The sun rises in the east, Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee are at the top of the charts, and Brad Nelson absolutely crushes Standard Grand Prix. In an increasingly fast-paced and chaotic world, it’s good to know that some things never change. For years, Nelson has demonstrated effortless mastery of Standard formats, and his super-tight, super-tuned list was perfectly positioned to take down the tournament this weekend. Nelson never really looked to be in too much trouble as he cruised into 6th place at the end of the Swiss before claiming the trophy with his Temur Energy list.
The banning of Aetherworks Marvel didn’t change the power level of many of the cards that supported it, and today Temur Energy is the post-banning configuration these Standard all-stars have landed on. This deck is flexible, adaptable, and very resilient—it’s not flashy or broken, but in the hands of a skilled pilot it can beat more or less anything. It was strongly represented in GP Denver’s Top 8, with clever metagame adaptations such as Skysovereign, Consul Flagship and a sideboard purpose-built to go long.
Despite the Top 8 being dominated by Temur Energy, we saw decks of all shapes, sizes, and speeds throughout the weekend. Collin Rountree didn’t lose a single match throughout the Swiss with his Zombies deck, and the late rounds of coverage were dominated by the new and improved God-Pharaoh’s Gift list all vying for a Top 8 berth. It may be time to start packing that graveyard hate!
— Magic Esports (@MagicEsports) August 21, 2017
The Bash Brothers, Brad Nelson and Corey Baumeister, made headlines around the world when they both crashed into the Top 8 of GP Minneapolis two weeks prior. This weekend, they performed an astonishing double-double-act, as they masterfully put together back-to-back GP Top 8s. Expertly piloting their supremely-tuned identical Temur Energy lists all the way to the semifinals, they finally met and had to duke it out like Cain and Abel.
Having a sibling beside you to celebrate and cherish your success is a special thing, and the fact that these two brothers are able to come together in that success so richly is uplifting for Magic players around the world. Setting aside their supreme play skill and deep insights into the Standard metagame, simply watching two brothers share in and celebrate a passion together has been inspiring for everyone who loves the game as much as they do.
— Magic Esports (@MagicEsports) August 20, 2017
The Deck: Jeskai Gift
While doing our reconnaissance at Pro Tour Hour of Devastation, there were whispers of a God-Pharaoh’s Gift deck that was threatening to run roughshod over the tournament. Obviously this didn’t eventuate, but as the format continues to evolve it seems that this particular Da Vinci Code may have been cracked.
Moving away from white, the addition of red to the strategy has given it a huge second wind. “It’s not even really Jeskai,” Ben Stark mused from the booth. “It’s just blue-red with double-white reanimation targets.”
“Jeskai” Gift is consistent, powerful, and can be hugely explosive—as we saw when Corey Burkhart ran Reid Duke through his Round 12 feature match. Relying more on Gate to the Afterlife over Refurbish, this new 3-color build uses red cards like Cathartic Reunion and Insolent Neonate to ensure the graveyard is as full as a centipede’s sock drawer.
Trophy Mage is a fascinating new piece of technology, offering extra consistency in finding Gate, but also offering a few silver bullet options—snagging an Aethersphere Harvester against Ramunap Red can be backbreaking. There doesn’t seem to consensus on how many to play, and this is true of other cards in the list—it looks like there’s still some tuning to do!
All the action from GP Denver throughout the weekend pointed in one direction: as a format, Standard is terrific. Currently, there is a healthy diversity among viable decks, with the best ones being highly beatable if you’re sufficiently prepared. The other terrific standard was the one set by the coverage team—Marshall, Reid, and Ben absolutely crushed it.
Provided you come ready to tangle with the format’s dominant decks, this Standard format invites innovation and rewards a strong understanding of the way the format is evolving. The Top 8 didn’t fully reflect the deck diversity present throughout the tournament—I strongly suggest filtering through the 9th–32nd place deck lists. Eldrazi, Emerge, Vehicles, Ramp—and of course the breakout deck of the tournament, Jeskai God-Pharaoh’s Gift.
We were constantly reminded that another definitive path to success in this format is through clever tuning and canny card choice. It’s no coincidence that three players in the Top 8 were running identical 75-card list—they were in the hands of some of the most ruthlessly competent Standard players on Earth. Examining their deck lists, it’s very clear to see they knew what they wanted to beat and how they were going to contest the tournament: Skysovereign against Zombies, removal and sweepers to keep Ramunap Red down, and planeswalkers with countermagic in the board to go bigger.
Finally, the blokes in the booth were kicking goals with both feet all weekend. Marshall Sutcliffe quite obviously sets the bar for Magic coverage, but the two guys he was flanked by absolutely knocked it out of the park. Reid Duke’s warm diplomacy and genuine love of the game shone through as he called the matches, and his golden baritone was like a massage for the eardrums all weekend. Similarly, Ben Stark continually blew us all away with the speed, precision, and depth of his analysis. He has one of the sharpest minds in Magic, and I learned so much as I listened to him break down match after match.
What other lessons emerged from the weekend in Denver? Next week we’re off to Metz for more Hour of Devastation Limited. Given that Hour of Devastation is widely touted as one of the best Limited formats in recent times, it’ll be fascinating to see what comes of it!