4 Lessons from Grand Prix Providence and Los Angeles

The Results

The two GPs held on either side of the United States this past weekend showcased a Standard format that seems to be at odds with itself. In Providence, the Top 8 was evenly split between Torrential Gearhulk and Goblin Chainwhirler. In Los Angeles, seven distinct archetypes made it to Sunday evening.

In both events, however, Goblin Chainwhirler proved too good for the rest of the field. In Providence, Daniel Duffee won with his hyper-aggressive The Flame of Keld list, with a curve that stopped at 3 and runs twelve 1-drops. Eschewing the industry-standard black splash, the deck that took down GP Providence is a 19 Mountain special with one mode only: attack.

On the west coast, notorious MTGO superstar Logan “Jaberwocki” Nettles piloted a traditional Black-Red Aggro list through a very diverse Top 8 that featured everything from Grixis Midrange to White-Blue GPG. Nettles—best-known for his industrious approach to MTGO grinding, entertaining Twitch stream, and mastery of the Standard metagame—beat out EFro on Turbo Fog and finally Ben Friedman on Blue-Black Midrange to take down the tournament!

The Moments

Some sweaty fellas after the pre-GP basketball—and oh you betcha, it’s Corey “Rack ’em Up” Baumeister who has his shirt off:

White-Blue GPG manages the turn-4 nut-draw through a Doomfall:

Daniel “Four Sleeves” Wong only triple-sleeved it this weekend:

Wong offered some insight on his sleeving process to Team Coverage:

Efro finds the perfect way to avoid judge-issued proxies for his copies of Nexus of Fate:

The Deck

Green decks haven’t had a terrific time in Standard, of late—the most meaningful contribution that green cards are making these days is providing Fog effects alongside Nexus of Fate. But there was a time when people lived in fear of cards like Winding Constrictor, and Steven Solis was here to remind us of what can happen when you wake the Snake.

B/G Constrictor

Top 8 at GP Los Angeles 2018

Despite including a great many cards that absolutely eat it to Goblin Chainwhirler, Solis defied conventional wisdom and smashed his way through to a Top 8 appearance in Los Angeles. B/G Constrictor has fallen off the radar in a major way—is curving Winding Constrictor into Rishkar into Verdurous Gearhulk still good enough?

This deck doesn’t look like it used to. Thrashing Brontodon is a great way to answer both Vehicles and white enchantment-based removal, while leaning heavily on Ravenous Chupacabra is a great way to keep a critical mass of removal while maintaining a high creature count. A few new cards from M19 join the gang, with Vivien Reid and Thorn Lieutenant offering a generic “good cards” vibe to the deck rather than direct synergy with Winding Constrictor.

It’s clear that Vraska’s Contempt is just about the best answer in the format, removing any threat worth its salt while buffering your life total. Its inclusion here is a no-brainer, and it actually represents all of the main-deck noncreature disruption the deck has to offer. The sideboard, however, is full of interaction and offers plenty of ways for the deck to deftly pivot. Removal, planeswalkers, and value engines all mean that the all-in creature plan can be put on hold post-board for a longer, more interactive game.

I still don’t think Forest is a great card to be playing in a Standard deck, but if that trend is going to change, it’s going to change here, with decks like this.

The Takeaway

Standard is shifting, but more slowly than we’re used to. We’ve seen Chainwhirler decks dominate the format since M19 was released, with two principle consequences. Firstly, green decks have been pushed out of the format entirely. The reason for this is of course that the best reason to play green—Llanowar Elves—is a liability against Goblin Chainwhirler except in the very best set of circumstances, and therefore people are heavily disincentivised to play green.

Secondly, the decks that have shown that they can meaningfully contest Goblin Chainwhirler tend to be blue-based and lack creatures, relying on big, noncreature haymakers to both minimize the impact of Chainwhirler while also wresting the game out of the red mage’s control. GP Providence showed us what this looks like if drawn out to a natural conclusion—it’s Gearhulks vs. Goblins all the way down (now there’s a duel deck I’d love to see).

GP Los Angeles has a slightly different message, however. A diverse Top 8 showed us what Standard looks like when under siege from what I hesitate to call “second tier” decks—people break the Gearhulk/Chainwhirler paradigm and start playing Turbo Fog, Constrictor, and GPG. In all honesty, this is a good place to be in Standard right now. Opposing pilots will have put in the reps and will have a fail safe plan against Goblin Chainwhirler and various control decks. Maybe you can snag a few free percentage points by bamboozling them with a deck that is slightly off the beaten path.

Mono-Blue Whatever-We’re-Calling-It-This-Week had a relatively quiet weekend. Despite winning German Nationals in the hands of—you guessed it—Marc Tobiasch, it didn’t perform at the GP level. Its under-performance at the GP level, in addition to a proven track record, make me feel like it’s a good “surprise” pick for events this weekend.

We’re moving away from Standard, however, to instead get stuck into some Modern in Prague. I’ll be with Team Coverage to bring you a live stream of all of the action, and I can’t wait to explore my favorite format and get across all of the most recent developments, which of course I’ll share here next week. See you then!


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