A Grand Prix the week after the Pro Tour, the same format, and in my hometown is just the greatest. I was so excited that even if I was disappointed with my Pro Tour deck choice, I could just run my second choice the following week.
Turns out, I’m a little more complicated than that. My gut told me to continue playing UB Aristocrats since I knew it pretty well, yet, I didn’t think it was going to be good once players knew the deck and how to play against it.
I spent the week with European Magic players Wenzel Krautmann, Oliver Polak-Rottman, Joel Larsson, Martin Dang, and Valentin Mackl at my apartment. They were all on Jeskai Black, as it is obviously the new best deck, often referred as “the new Abzan.” Unfortunately, I didn’t feel comfortable playing mirror matches and untested matchups, so I dismissed it. I was left with a few reasonable choices, but ultimately I decided to let the Magic Online gods choose my strategy for the Grand Prix: I played 5-match Leagues with different decks and told myself I’d play the first deck I 5-0’d with.
I was now deep into Friday with many 4-1 records, and I finally 5-0’d with Matt Nass’s 4c Rally. But it was around 3 a.m. when I finished, and frankly, I couldn’t be more clueless about what I was playing, even though I was winning. I figured that if I was playing random cards from my hand during the 5 rounds, and won them all, I should be okay if I actually figured out the right plays tomorrow.
After talking to Matt and tinkering with the deck, I changed the sideboard a little and registered my 75.
Props to Matt for this mana base—it’s pure genius. I liked my sideboard, basically the only change from his was to remove 2 Anafenza, the Foremosts, 1 Dispel, and add 2 Arashin Cleric, 1 Murderous Cut. As he stated in his article, a “combo” deck like this requires so many pieces that you just can’t alter the main deck, especially because of Collected Company.
I felt like I would never want to play 4 Dispels in a matchup, which is why I trimmed 1, and I didn’t expect the mirror so the Anafenzas were useless. Red aggro strategies seemed like the worst matchups by far since 4c Rally has basically no way to deal with the Temur Battle Rage/Become Immense combo, so I added the 4th Murderous Cut. With Arashin Clerics you could think I’m just oversideboarding against red, but in reality there isn’t anything better to do with those slots anyways.
6 hours of sleep in my own bed and 3 byes later, I was ready for battle.
Round 4: Alexandre Lapointe with Atarka Red – 3-1
Alexandre is a local whom I didn’t know, and he crushed me with the combo game 1, as expected. Game 2, I kept a sketchy hand with 5 lands (with all colors) Zulaport Cutthroat and Catacomb Sifter. I figured those were two of my best cards in the matchup, but I was wrong. I had Jaddi Offshoot and Arashin Clerics in my deck, and with the new mulligan rule, I should have mulliganed. It didn’t help that I drew into 5 more lands, but you know, it’s karma I guess.
Round 5: Jonathan St-Martin Allard with Dragon Ramp – 4-1
Jonathan is a good friend of the whole community here in Quebec City—he’s in everyone’s top 5 nicest people. It always stinks to play a friend in a tournament, but, business is business. At least we got an epic match: in game 3 I mulliganed to 5 (let me tell you that this deck does NOT mulligan well) and proceeded to win an extremely tight game—I was 1 life and sweated my Catacomb Sifter scrys to find either Murderous Cut or a Sidisi’s Faithful to clear his blockers.
Round 6: Gabriel Arteau with Atarka Red – 5-1
Gabriel is a local Modern player with impressive finishes for such little experience with the game. He barely plays Standard so he went with the cheapest and most straightforward deck, and he put up a good fight, but in the end, my sideboard cards proved to be better.
Round 7: Daniel Lozinski with Esper Dragons – 5-2
I got completely crushed, he played 3 Silumgar’s Scorn each game, and that was basically it. I had nothing, because he countered my Rallys and Collected Companys, and the few creatures I had were outraced by Dragonlord Ojutai.
Round 8 : Jean-Christophe Morin with Esper Control – 6-2
He was on Reid Duke’s version of Mage-Ring Esper with no win conditions. I had played against this deck twice already on Magic Online and the matchups felt heavily favored for 4c Rally. Basically, you have all the time in the world, and they have bad answers to Jace. Their counter of choice, Clash of Wills, is awkward in multiples—so you set up an end-of-turn Rally, have them counter it, and then you flash it back with Jace.
Round 9 : Maxime Doré with Abzan Rally – 7-2
I ended up winning the match technically 1-0 after an intense game 1 where I had to Rally multiple times for value, then deal with Anafenza with Sidisi’s Faithful. I later watched my match on Twitch and learned that I should’ve responded to my Elvish Visionary’s draw triggers by scrying before drawing to find another Rally and go crazy, instead of finding it and having to pass the turn because it was on top of my deck.
Round 10: Chris Sha with Jeskai Prowess – 8-2
I played Chris at the Pro Tour so we were familiar with each other, but I had no idea what he was playing until he cast Magmatic Insight. I assumed he was on a list similar to what David Ochoa played at the Pro Tour, which is a bunch of delve, cheap spells, ways to fill your graveyard, and prowess creatures like Monastery Mentor and Seeker of the Way. I was sweating insanely in the last two turns of the game because I needed him to make a small mistake, hit two Zulaport Cutthroats off Collected Company, have 8 cards in my hand so I could discard my 1 Merciless Executioner, and then Rally on his upkeep for exactly 19 damage. I kept counting 18, until I realized I could respond to Merciless Executioner’s trigger by sacrificing all of my other creatures, leave myself with 1 Zulaport Cutthroat in play—he would be at 1 life—resolve the trigger and kill my opponent. I did all of this on turn 5 of extra turns.
Round 11: Adam Benn with Jeskai Black – 8-2-1
Adam was on a slightly more aggressive version of the deck with Pia and Kiran Nalaar. We had extremely close games and considering the number of times I went into overtime, I was bound to get a draw. It’s a grindy matchup, yet, if I were more familiar with the deck I’m sure I could’ve avoided that draw.
Round 12: Michel Latendresse with Abzan Aggro – 9-2-1
Michel was telling me how he started playing only 8 months ago, so at this point he had to be proud of reaching Day 2 with such little experience, yet, the inexperience cost him game 1 when he did not block a Nantuko Husk on 22 life, and instant-speed Rally got him. In his defense, he never drew Anafenza in any of the games.
Round 13: Alex Rochette with Bant Tokens – 10-2-1
Alex is one of the best players in the city, he has played a few Pro Tours—at this point he’s my scariest opponent of the tournament—but he was also playing one of my best matchups. Game 1, he missed on his third land drop, and later on he got great draws, but the matchup was just horrible for him and I got away with a win.
Round 14: Brian Braun-Duin with GW Megamorph – 11-2-1
This is my actual best matchup. I whiffed with Collected Company on turn 4 and still won the game. Game 2, he was telling how he thought he couldn’t have a better hand and felt ahead the whole time, and I still won. Our match was covered on Twitch Turbo, and I suggest you watch it. Brian made some really good plays with Dromoka’s Command.
Round 15: Oliver Polak-Rottman with Jeskai Black – 12-2-1
I was hosting Oliver at my apartment all week and we became good friends. We were excited to be paired against each other in the last round since he was first seed and I was seventh. He wasn’t forfeiting much by conceding to me, so he did. I was extremely thankful for this because my brain was starting to melt from 11 hours of Magic—I could really use the win and an hour break.
Top 8: Oliver Polak-Rottman with Jeskai Black – Quarterfinals
We thought we wouldn’t have to play each other in the quarterfinals, but the tiebreakers fooled us and we had to battle. We had a close game 1, and game 2 we both flooded—his deck is a little better equipped for those scenarios.
It’s sad that I got eliminated on variance like that, but I’m happy that it was to Oliver, since he scooped me into Top 8. He played extremely well, he deserved it.
Congrats to my good friend Dan Lanthier for winning the whole thing, it was well deserved and not a bad birthday present!