My previous article about Grand Prix Dallas began—and ended—with decks featuring Chalice of the Void and Karn, the Great Creator. This colorless package of heavy disruption made an appearance in a full quarter of the Top 32, split between five Eldrazi Tron, two Red Prison, and one Temur list.
It really was a package deal too. Players with four copies of each in their main deck massively outperformed the field.
Granted, it isn’t entirely fair to compare a tiny elite to a vast majority. After all, the latter included people running crazy stuff such as Slivers (7.9 match points on average) or Grixis Shadow (7.3 match points on average). But how about a comparison that’s supposed to be unfair? To wit, even the mighty and since banned Bridge from Below averaged no more than 16.6 points—admittedly at a larger sample size and with a large target on its back.
Exclusively looking at the 172 players that competed in all 15 rounds of Swiss painted a picture different only by degree. Here, the 12 players with four copies of both Karn and Chalice in their main deck made four points more on average than those without, and three points more on average than the 28 Bridgevine pilots still in the tournament at that point.
News from the Top 64 of GP Dallas
The subgroup fighting for prizes in the final round also included two players on Whir Prison, out of just five such players in the whole field. One of the original five apparently didn’t get the memo on Karn, and another didn’t get his playset completed in time. Both bowed out on Day 1. But the three Whir Prison guards with four Karn all reached the second day.
Here’s the top version of the trio. The other two differed by about one card.
Thomas Griffin, 43rd Place (11-4)
1 Academy Ruins 1 Blast Zone 4 Botanical Sanctum 1 Ghost Quarter 2 Glimmervoid 1 Inventors' Fair 3 Island (335) 4 Tolaria West 4 Yavimaya Coast 4 Karn, the Great Creator 4 Ancient Stirrings 1 Bottled Cloister 4 Chalice of the Void 1 Crucible of Worlds 1 Engineered Explosives 3 Ensnaring Bridge 4 Mishra's Bauble 4 Mox Opal 1 Sorcerous Spyglass 3 Talisman of Curiosity 1 Tormod's Crypt 1 Torpor Orb 3 Welding Jar 4 Whir of Invention Sideboard 1 Damping Sphere 1 Defense Grid 1 Ensnaring Bridge 1 Grafdigger's Cage 1 Liquimetal Coating 1 Mycosynth Lattice 1 Orbs of Warding 1 Sorcerous Spyglass 3 Spellskite 3 Urza, Lord High Artificer 1 Welding Jar
Of particular note, all three Whir players in Day 2 agreed on three copies of Talisman of Curiosity, whereas the two less-successful whirlers both didn’t. What may seem like a minor update can have major implications. There is, for instance, the possibility of casting the planeswalker as early as turn two. The requisite opening even leaves a spare mana for Ancient Stirrings to help find Karn. Only Red Prison can match such speed, and only Green Tron has access to Stirrings. Though speed was more relevant than Stirrings, as Green Tron itself averaged 10.3 match points and didn’t put a single player into the Top 128.
But Whir has both and may just be the actual best Karn deck around because of it, at least in a vacuum. The flip side of relying on artifact mana is of course that it’s pretty bad against an opposing Karn. Besides, 149 of Dallas’s sideboards featured a total of 261 copies of Collector Ouphe. Scraping together three blue mana for Whir of Invention under the influence of either is tough, as is emptying the hand for Ensnaring Bridge.
Artifact decks had a bit of a rough time in Dallas in general. A scant 16 copies of Mox Opal placed inside the Top 64. In addition to Justin Porchas’s Top 8 deck, there was a second Thopter Foundry deck at 11-4, there was the aforementioned Whir, and there was Hardened Scales.
Gal Schlesinger, 50th Place (11-4 )
1 Blinkmoth Nexus 4 Darksteel Citadel 6 Forest (347) 4 Inkmoth Nexus 2 Llanowar Reborn 2 Nurturing Peatland 1 Pendelhaven 4 Arcbound Ravager 4 Arcbound Worker 4 Hangarback Walker 3 Scrapyard Recombiner 2 Steel Overseer 4 Walking Ballista 4 Ancient Stirrings 2 Animation Module 1 Grafdigger's Cage 4 Hardened Scales 4 Mox Opal 1 Throne of Geth 3 Welding Jar Sideboard 3 Damping Sphere 3 Dismember 2 Karn, Scion of Urza 4 Leyline of the Void 3 Nature's Claim
Evidence is slim, but it suggests that Scrapyard Recombiner may be the real deal. The only main deck with three copies was the only one to finish 11-4, and the next ranked Scales build contained two. If you always found traditional Ravager Affinity too easy to sequence correctly, then Scales has been a great option for you for a while. Now, with Recombiner, the optimal lines become even more convoluted.
For something a little simpler, let’s turn to a deck whose performance I neither expected nor am able to explain: 24 lands, 36 white cards, and another 14 white cards in the sideboard.
David Cordeiro, 40th Place (11-4)
2 Emeria, the Sky Ruin 4 Field of Ruin 4 Godless Shrine 4 Marsh Flats 9 Plains (331) 1 Swamp (339) 1 Kami of False Hope 4 Martyr of Sands 4 Ranger of Eos 4 Ranger-Captain of Eos 4 Serra Ascendant 2 Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord 3 Anguished Unmaking 1 Cleansing Nova 4 Orzhov Charm 4 Path to Exile 1 Proclamation of Rebirth 1 Settle the Wreckage 1 Wheel of Sun and Moon 2 Winds of Abandon Sideboard 4 Castigate 1 Elspeth, Knight-Errant 1 Hex Parasite 2 Kambal, Consul of Allocation 4 Rest in Peace 2 Stony Silence 1 Winds of Abandon
What I can do is look up the deck’s performance. Cordeiro went 3-0 versus Bridgevine, 3-0 versus Red Prowess, and 2-1 versus Humans. That much seems reasonable. Though I can’t quite fathom how the above won a match 2-0 against White-Blue Control.
A sweet meta deck for the right meta, the other four Martyr players weren’t so fortunate with their pairings. They faced infinite Thopters and a bunch of poison counters, and were all out of the tournament by Round 6.
The rest of the Top 64 featured a lot more of what had already placed in the Top 32. In total, 14 Bridgevine decks found a home here, seven Humans as well as seven Eldrazi, four each of Burn, Jund, and Red Prowess … But so did one offbeat brew built around the interaction of Ancestral Vision and Crashing Footfalls with Electrodominance, As Foretold, and Dreadhorde Arcanist.
Kyle Flynn, 52nd Place (11-4)
1 Fiery Islet 2 Island (335) 2 Mountain (343) 4 Scalding Tarn 4 Spirebluff Canal 4 Steam Vents 3 Dreadhorde Arcanist 4 Simian Spirit Guide 3 Sphinx of Foresight 4 Ancestral Vision 4 As Foretold 4 Crashing Footfalls 4 Electrodominance 1 Flame Slash 4 Force of Negation 1 Lightning Axe 3 Lightning Bolt 4 Serum Visions 4 Sleight of Hand Sideboard 2 Anger of the Gods 1 Ashiok, Dream Render 2 Ceremonious Rejection 2 Ghost Quarter 2 Pillage 1 Rending Volley 1 Shatterstorm 1 Spell Pierce 3 Surgical Extraction
Unlike Martyr of Sands, this strategy proved able to beat a wide range of opponents: Affinity, Faeries, Jund, Prowess, Spirits, Sultai, Thopters, Vizier, Whir. Half of its losses came at the hands of Bridgevine, a deck that is no more.
Then again, it might as well all be a fluke. This was the only one of its kind in the tournament. Two other players had Crashing Footfalls in their main deck: one ran a single copy in Jund. The second was planning to cast Collected Conjuring into Crashing Footfalls plus Restore Balance, and dropped after Round 4.
This concludes the look at interesting decks from the Top 64. But just a little further down there were Snow Ninja Faeries.
Michael Speck, 72nd Place (10-4-1)
4 Breeding Pool 2 Field of Ruin 2 Flooded Strand 2 Hinterland Harbor 1 Polluted Delta 1 Scalding Tarn 8 Snow-Covered Island 2 Waterlogged Grove 4 Faerie Seer 4 Ice-Fang Coatl 1 Mist-Syndicate Naga 2 Ninja of the Deep Hours 2 Snapcaster Mage 4 Spellstutter Sprite 2 Vendilion Clique 2 Archmage's Charm 2 Cryptic Command 2 Echoing Truth 1 Fact or Fiction 3 Mana Leak 3 Remand 1 Spell Snare 3 String of Disappearances 1 Sword of Feast and Famine 1 Sword of Fire and Ice Sideboard 1 Ashiok, Dream Render 2 Beast Within 2 Force of Negation 3 Ravenous Trap 1 Sower of Temptation 2 Spell Pierce 2 Vapor Snag 2 Weather the Storm
The deck is undeniably cool. You could say coolness is one of its themes. But you really need to cultivate some sheer superhuman level of cool to bring 17 creatures with a toughness of 1 into a field with 322 Lava Darts. That’s 0.26 Darts per deck. Can you guess the number of Lava Darts
Speck actually faced over the course of 15 rounds?
The answer is one. That makes for an average of 0.07 copies per opponent. Well played.
The Big Underperformers
Izzet Phoenix was the second most popular deck choice for players at Grand Prix Dallas, and Green Tron was number eight. Both underperformed considerably. No tradtional Tron deck won more than nine matches in Dallas. In fact, the top finisher’s record included two byes.
Jeremiah Mendiola, 132nd Place (9-6)
1 Blast Zone 4 Forest (347) 1 Ghost Quarter 1 Sanctum of Ugin 4 Urza's Mine 4 Urza's Power Plant 4 Urza's Tower 2 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger 2 Walking Ballista 2 Wurmcoil Engine 3 Karn Liberated 3 Karn, the Great Creator 2 Ugin, the Ineffable 2 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon 2 All Is Dust 4 Ancient Stirrings 3 Chromatic Sphere 3 Chromatic Star 4 Expedition Map 2 Oblivion Stone 3 Relic of Progenitus 4 Sylvan Scrying Sideboard 1 Trinisphere 1 Torpor Orb 2 Thragtusk 2 Surgical Extraction 1 Sorcerous Spyglass 2 Nature's Claim 1 Mycosynth Lattice 1 Grafdigger's Cage 1 Ensnaring Bridge 1 Crucible of Worlds 1 Chalice of the Void 1 Blightsteel Colossus
Tron had problems with Infect and Devoted Vizier, and with Bridgevine itself. These decks should constitute less of a metagame factor after the banning of Bridge from Below. So there’s hope for a Tron recovery.
However, Tron also didn’t do well in Dallas against Red Prowess, against Humans, against Burn, and even against White-Blue Control. The latter used to be a decent matchup for Tron before War of the Spark and Modern Horizons gave White-Blue a general power boost. These decks aren’t going anywhere. Neither will Infect, Vizier, and Bridgevine just vanish in a puff of smoke.
Izzet Phoenix accounted for 8% of the initial field, but only amounted to 1.6% of the Top 64. Here’s the whole 1.6%:
Adam Boyd, 55th Place (11-4)
2 Fiery Islet 3 Island (335) 1 Misty Rainforest 1 Mountain (343) 1 Polluted Delta 4 Scalding Tarn 4 Spirebluff Canal 2 Steam Vents 4 Arclight Phoenix 4 Thing in the Ice/Awoken Horror 2 Aria of Flame 4 Faithless Looting 2 Finale of Promise 1 Flame Slash 4 Lightning Bolt 2 Magmatic Sinkhole 4 Manamorphose 4 Serum Visions 3 Sleight of Hand 3 Surgical Extraction 4 Thought Scour 1 Opt Sideboard 1 Abrade 2 Anger of the Gods 1 Aria of Flame 1 Blood Moon 2 Force of Negation 4 Leyline of the Void 1 Saheeli, Sublime Artificer 2 Spell Pierce 1 Shenanigans
One Izzet Phoenix player had a record of 10-4-1, with three more at 10-5 making for 3.9% of the Top 128. Other events, both before the Bridge ban and since, didn’t go quite as badly for Izzet Phoenix. But their smaller size means less reliable data. Nothing can compare to a Grand Prix when it comes to numbers, for both players as well as rounds.
In the end, it all boils down to the question of whether or not the field at Grand Prix Dallas was more hostile toward the archetype than what we expect going forward. At surface level, the number one factor to consider is graveyard hate. Players were trying to beat Bridgevine this way, the theory goes, and hurt Izzet Phoenix en passant. But Izzet Phoenix does not rely on the graveyard. A player that mulligans into Leyline of the Void, for example, can be in for a rude awakening, namely that of Awoken Horror.
The deck even became less sepulchral with the almost universal adoption of Aria of Flame. The enchantment admittedly works best when Thought Scour fuels flashback and Faithless Looting returns to the stack for an encore. But access to the graveyard is not a strict requirement, unlike with its predecessor, Pyromancer Ascension.
Sure enough, many a Phoenix ran afoul of Surgical Extraction. But Red Prowess—even the versions with a full contingent of Faithless Looting and Lava Dart, Arclight Phoenix and/or Bedlam Reveler—did just fine. Other factors may have been more relevant to Izzet’s misfortune. For example, Izzet Phoenix didn’t do well against Karn decks, and against Chalice of the Void decks, those mentioned in the beginning of the article.
It is possible that the existence of an overpowered Bridgevine deck aided their move to the forefront too. At the same time, there’s no compelling reason why Eldrazi Tron should become any less popular in a world without Bridge from Below. It’s also somewhat impossible, because it wasn’t a popular deck choice in Dallas, merely a successful one.
To be continued…