4 Lessons from Grand Prix Birmingham

The Result

A double-header Grand Prix in Birmingham last weekend saw wizards from around Europe and indeed the world come together to compete across both Legacy and Standard. With the two formats in almost opposite positions—Legacy clearly dominated by established decks, Standard currently lacking a clear “best deck”—the GP promised to be an absolute rip-roarer. Needless to say, it didn’t disappoint.

In Standard, we saw a wildly unsolved format with divergent archetypes all hoping to prove their mettle in the weeks since the release of Dominaria. White-based aggro decks fell off the face of the Earth, utterly eclipsed by Goblin Chainwhirler as the centerpiece of the artifact-based aggro deck, Black-Red Vehicles. A full six copies of the deck made the Top 8, with Black-Green Constrictor and White-Blue Control rounding out the eight. Leo Lahonen’s control deck carved its way through various Chainwhirler lists with relative ease, until Simon Nielsen’s Vehicles deck pulled off an incredible 2-1 upset in the finals!

For all the excitement of the Standard tournament, however, it was in Legacy that we saw a truly dramatic and wonderful moment take place. In a format awash with Grixis Delver, Gary Campbell wisely chose Mono-Red Prison as his weapon of choice. With a staggeringly good matchup against the tempo-based Delver decks of the format, Campbell’s Prison deck cut through the tournament and indeed the Top 8—in the finals, even two-time GP Champion Grzegorz Kowalski and a mulligan to five couldn’t stop Campbell.

Campbell’s victory meant a lot more than a single individual raising the trophy, however. For decades, Campbell has been the life and soul of the Scottish Magic community. Over the years, he has driven people to tournaments, lent out cards and decks, supported players old and new alike in their drive to succeed, and in every sense has campaigned and crusaded for the success of Scottish Magic. It wasn’t surprising, therefore, that a raucous crowd of proud Scots remained to watch Campbell’s triumph, and they just about blasted the roof off the venue with their cheers as Campbell finally sealed the deal.

The Moments

Standard champion Simon Nielsen had a terrific weekend, only picking up two losses throughout the tournament. The first was against Mono-Black Control, and the second was against his alarm clock, which he confessed is always a terrible matchup for him.

Nielsen also showed off his prowess as an artist during the Standard final. He claims to have no relation to the legendary Terese Nielsen, but to be honest, I think his work speaks for itself.

As you’d expect at a huge GP like the one in Birmingham, there was an abundance of artistic talent in attendance. Cosplayers and card artists filled the hall, and even shared a happy moment or two together!

I’ve interviewed a lot of GP winners over the years, and generally get a sense of what the trophy means to them while congratulating them in the booth. Seeing what the title meant to Campbell, however—and the noisy rabble at his back—was a hugely profound moment to bear witness to.

The Deck

Any Legacy deck that can meaningfully contest the mighty Grixis Delver (along with other Delver-based analogues) will generally be in a good position to rock and roll in the format. Legacy champion Gary Campbell took this to its natural conclusion, playing a list that would give any Delver player nightmares. Mono-Red Prison is specifically designed to prey upon the most-played cards in the Legacy format, and on the back of the soul-crushing “Chalice for 1,” Campbell took this strategy all the way to the top.

Mono-Red Prison

Gary Campbell, 1st place at GP Birmingham 2018

Eschewing 1- and 2-drops entirely, this deck looks to undo any advantage opponents may gain with cheap spells—Chalice of the Void and Trinisphere make the Ponders and Brainstorms of the format look pretty silly. On top of that, this list looks to punish the greedy 3- and 4-color mana bases we see so often in Legacy, playing eight Blood Moon effects. Good luck pushing a Deathrite Shaman through all these obstacles!

All these 3-drops, however, require a fair bit of support. It’s not reasonable to expect to cast them on turn 3—that’s just too slow—so a suite of fast mana enables some truly busted starts. Ancient Tomb, City of Traitors, Chrome Mox, and Simian Spirit Guide can get these hateful 3-drops into play as early as turn 1, and failing that, there’s always Goblin Rabblemaster! Mono-Red Prison isn’t the most appropriate name for the deck, really—it’s more like Gray Ogre Tribal.

The Takeaway

In Legacy, Deathrite Shaman still reigns supreme as the dominant card in the format. Providing ramp and fixing, a dependable win condition, and incidental graveyard hate, there’s very little that DRS can’t do. Whether paired with the aggressive Delver of Secrets or the value-oriented Leovold, Emissary of Trest, this card is a mainstay of Legacy and is over-represented among the best decks. The community still seems somewhat split on whether it warrants a ban, although it does seem a little too ubiquitous to safely ignore.

Having said that, there are decks that romp and stomp all over it. Case in point, Campbell’s Gray Ogre Tribal. Predicting a Legacy metagame, given its slower pace of development, is a little easier than it would be in other formats, which rewards prescient deck selection and card choice. Additionally, there is still a good level of diversity among other lower-tiered decks—the Top 8 featured everything from Affinity to Dredge.

In Standard, the metagame is shifting so quickly it’s almost impossible to say what will come next. Don’t be too quick to decry Goblin Chainwhirler as the end of the Standard format. Things are shifting on an almost daily basis, and the counterplay between the top decks is astonishing. If you think you’re onto a good thing with the deck you’re currently playing, you’re probably right. This is the most open the Standard format has been for a very long time, and there are a huge number of viable approaches to success.

Most of them, however, involve a certain card. Karn, Scion of Urza is going from strength to strength as a powerhouse of the format, and given his colorless mana cost, Karn is a powerful threat that slots into just about every deck. Make no mistake—this card will be a staple across many archetypes even after the format settles down. Be sure you have a plan to beat opposing Karns, because you’re going to see a lot of them.

Next week, we’re off to Toronto for more Standard. Every data point on this new format is relevant given the fast-approaching Pro Tour, so I’ll be back next week to bring everyone up to speed on the developments from Canada!

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