4 Lessons from Grand Prix Portland

Over in Oregon last weekend, Portland’s locals skipped the routine plans for an artisanal brunch and instead rode through the rain on their double-decker fixed-gear bicycles to compete with the best of ’em at the Portland Convention Center. And the best of ’em were there in force, picking a side in the ongoing Energy-Ramunap turf war for Standard dominance.

An audience beset with wonder watched Corey Baumeister make a thrilling run toward his fifth consecutive Grand Prix Top 8, but it wasn’t to be—instead, his friend and teammate Christoffer Larsen made the cut along with the two-time World Champion, Shahar Shenhar, who recently returned to competitive Magic after a year away from the game. To the surprise of no one, Shenhar went on to crush the Top 8, and duly took home the trophy.

I caught up briefly with Shenhar in Albuquerque during Pro Tour Ixalan, where he made an impressive 14th place finish. It was great to hear his news and listen to what he’d been up to during his Magic hiatus, as well as his plans for the future: “I’m thinking of getting back into Magic,” he told me. “It’s been really fun to play this weekend.”

So let’s be clear, here—a fun weekend of Magic to Shenhar is finishing 14th at a Pro Tour after a year-long break from professional play. “Getting back into it” is simply winning the first GP he plays in. This man is a winning machine. It’s all he does. Traffic lights turn green as he approaches—he’s never had to flip a USB stick after trying to insert it upside-down. Winning is all this man knows.

This is Shenhar’s world. We just live in it.

The Moment

Nicol Bolas hasn’t made too much of an appearance in Standard recently—he was last spotted at the top tables during Pro Tour Hour of Devastation in July, but has been scheming in the shadows ever since. One of his loyal disciples, however, had plans to showcase the true power of the God-Pharaoh this weekend, and he did it in true style.

English WMC team captain Niels Molle—who upholds England’s proud tradition of having a captain who isn’t actually English—went bigger than The Scarab God or even Vraska with his 4-Color Energy list. His opponent Pierson Laughlin dug in hard, but a truly insane turn from Molle put him so far ahead that he was starting to set off fireworks for New Year’s Eve while Laughlin was still feeding his turkeys some candied yams (or whatever it is you’re supposed to do on Thanksgiving—I don’t know).

After a +2 with the God-Pharaoh, Molle was able to snag a free Chandra from Laughlin’s library. Still, that doesn’t answer an opposing Scarab God, which is of course still a sizable threat. Is there a follow-up play? Of course there is: This Chandra then hits a fresh Confiscation Coup for Molle, which leaves him with two active planeswalkers and a copy of The Scarab God to Laughlin’s empty board. Magic really is a very easy game when you think about it.

The Deck

Drake Haven made headlines around the world when first previewed, and given the number of playable (and quite powerful) cycling cards, you would think there’s a deck lurking out there somewhere. Corey Burkhart built upon Eliott Boussaud’s 8-2 PT Ixalan finish, and snagged a respectable 15th place for himself in Portland with this little number.

White-Blue Cycling

Corey Burkhart, 15th place at GP Portland

Stuffed to the brim with cycling cards, an active Haven means that you’ll quickly end up with more Drakes than the stage at last year’s Grammys. This deck doesn’t make too many sacrifices when it comes to raw card quality—no one is embarrassed to be registering cards like Cast Out or Censor.

Additionally, this list offers unmatched consistency in enacting its game plan—again, due to half the deck cycling toward what you need at any given time. The problem is that its game plan doesn’t have the zip and zap of Ramunap Red, nor the snowballing late-game of Energy strategies.

This list relies heavily on mass removal, and both sweepers in this list have their downsides. Fumigate is often a turn too late, and Settle the Wreckage is a disaster to cast on turn 4, as they’ll then untap with 6 or 7 mana. Nonetheless, Burkhart showed that it’s got the chops to run with the big dogs. Be sure to keep an eye on this exciting approach to tussling with Standard!

The Takeaway

The ongoing tug-of-war between Ramunap Red and various energy strategies continues in Standard. As energy decks tune themselves to shine in the mirror—invariably by going bigger and squeezing as much power into their 75 as possible—Ramunap Red’s stock improves. Skimping on early interaction to make room for 6-drop haymakers comes at a cost, and with a sizable portion of the top finishers playing Mono-Red decks, we see the clear lesson: Hazoret the Fervent is still a hell of a card and she and her mates will give you a pasting if you arrive unprepared.

Optimism about exciting new brews to topple the established order is waning as the Standard format continues to be dominated by very familiar faces. The brave souls who arrive at a tournament without either Longtusk Cubs or Earthshaker Khenras certainly have their work cut out for them, and according to many, you better have a pretty good reason not to play either Energy or Ramunap Red.

This may mean that your effort is best spent on the clever and precise tuning of these well-established archetypes, rather than trying to break it in half with a rogue brew. The Attune-Cub-Refiner core is clearly the best thing to be doing in Standard, but the constant shift of individual card choices and numbers within Energy shells persists as the deckbuilding puzzle of the moment.

How are you going to attack Standard as we head toward Rivals of Ixalan? Have we discovered the optimal Energy list, and what’s the best way to beat it? Let me know your thoughts as we gear up for team play in the coming weeks. We’re off to France for Team Limited in Lyon next week, and after that, we crown a team of champions in Nice at the World Magic Cup. I’ll see you there!


Scroll to Top