Stream of Consciousness #6

If ever we doubted that Magic was a skill game, this weekend was a real point in the favour of that hypothesis with very strong Top 8s in both Grands Prix. Perhaps this was most evident in Hong Kong, with a top 4 made up of Yuuta Takahashi, Ken Yukuhiro, Martin Juza and professional Grand Prix winner (and eventual champion) Shuhei Nakamura. Good thing that Sealed GPs are all about luck.

Meanwhile on the other side of the world, the top 8 of GP Louisville had Sam Black, Huey Jensen, Brad Nelson, Todd Anderson, Jon Stern and Brian Braun-Duin. Apparently what BBD has been Duin is getting even better at the game, since he is now a GP champion. Todd, Brad and BBD, also known as the Roanoke Crew, were all on the same deck, while Sam was on his Pro Tour top 8 list. As Sam himself said, why wouldn’t he run it back?

More on the backlash from that ridiculous Standard top 8 in a moment. It seems clear that Wizards has come up with both a deep and varied Standard format and a skill-intensive but fun limited one, while still delivering a flavourful set in Theros. Major kudos are required there.

Is the saturation of pros in GP top 8s a good thing though? A Grand Prix is supposed to be a chance for local players to compete on the biggest stage they are ever likely to reach, and to interact with and play against pros. If the local grinders go in expecting to not do well, will it hurt attendance and/or damage the experience? Just an idle musing.

If in fact this is a problem, one of the factors would likely be that the Pro Tour invites from GPs were going largely unused since the people qualifying for them are already invited. It would be nice to see the invites pass down to top 16 if people in the top 4 or 8 already have them, which might also make the matches at tables 6-12 more interesting in the last round.

Unfortunately a couple of the plentiful good stories in top 8 would turn sour on Twitter after the event. Sam Black, who is on a heater right now on a par with Huey Jensen’s, mentioned that he felt his top 8 exit was anticlimactic, coming as it did in some non-interactive games, and reaffirmed his desire to actually take one of these down some day. Conley Woods thought it sounded like entitled whining. This led to a very uncomfortable (for me, as a fan of both guys) exchange between them and others. I can see where Conley was coming from, but to be honest Sam just doesn’t seem like the type to whine. He’s far more likely to go away and come back stronger than you can possibly imagine. Possibly with the ability to shoot lightning from his fingertips.

But the drama couldn’t stop there. I stupidly asked Twitter if we could all agree that Brad Nelson was one of the top 3 deckbuilders around right now, insinuating that he was responsible for the 75 that put him, BBD and Todd in the top 8. I was quickly (and reasonably) corrected on that by a number of people, but one particular troll decided it would be fun to accuse Brad of stealing Kentarou Yamamoto’s Pro Tour deck and passing it off as his own.

It’s not secret I am a huge fan of Mr. Nelson. I’d go so far as to call him a friend. That said, my view on this may be a little…tinted by a lack of journalistic impartiality. Brad never claimed the deck as his own, but even if he had I would not find it hard to believe that two people had the same or similar idea at the same time. That would require logical and reasonable deduction though, something of which our antagonist was apparently incapable. He railed about disrespect, said Brad always did this sort of thing, and so on. When Todd later posted a screen shot showing that he came up with the deck prior to the Pro Tour, things got a lot quieter…temporarily. Some people just like to start a ruckus I guess.

So who are the best deckbuilders right now? Sam Black is still at the top of the heap in my mind, but it’s really hard to think of two more who are better than Brad Nelson – in Standard, anyway – using recent success as a metric. Todd Anderson, Josh Utter-Leyton, Patrick Chapin, Makihito Mihara…all have had success, but Brad’s has been more consistent in the past 18 months.

How good is Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx? Devotion decks are all the rage right now, but not all of them are running 4 copies. As a legendary land, even with the new rules, duplicates are of limited value. Yet it is capable of very, VERY dumb things especially in combination with [card]Voyaging Satyr[/card]. Nykthos is basically a Caba Coffers for any colour which might be too good for Standard. I know Travis is working on ways to break it in Modern, and I’ve heard rumblings of Legacy applications. I don’t know about that, but any deck I build will either run Nykthos or a way to get rid of it.

I was going to talk about how beautiful Nykthos is in foil, but I realised that [card]Stormbreath Dragon[/card], Erebos, [card]Swan Song[/card] , [card]Whip of Erebos[/card] and about twenty more cards weren’t far behind. This is one gorgeous set.

[card]Pack Rat[/card] is finally seeing its time in the…sun? Sewer? Either way, the card has shot up recently since Yamamoto played it in his top 8 list at the Pro Tour, and the Roanoke boys all played it at GP Louisville. When RtR came out I knew [card]Pack Rat[/card] would be good, though nobody else believed me. Now granted I thought it would be more at home in a reanimator shell, but hey sometimes you get it a little wrong. Turns out that a turn 2 Rat is not much easier to beat in constructed than in limited though, and when you have four [card]Underworld Connections[/card] AND [card]Erebos, God of the Dead[/card] to fuel your rat-making, the game ends in a hurry.

The spectre of cancelled orders from retailers has raised once again its ghastly head as a Pro Tour filled with surprises wreaked havoc on prices. [card]Horde of Notions[/card] host Will Blondon had an order for four [card]Chandra, Pyromaster[/card] cancelled by a small retailer who essentially told him they would rather lose him as a customer then sell to him at that price. There’s no excuse for this. The card was listed for $20, other sites had it at $40, but there’s no way they were LOSING money selling it at $20 or it would never have been listed there. It’s greed, pure and simple, and Three Kings Loot needs to be called out on their bullshit.

Does the position change for you when the order is for 30 copies of a card, and is cut to 4? Cool Stuff Inc did that to a customer, reasoning that he would still have his playset. Opinion on this has been decidedly split, as opposed to the previous situation where almost everyone is on Will’s side. When does greed shift from the retailer to the consumer? Eight copies? Twelve?

What am I playing right now? Well I haven’t been playing much, but my newfound love for grindy decks has me playing a go-bigger version of Patrick Chapin’s BW deck from the Pro Tour. I don’t have the early creatures he has, playing [card]Tithe Drinker[/card] (yes really) and more early removal instead, and I also have [card]Alms Beast[/card]. Having more 6/6s for 4 mana really makes it hard for GW and the red devotion decks to get through, and the combination with Erebos is too sweet to pass up. [card]Devour Flesh[/card] is in that same group, basically becoming [card]Diabolic Edict[/card] with upside. I am loving the deck as it really makes me think through each match while providing powerful options and the ability to just win.

The Pro Tour is now a distant blip in our rear mirror, but I have a feeling that top 8 has solidified this year’s hall of fame ballot for a large section of the committee. Both Rietzl and Mihara got votes last year, and an extra top 8 will certainly help their cause. Add in the lack of a marquee first-ballot entrant this year and all signs point to a good time to be putting up results and reminding people of your name. Hopefully Chris Pikula can get ten more Pro Points, because he’ll be a shoe-in.

Despite his fifth Pro Tour top 8 and his clear remorse for the God Book spoiling, I don’t think I could vote for Guillaume Wafo-Tapa yet. In terms of play skill the man clearly deserves the honour, but community contribution also matters and his part in the New Phyrexia God Book incident did a lot of damage to the community. I don’t doubt he will get in, and I wouldn’t imagine many people share my opinion, but it still feels too soon to me.

To end on some good news, GP Louisville also saw what I think is a first: a marriage proposal via deck check with the help of the judge staff. You can see all the details on the proposal here. I love that the judges were able to do this and that she said yes. I’m a romantic and seeing such creativity in a proposal is heart-warming. If the time ever comes that I want to marry again, this is the sort of thing I would want to do.

Thanks for following the Stream again this week. It’s good to be back. Go play some Magic!