4 Lessons from Grand Prix Lille and New Jersey

The Results

Post-rotation Standard finally made its way to the GP stage this weekend, with huge events being held on both sides of the Atlantic. With many anticipating the dominance of Golgari Midrange and Mono-Red Aggro, the results at both tournaments managed to upset that particular apple cart and deliver some surprising results.

In Lille, five distinct archetypes contested the Top 8—two copies of Golgari and Jeskai, Selesnya Tokens, Izzet Phoenix, Mono-Blue Tempo, and Mono-Red Aggro. With huge names like World Champion Javier Dominguez and Hall-of-Famer Gabrief Nassif, Lille’s Top 8 was going to be a challenging gauntlet, but Etienne Busson was up to the task with his innovative take on Mono-Red, featuring a creatureless sideboard. Congratulations!

The New Jersey Top 8 was no less stacked, with Standard mastermind Brad Nelson and decorated pro Eduardo Sajgalik making the cut to Sunday night. This Top 8, however, was completely bereft of Golgari and Mono-Red. Instead, Jeskai, Boros, and Selesnya all picked up multiple slots, with Izzet Phoenix also getting a look in the hands of Sajgalik. Ultimately, Eli Kassis and his Jeskai Control deck proved too powerful, and as a result Kassis hoisted his first GP trophy!

The Moments

Antoine Cinquin rips three consecutive Runaway Steam-Kins off his Experimental Frenzy:

Potentially the least convincing “Martial Arts Grudge Match” photo ever taken:

It turns out that March of the Multitudes is completely insane with Path of Discovery (and The Immortal Sun!):

It’s not quite a cake, but this deck list submission was still a real treasure:

The secret mode on Deafening Clarion gains Guillaume Wafo-Tapa half a squillion life:

The Deck

A breakout performance from Arclight Phoenix lit up the weekend, with a brand spanking new deck—Izzet Phoenix—appearing in the Top 8s in both Lille and New Jersey. Arclight Phoenix has been getting a lot of press (some of it from yours truly), and it’s unsurprising to see the card flourish like this. European rising star Arne Huschenbeth and Canadian veteran Eduardo Sajgalik both added another GP Top 8 each to their respective resumes with this highly innovative list.

Izzet Phoenix

Eduardo Sajgalik, Top 8 at GP New Jersey 2018

Obviously, cheap spells are the name of the game when it comes to Arclight Phoenix, who was well-supported all weekend by the potentially enormous pair of drakes, both Enigma Drake and Crackling Drake. Sajgalik loaded his list with 1-drops, playing more or less every single cantrip on offer. It’s not often you see draft chaff like Warlord’s Fury Top 8 a GP, but here we are!

Izzet Phoenix

Arne Huschenbeth, Top 8 at GP Lille 2018

Huschenbeth, on the other hand, sought to get maximum value from his copies of Goblin Electromancer, and opted for a suite of more powerful 2-drops. Goblin Electromancer put on a clinic in Huschenbeth’s hand—at one point, Huschenbeth’s turn 3 was Chart a Course, Negate, Tormenting Voice. Ridiculous.

As is the case with Standard at large, we’ll have to wait and see which flavor of the Phoenix deck emerges as superior. Until then, one thing is certain—Arclight Phoenix is here to stay!

The Takeaway

Before rotation, it wasn’t difficult to argue that Standard had worn out its welcome. Red decks were everywhere, and it was hard to find ways to innovate or challenged the established metagame. Rotation—as usual—changed all that, and now that Kaladesh and Amonkhet have been replaced by Guilds of Ravnica, the general consensus is that Standard is once again in a terrific place.

That’s just about all the consensus there is when it comes to the format, however. It was incredible to see the diversity present in Standard—not just of general archetypes, but within these archetypes themselves. Very few deck lists were the same—one Golgari list could look dramatically different from the next. Everything—from Mono-Red to Jeskai to Selesnya—appeared in highly varied forms at both GPs.

The internal deviation of Golgari decks is, perhaps, the most important factor as we head toward the Pro Tour. As the de facto “best deck” with no clear weaknesses (except Tocatli Honor Guard), Golgari is expected to set the pace of the format in the weeks to come. A lot of that pace will, of course, be determined by its internal composition, and in particular how it seeks to contest the mirror. Going big with cards like Carnage Tyrant and Find // Finality give you the edge against other Golgari lists, but also give up percentage points against the portion of the field able to make 6-drops look silly.

These questions crop up across almost all the other major archetypes. How many creatures should Jeskai play, if any? Do Selesnya decks want to play “real” 2-drops, or just maximize their go-wide payoffs? How “big” do mono-red lists want to go? Despite Busson’s low-to-the-ground Mono-Red deck taking out GP Lille, we saw very few Ghitu Lavarunners throughout the weekend. Is red in need of a rebuild?

All these questions clearly indicate that Standard is in a wonderfully engaging position, with room to experiment and innovate. Doubtless, things will crystallize after Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica in Atlanta, where a clearer picture of the format will emerge. But until then, it seems as though it’s anyone’s game!

Next week we’re getting settled into Atlanta, with coverage of another Limited event as a warm-up for the Pro Tour. I’ll be back next week with all the action from Georgia!

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