three life that will make all the difference against a red deck trying to find those last few points of burn.

    So while Azorius Charm might not be the splashiest card, it works to lay the groundwork for these control decks. It's a little spell that fills a lot of holes, and allows control to play the game on its own terms.




     

  • Saturday, 5:31 p.m. – View from the Top: Round 6

    by Nate Price

  • Three rounds have passed since we first checked in with the top tables, and there has been some significant movement within the ranks. Here's a glance at the previous breakdown:

    Esper Control - 7

    Wolf Run Bant – 6

    Jund Midrange – 5

    UWR – 4

    Humans Reanimator – 4

    Jund Aggro – 3

    Naya Midrange – 2

    Saito Zoo – 2

    The Aristocrats – 2

    BWR Aggro – 1

    UW Humans – 1

    Bant Auras – 1

    Gruul Aggro – 1

    BUG Control - 1

    Once the three bye crowd joined the fray, things shifted just a touch, resulting in the following for Round 4:

    UWR – 6

    Jund Aggro – 5

    Wolf Run Bant – 5

    Humans Reanimator – 5

    Jund Midrange – 4

    Esper Control – 4

    Gruul Aggro – 3

    The Aristocrats – 2

    Naya Midrange – 2

    Saito Zoo – 2

    Four-color Control – 1

    Naya Humans – 1

    The addition of the three-bye crowd, combined with the fact that there were still a reasonable number of undefeated players that weren't at the top twenty tables, made it difficult to draw any true conclusions from this new breakdown, but its similarity to the data from the previous round was worth noting. Nothing major seemed to have happened yet, but that was not true for long. Here's how things looked at the beginning of Round 5:

    Jund Midrange – 9

    UWR – 5

    Humans Reanimator – 5

    Esper Control – 4

    Wolf Run Bant – 3

    Jund Aggro – 3

    Naya Humans – 3

    Gruul Aggro – 3

    Saito Zoo – 2

    RB Aggro – 1

    Bant Auras – 1

    Naya Midrange – 1

    Here we see our first significant movement of the tournament. Jund Midrange leapt up from a middle of the pack four players to a dominating nine. Jund Aggro, meanwhile, dipped slightly, dropping from five players to three. While it might have been easy to dismiss this massive increase in Jund Midrange as a fluke, the results from Round 6 confirm what is clearly a trend, and not a one-time thing:

    Jund Midrange – 10

    UWR – 7

    Jund Aggro – 5

    Esper Control – 4

    Saito Zoo – 3

    Humans Reanimator – 3

    The Aristocrats – 2

    Naya Humans – 2

    Wolf Run Bant – 2

    Gruul Aggro – 2

    Yet again, Jund Midrange tops the tables by a large margin. While Jund Aggro rebounded slightly from the dip it experienced in the previous round, Wolf Run Bant continued its gradual decline. Joining it this time around was the Humans Reanimator strategy that was so surprising to see in such force. Other than these movers, there was very little else that was surprising. UWR continued to be solid, along with Saito Zoo, Gruul, and Naya Humans. The accessory decks on the list continued to rotate in and out, as expected, but none have really gained a foothold. As the number of undefeated players continues to wane, things will come even further into focus. Will Jund Midrange continue to sit atop the standings, or will it experience a fall? Will Bant continue to slide off of the top tables, or will it resurface later in the weekend? We'll keep monitoring the composition of the tables as the tournament progresses in hopes of answering these questions and more. Remember to keep checking back throughout the weekend to see which decks are surging, and which are failing, here at Grand Prix Quebec City!




     

  • Saturday, 5:57 p.m. – Quick Question: What deck was the most important to be prepared for this weekend?

    by Josh Bennett

  • Matt Nass: Can I name two? Jund Midrange and Esper Control.
    Jon Stern: Really any Sphinx's Revelation deck.
    Reid Duke: Jund Midrange. It's a very safe deck, and the play is straightforward.
    Shahar Shenhar: Blue-White-Red, because good players will be playing it.
    Willy Edel: Jund Midrange. I don't think it's that good, but it will be popular.
    Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa: Not any one deck. It's more important to make sure you have game against a variety of decks.



     

  • Round 6 Feature Match – Shi-Tian Lee vs Jon Stern

    by Josh Bennett

  • It's been a great few months for Jon "Canada's Pride" Stern: A Top 8 at Grand Prix Toronto, hoisting the trophy at Grand Prix Atlantic City, and lastly a 13th place finish at Pro Tour Gatecrash last weekend. He's decided to stick with the Jund deck that served him so well last weekend. His opponent this round is GP Taipei 2012 Top 8'er Shi-Tian Lee, playing the revamped Human Reanimator deck. Following the Pro Tour, his group innovated the inclusion of Burning-Tree Emissary and Undercity Informer.

    The combo works like this: In your graveyard are Fiend Hunter, Burning-Tree Shaman, Undercity Informer and Angel of Glory's Rise. You reanimate the Angel, which brings back the other three humans. You get two mana from the Emissary. Your Fiend Hunter exiles the Angel, and then you use the two mana to sacrifice both Emissary and Fiend Hunter to Undercity Informer, grinding your opponent twice. The Angel comes back into play, and brings back Fiend Hunter and Burning-Tree Emissary. Repeat until your opponent has no cards. You can add in Huntmaster of the Fells and a second Emissary to get infinite mana, infinite life and infinite wolves, if that's something you'd be interested in.


    Jon Stern

    Lee was kicking himself that he didn't have this deck at the Pro Tour, but he believes it's still very well-suited to the metagame. "Against the control decks, game one is just a free win." The combo is fast, reliable, and difficult to disrupt. Lee says the only matchup he fears is Mono-Red, because it is a turn too fast. Lucky for him, Mono-Red is somewhat out of fashion these days. Also playing this well-positioned powerhouse are Tzu Ching Kuo, Hao-Shan Huang and Pascal Maynard.

    Lee won the roll and chose to play. He led off with Blood Crypt and Faithless Looting, pitching Angel of Glory's Rise and Cavern of Souls. After a tapped land from Stern, Lee played Burning-Tree Emissary into Mulch. He flipped Overgrown Tomb, Fiend Hunter, Undercity Informer and Burning-Tree Emissary. It was practically a perfect Mulch. All the pieces were now in Lee's graveyard. All he needed was an Unburial Rites. Stern simply played out lands and passed.

    Lee played an end-of-turn Grisly Salvage on Stern's third turn, turning over Woodland Cemetery, Fiend Hunter, Angel of Glory's Rise, Farseek, and Temple Garden, which he took. Next came flashback on Faithless Looting, pitching Stomping Ground and Undercity Informer. Stern played his fourth land and made his first move of the match, a Huntmaster of the Fells. It was also his last, as Lee played his fifth land and cast Rites targetting the Angel. He laid out the combo, tucking Angel under one Fiend Hunter, Burning-Tree Emissary under the other, demonstrating the loop. Stern scooped.

    Lee 1 - Stern 0

    Stern sent back his first seven cards, then agonized over his six. "This is really bad." He couldn't bring himself to keep them. The five were no good either. He stayed on four.

    He led with Woodland Cemetery, then played a second-turn Deathrite Shaman. Lee was ready with Abrupt Decay. Stern played Farseek and passed without playing a fourth land. Lee took two to get his Stomping Ground in untapped, then summoned burning Tree Shaman and Undercity Informer. Stern untapped, played a fourth land, and summoned Huntmaster of the Fells.


    Shi-Tian Lee

    Lee frowned as he untapped. He was stuck on three land, and his draw step gave no help. He attacked for four and passed. Stern's Huntmaster flipped, dealing two to Lee and his Emissary. Lee sacrificed it to his Informer, milling a few extra cards into his bin, then played Abrupt Decay on the Werewolf. Stern Duressed, catching Unburial Rites and seeing Angel of Glory's Rise, Burning-Tree Emissary and Thragtusk. He hit for two and passed, facing an uphill battle.

    Unfortunately for Stern, Lee's deck would not abandon him. It served up Faithless Looting, which found a Sacred Foundry. Lee paid two to use it straight away, flashing back the Looting to dig deeper. Stern hit for two and passed. Lee flashed back Unburial Rites on his Angel, getting back two Emissaries and a Huntmaster. The four mana let him cast and flash back a newly-drawn Faithless Looting, pitching Fiend Hunter, Restoration Angel, Huntmaster of the Fells and Burning-Tree Emissary. Stern played his fifth land and a Thragtusk, and watched as Lee sacrificed creatures to mill himself into a second Unburial Rites now that the combo was in place, and scooped.

    Afterwards, both players agreed that it was an absolutely brutal matchup for Jund.

    Shi-Tian Lee defeats Jon Stern 2-0




     

  • Saturday, 7:38 p.m. – A Closer Look at Burning-Tree Emissary

    by Nate Price

  • I love innocuously powerful cards. I love it when some little dork with an ability that doesn't seem incredibly powerful just goes and makes an incredible splash in Magic. I'm not talking cards like Thragtusk, Falkenrath Aristocrat, or Boros Reckoner. There is no way you could possibly look at those cards and not see their inherent power. I'm talking creatures like Deathrite Shaman. If you were able to see the Shaman's ability to absolutely dominate Modern and Legacy like it has, buy a lottery ticket, because you had to be seeing the future.

    What draws me to these creatures so much is the fact that for them to prosper they have to be in the right situation. Take Deathrite Shaman. He's not the most powerful creature in Standard. In fact, there are only a couple of decks that are really taking a gamble and playing it. Yet in Modern, it's one of the most powerful creatures you can play. The only difference is the environments. Modern has cards like Polluted Delta and Flood Plains, which allow you to take advantage of the mana acceleration and fixing. It also has a reasonable number of powerful graveyard-based strategies. Standard has neither of these, thus the power and value of the Shaman is much lower in Standard.

    Gatecrash hit professional-level Standard last week, bringing with it a new burst of power. Reeking with obvious power, Boros Reckoner was the Andrew Luck of Gatecrash, ridiculously hyped, yet living up to expectations. Stomping Ground and Sacred Foundry provided some much-needed relief to mana bases across the board, giving Bant access to Kessig Wolf Run and enabling decks to actually overload Mizzium Mortars. Somewhere in there, a little 2/2 for two mana quietly pushed green-based aggressive decks over the top, giving birth to the new, faster face of aggro in Standard.

    At first glance, Burning-Tree Emissary isn't an obviously powerful card. It's not the flashiest card. It doesn't have ridiculously strong abilities like the Reckoner. It's a mere 2/2 in a format dominated by 3/3s and larger creatures. It's easy to doubt the impact that an innocuous card like the Emissary can have. But then you see it in action, and all doubts are erased. The first time you see someone go Burning-Tree Emissary into Burning-Tree Emissary into a 3/3 Flinthoof Boar, you feel that tingle of excitement. A picture begins to form...

    "A 2/2 for two isn't generally something you'd want to be playing in Standard right now," explained Ari Lax, who ran Gruul Aggro at Pro Tour Gatecrash. "When you combine it with the rest of the cards in the deck, though, it becomes really powerful. "

    Burning-Tree Emissary is at the core of some of the most exciting starts that Standard Magic has to offer. As a virtually free creature, the Emissary enables players to add two or more significantly-sized creatures to the table in one fell swoop. As such, it allows for crushing turn two plays, often resulting in enough clout to kill before Supreme Verdict gets online. Before the Emissary, it was difficult for aggressive decks in Standard to stay ahead of the removal they would have to face, often playing one threat a turn into one removal spell a turn from opponents. The Emissary skirts that, giving the aggressive decks the lead they need to get opponents dangerously low before they clear things away, assuming they do at all. It's ironic that in a world that had been previously sped up by one-drops, a two-drop reigns supreme.

    "In Gruul Aggro, the starts that the Emissary makes happen can be really powerful," Lax told me. "Once you use the Emissary to help load up the board, the deck is designed to help punch through any defenses an opponent sets up. Searing Spear, Dreadbore, and Ghor-Clan Rampager make sure that the creatures you play are able to get through. When everybody is trying to survive the early game by using one-for-one removal spells, getting to play more than one threat in a turn, like the Emissary allows, is really powerful."

    The Emissary is also incredibly versatile. Thanks to the hybrid mana cost, it can easily slip into multiple types of decks, from Gruul Aggro to Naya Humans to the four-color Humans Reanimator deck. It can even be used to fix mana in some situations, enabling a Naya deck stuck without a source of green to cast a Loxodon Smiter on the third turn. Interestingly, while the outcome is different for each deck playing it, the rationale behind playing the Emissary is the same: it is a two-mana two-drop that generates two mana when it comes into play. The aggressive decks use this to power out additional creatures. The Reanimator decks use it as a mana engine, looping its recursion to generate an obscene amount of mana.

    All of this value from an innocent little 2/2. It's not the showiest card in Standard, but the format wouldn't be the same without it.




     

  • Round 8 Feature Match – Nico Christiansen vs. Shi Tian Lee

    by Nate Price

  • This match featured two of the surprise decks of the field, both Human-based tribal decks. Nico Christiansen, from Boston, Massechussets, came sporting the hyper-aggressive Naya Humans deck popularized by Brad Nelson. The deck had been a possibility offered up by Nelson when Gatecrash was spoiled, but it didn't really see a tremendous amount of play last week at the Pro Tour. Despite that, it has been performing admirably on Magic Online, prompting many players to sleeve it up to take a run at the current Standard Field.

    Opposite Christiansen is Shi Tian Lee, a Hong Kong native with a Grand Prix win and Pro Tour Top 8 under his belt. Lee's weapon of choice was the Humans Reanimator deck that had been creeping into popularity in the days leading up to Pro Tour Gatecrash. Given its poor representation there, many players, including the cadre from Chinese Taipei, feel that it is underrated enough to pose a threat in the current Standard metagame. A variation on the Angel of Glory's Rise combo decks of the past year, this new version simplifies matters by adding a trio of Gatecrash cards. Cartel Aristocrat provides a cheap, human sacrifice outlet. Burning-Tree Emissary serves to provide infinite mana when cycled along with the combo. Once there's enough mana floating around in there, Undercity Informer allows for enough activations to completely mill an opponent out.


    Shi-Tian Lee

    Christiansen was on the board first, taking a shock from his Temple Garden to cast a first-turn Experiment One. His next land, a Sacred Foundry, also came into play untapped, allowing him to explode with a Burning-Tree Emissary and a Mayor of Avabruck. He evolved his Exeriment One once and sent it in at Lee.

    Already under immense pressure on only his second turn, Lee went deep into thought before playing his second land. After a deal of thought, he simply declined to play a land and passed his turn. When he discarded a Farseek rather than a creature, it seemed likely that he had kept a one-land hand that simply hadn't panned out. Christiansen moved into his draw step immediately after Lee's discard, forgetting to trigger his Mayor of Avabruck. He called the judge (who happened to be Hall-of-Famer Bram Snepvangers) in order to let him know what had happened, and was told that since he missed his trigger, the Mayor would not transform. After making a Frontline Medic, Christiansen attacked Lee down to under 10. Ultimately, Christiansen's error would not cost him, as Lee failed yet again to make a second land, scooping his cards up with a face that understood what he had gotten himself into.

    Nico Christiansen 1 – Shi-Tian Lee 0

    "That hand..." Lee sighed as he shuffled his cards up for the second game. With at least one Farseek in his hand, it seems that he figured that his hand was acceptable if he drew a land within the first two turns. Being on the draw helped his decision, but it didn't pan out the way he had hoped. He was on the play for the second game of the match, and would likely have to throw back a similar hand to his last one if given the opportunity.

    After deciding not to throw his first-game hand back on the draw, Lee opted to go back for a better six now that he was on the play. His second wasn't any better, and he soon found himself going to five cards with a heavy sigh...


    Nico Christiansen

    Down two cards on the play, Lee began with a Cavern of Souls naming Human. Christiansen matched him, adding an Experiment One to his side. Lee found himself a couple of additional lands after a Farseek, but hadn't set about filling his graveyard with anything. Christiansen, meanwhile, kept the pressure on. Burning-Tree Emissary powered out a Lightning Mauler, both pairing and swinging in. When Christiansen tried the same attack on the following turn, an Abrupt Decay ate the Experiment One, reducing Christiansen to two creatures. Lee was on four life, but he managed to shoot up a little after landing a Thragtusk. Despite adding a little padding to his life total, Lee was still far too much behind to actually stabilize, and an attack and a Searing Spear finished Lee off.

    Nico Christiansen 2 – Shi Tian Lee 0

    After the match, Lee revealed that he had actually had lands to play in his very first hand of the match, but chose not to play them. After seeing Christiansen's incredibly fast start and comparing it to his hand, Lee decided to give away as little information as possible in hopes that Christiansen would incorrectly sideboard for the second game. This turned out to be exactly what happened, as Christiansen incorrectly put Lee on Jund after seeing only Overgrown Tomb and Farseek. Unfortunately, Lee's mulligans made for an anticlimactic end for a reasonably sound tactical decision.




     

  • Saturday, 9:27 p.m. – View from the Top: End of Day 1

    by Nate Price

  • Nine rounds have passed since the beginning of the day, bringing the first half of Grand Prix Quebec City to a close. We've been tracking the trends on the top twenty tables throughout the day, and, as things have drawn to a close, we have gotten to the point when the trends we notice have become far more relevant. Here's how things stood at the end of Round 6:

    Jund Midrange – 10

    UWR – 7

    Jund Aggro – 5

    Esper Control – 4

    Saito Zoo – 3

    Humans Reanimator – 3

    The Aristocrats – 2

    Naya Humans – 2

    Wolf Run Bant – 2

    Gruul Aggro – 2

    Up to this point, the most notable trends on the top tables were the meteoric rise of Jund Midrange and the steady slipping of Wolf Run Bant. As the day continued, these trends were reinforced. Here's what the tables looked like after Round 7:

    Jund Aggro – 8

    UWR – 7

    Jund Midrange – 6

    Esper Control – 4

    The Aristocrat – 3

    Wolf Run Bant – 3

    Naya Humans – 2

    Humans Reanimator – 2

    Gruul Aggro – 2

    Saito Zoo – 1

    UW Humans – 1

    Naya Midrange – 1

    As we can see, Jund Midrange was temporarily supplanted by the Aggro version of the deck, Bant continued its slide, and everything else stayed relatively even. Here's Round 8:

    Jund Midrange – 9

    Jund Aggro – 7

    UWR – 4

    Esper Control – 4

    Naya Midrange – 4

    Saito Zoo – 2

    The Aristocrats – 2

    Wolf Run Bant – 2

    Naya Humans – 2

    Humans Reanimator – 2

    Four-Color Control – 2

    And finally, here's how things stood for the last round of the day:

    UWR – 7

    Jund Aggro – 6

    Jund Midrange – 5

    Humans Reanimator – 4

    Naya Humans – 3

    Wolf Run Bant – 2

    Esper Control – 2

    Saito Zoo – 2

    The Aristocrats – 2

    Gruul Aggro – 1

    UW Humans – 1

    Naya Midrange – 1

    Boros Aggro – 1

    Orzhov – 1

    So there you have it. Over the course of the day, we watched both versions of Jund rise to prominence, with the top slot going to Jund Midrange by a fairly large margin for virtually all of the day. Designed to defeat creature decks, Jund seemed exceptionally placed against a field filled with other green-based decks. We also saw the steady fall of Wolf Run Bant. This seems largely due to the strong performances of the Jund decks, which can each pose problems for Bant and Esper control decks. This also explains why Esper Control, viewed by many people as the preeminent control deck in the format, slipped to the bottom of the pile as well.

    There were other surprises within the trends as well. First, the rise of Humans Reanimator was a jolt considering how under-represented the deck was at last week's Pro Tour. Considering the overlooked nature or Reanimator at this point, it was reasonable that many people would begin to pack far less hate for it than they normally might, resulting in a fairly accepting current environment for graveyard-based strategies. Another surprising deck was the resurgent Naya Humans deck. After having a strong showing in the past week on Magic Online, there were a number of players who decided to bring the little tribe that could to the event, and their numbers steadily improved over the course of the day. Powered by the Burning-Tree Emissary nitro boosters and the potentially obscenely large Champion of the Parish, Naya Humans is able to outrace the mass removal of the control decks like few decks in the format are able to.

    With this information, I expect to see a continuation of these trends tomorrow. If these are anything to go by, I would expect that tomorrows Top 8 would contain three Jund decks of some variety, two UWR decks, one Humans Reanimator deck, one Naya Humans deck, and one random other deck. This little study has proven to be fairly accurate in predicting how Day 2 will shake out, so we'll have to see if the trend will actually continue.




     

  • Round 9 Feature Match – Hao-Shan Huang vs. Willy Edel

    by Nate Price

  • Brazil's Willy Edel has spent his week after the Pro Tour embracing the joys and sorrows of Canadian winter. At the Pro Tour, he played Naya Humans, but this weekend he's made the switch to Saito Zoo. This round he'll face Hao-Shan Huang, whose hyperkinetic playstyle reminds one of Brian Kibler after a serious energy drink binge, with all its shuffling of cards in hand and snapping of cards into place. He's playing the Human Reanimator deck with the Undercity Informer combo. At 6-1-1, the winner would lock up Day 2.

    Things started out inauspiciously for Edel, as he quickly mulliganed down to five. Huang was on the play and started with a turn-two Farseek. Edel played a Gyre Sage and passed. Huang Mulched, sending Angel of Glory's Rise, Burning-Tree Emissary and Faithless Looting to the graveyard and scoring himself a Woodland Cemetery. It was so nice he did it twice, this time getting Cavern of Souls and stocking his yard with Huntmaster of the Fells, Fiend Hunter and Unburial Rites. All he needed was the Undercity Informer.


    Hao-Shan Huang

    Edel untapped, then played Burning-Tree Emissary, evolving his Gyre Sage. He tapped his third land for Domri Rade. No creature was on top of his library. He passed the turn. Huang untapped and flashed back Unburial Rites on Angel of Glory's Rise, getting back Fiend Hunter, Emissary and Huntmaster the Fells. He used one of his bonus mana for a Faithless Looting from his hand, pitching two Cavern of Souls. He played a land and Farseek, then passed the turn.

    One could forgive Edel a dismal expression as he untaped. He activated Domri Rade and found a Gyre Sage waiting for him. He played it and passed. Huang played yet another Faithless Looting, discarding Burning-Tree Emissary and the fourth Looting. Three mana gave him a Fiend Hunter, and he stole the other Gyre Sage. His attack killed off Domri Rade and dealt two to Edel. Then he played Grisly Salvage, binning an Informer. With all the combo pieces in place, Edel was happy to shuffle up for game two.

    Huang 1 - Edel 0

    Huang went down to six cards quickly, then stayed. Edel was first on the board with Flinthoof Boar. He hit for three the following turn, then passed without playing a card. Huang cast Grisly Salvage at end of turn, showing two Abrupt Decay, a Farseek, Woodland Cemetery and Burning-Tree Emissary. He kept the last, then untapped and played it off Cavern of Souls, splitting the bonus mana up between another Salvage (Huntmaster of the Fells, Overgrown Tomb, Blood Crypt, Burning-Tree Emissary and Thragtusk, which he kept) and Faithless Looting, pitching Stomping Ground and Unburial Rites.

    It looked like it would be a runaway victory, but Edel drew a land and paid two so he could get Boros Reckoner into play, hitting for three more with his Boar. Huang needed to slow the beatdown, and so flashed back his Unburial Rites on Huntmaster of the Fells. Unfortunately for him, Edel had a choice answer at the ready: Domri Rade. Reckoner fought the Huntmaster, then fired extra damage at the helpless wolf token. Flinthoof Boar dropped Huang to thirteen.

    Huang fought back with Fiend Hunter on the Reckoner, clearing a path for his Emissary to attack and kill Domri Rade. Edel replaced his Reckoner and dropped Huang to ten. Thragtusk brought him back up to fifteen. Reckoner tagged out the Boar and hit Huang to twelve, and Edel added Huntmaster of the Fells. Huang flashed back his Faithless Looting, pitching a pair of Unburial Rites, then locked the second Reckoner under a second Fiend Hunter.


    Next, a fifth land for Edel, and down came Thundermaw Hellkite, putting a serious clock on Huang. He was down to just seven. Huang drew Undercity Informer. Now all he needed was an Angel in the graveyard. The problem was that he had no way to stop Thundermaw, and all Edel would have to do was attack and pass, transforming his Huntmaster and dealing the final two. Instead, Edel put the final nail in the coffin with Rest in Peace. Huang drew and packed it in.

    Huang 1 - Edel 1

    Huang sighed at an opener that had good mana but no action, and sent it back. Edel was happy to stay on seven. Huang stayed on six and they were off. Huang Mulched, but missed entirely, sending Farseek, Grisly Salvage, Burning-Tree Emissary and Fiend Hunter to the graveyard. Edel played a Gyre Sage and passed. Huang had Grisly Salvage in hand, but no black mana. He cast Faithless Looting but found no help. He pitched a pair of Angels of Glory's Rise. He played his third land and passed back.


    Willy Edel

    Now Edel got to play an explosive turn: Emissary, evolving his Gyre Sage, and then Huntmaster of the Fells. Suddenly he had an eight power army on the board. Huang had no fourth land, and risked flashing back Faithless Looting. Again, he bricked. He pitched Abrupt Decay and Undercity Informer and passed. Edel drew, did some quick calculations, then played his Stomping Ground tapped before attacking for eight and casting Rest in Peace.

    Now Huang was on three land, no board, and no graveyard. Mulch got him Cavern of Souls and Blood Crypt too late. He played one more turn before extending the hand to Edel.

    Willy Edel defeats Hao-Shan Huang 2-1




     

  • Saturday, 9:44 p.m. – Quick Question: What Gatecrash card has the most unexplored potential?

    by Josh Bennett

  • Jon Stern: Two weeks ago I would've said Domri Rade. Now, Dimir Charm.
    Jesse Hampton: Master Biomancer.
    Willy Edel: Aurelia's Fury. When it was previewed everyone was talking about it, but not anymore. I think it wills how up soon.
    Reid Duke: Prime Speaker Zegana. Bet nobody's said that yet.
    Robert Van Medevoort: Boros Charm. It was underrated at the Pro Tour, and I think it still is.



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