Top 5 Decks We Wish We’d Played At Grand Prix Manchester (And How They’ll Impact Standard), by George Mostyn


The Top 5 Decks We Wish We’d Played at Grand Prix Manchester, Plus Their Impact On The Future Of Standard

So there we have it! The first British Grand Prix of the year done and dusted in Manchester, before we take the short hop to London in October. 1697 players whittled down to a single, diminutive French Hall of Famer, as Raphaël Lévy brought home his sixth Grand Prix victory late on Sunday night.

Grand Prix Manchester will always hold great memories for me personally, as it was my first Grand Prix back in 2014 and, until this weekend, the closest I had come to reaching Day 2. For many of you like myself, GP Manchester 2016 was my debut day two appearance, running a slightly off-piste version of Bant Eldrazi with maindeck [Card]Archangel Avacyn[/Card] over the more traditional [Card]Reality Smasher[/Card], ready and raring to charge out of the sideboard.

For weeks beforehand, all the chatter amongst Magic communities surrounded the power of GW Tokens, Naya Midrange and [Card]Collected Company[/Card], whilst elsewhere focussed on the control strategies able to take them down. However, in spite of the hysteria over the format’s heavy hitters, GP Manchester brought to the forefront some of the most intriguing Standard deck construction and anti-metagame choices I have ever seen at competitive level events.

For the first time in my Magic career, I finally earned enough points to take two byes to the GP, and had time to witness a wide variety of decks on the top tables before the start of round three. Many control and ramp variants sat alongside the likes of GR Werewolves and even a UW Spirits deck playing four maindeck copies of [Card]Essence Flux[/Card] and the most functional [Card]Welkin Tern[/Card] reprints I had ever seen in a Standard deck.

Thus I am here to bring you The Alternative Report from Grand Prix Manchester, and what better place to begin than with the champion himself, Raphaël Lévy.


Top 5 Decks We Wish We’d Played at GP Manchester

#5. Raphaël Lévy – GW Tokens – 1st Place

[Deck]4 Archangel Avacyn
4 Hangarback Walker
2 Lambholt Pacifist
4 Sylvan Advocate
2 Chandra, Flamecaller
4 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
4 Nissa, Voice of Zendikar
1 Evolutionary Leap
4 Oath of Nissa
2 Stasis Snare
4 Dromoka’s Command
4 Canopy Vista
4 Fortified Village
3 Westvale Abbey
7 Forest
7 Plains[/Deck]


[Deck]3 Den Protector
1 Evolutionary Leap
1 Silkwrap
2 Clip Wings
2 Hallowed Moonlight
1 Angelic Purge
1 Declaration in Stone
2 Planar Outburst
2 Tragic Arrogance[/Deck]

GW Tokens was well renowned as one of the pillars of the Standard format coming into the GP, but Lévy took the strength of [Card]Oath of Nissa[/Card] to the next level, splashing two copies of [Card]Chandra, Flamecaller[/Card] despite the absence of any red sources for the double red Planeswalker. Chandra has presented itself as the best non-black answer to the majority of the format’s major threats, diminishing board states from the likes of Bant Company, [Card]Cryptolith Rite[/Card] and White Weenie alike to rubble with a simple minus. For many an onlooker around the feature match area, this appeared to be a bold move, but the element of surprise was a key factor in a room rippling with GW Tokens mirror matches.

Raphaël was overjoyed after a long day of competition, recovering from a rib injury and even cancelling his 7.45pm flight to be able to play the final:

“My journey to GP Manchester was a hectic one. I came into the tournament with the goal to make three points to lock Gold for the season, I came out with a shiny trophy! Winning always feels great because you can never know when it’s coming next. I’m only one win away to tie with Kai (Budde), Shuhei (Nakamura) and Yuuya (Watanabe) for the most GP wins, I guess that’s pretty good motivation to move forward!” 

Massive congratulations to Raphaël on his 21st Grand Prix Top 8 and for securing Gold Pro for next season.


#4. Karl Hagan – Atarka Red

[Deck]4 Abbot of Keral Keep
3 Falkenrath Gorger
2 Lightning Berseker
1 Pia and Kiran Nalaar
4 Reckless Bushwhacker
4 Village Messenger
2 Zurgo Bellstriker
4 Atarka’s Command
2 Draconic Roar
4 Titan’s Strength
4 Dragon Fodder
4 Exquisite Firecraft
1 Magmatic Chasm
4 Cinder Glade
4 Game Trail
1 Forest
12 Mountain[/Deck]


[Deck]1 Pia and Kiran Nalaar
4 Thunderbreak Regent
3 Rending Volley
1 Boiling Earth
2 Magmatic Chasm
3 Roast
1 Westvale Abbey[/Deck]

Now don’t go shooting the messenger but, in testing, this deck was sweet! With the amount of RG Ramp being played on the Friday alongside many control decks dropping the number of maindeck [Card]Languish[/Card], opting for [Card]Dark Petition[/Card] in its stead to provide “virtual additional copies”, my roommate for the weekend and myself toyed around with the idea of resurrecting Atarka Red. Thus the hyper-aggressive Atarka Red strategy definitely warrants a mention, and there were even a handful knocking around on day two of competition.

Testing proved successful, beating out my Bant Eldrazi deck and ramp strategies with ease, with turn four wins surprisingly consistent on the play. [Card]Village Messenger[/Card] thrived on the turn-one-tapped-land Standard format, and curving into [Card]Atarka’s Command[/Card] plus surged [Card]Reckless Bushwhacker[/Card] on turn four was nothing less than devastating! Unfortunately some awkward mana draws left Karl in the x-4 bracket after round seven, but reviving the former Standard “boogie man” seemed like great fun and was a surprisingly good call for the weekend, and with more time to tune may have been a day two contender.


#3. Petr Sochûrek – Bant Humans – 9th Place

[Deck]3 Duskwatch Recruiter
3 Knight of the White Orchid
4 Lambholt Pacifist
4 Reflector Mage
4 Thalia’s Lieutenant
3 Thraben Inspector
4 Tireless Tracker
4 Collected Company
4 Dromoka’s Command
2 Ojutai’s Command
2 Canopy Vista
4 Evolving Wilds
4 Fortified Village
1 Port Town
2 Prairie Stream
2 Yavimaya Coast
3 Forest
1 Island
6 Plains[/Deck]


[Deck]2 Den Protector
1 Hidden Dragonslayer
2 Nissa, Vastwood Seer
2 Gryff’s Boon
3 Declaration in Stone
2 Tragic Arrogance
3 Negate[/Deck]

Petr Sochûrek is probably one of the most unlucky players in Magic right now – a 9th place finish in the swiss on tie-breakers with one of the most successful decks on Magic Online since the release of Shadows over Innistrad – Bant Humans. Despite being renowned for [Card]Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy[/Card] control decks at Premier Events over the past few months, Sochûrek took a page out of Yuuya Watanabe’s book and brought the explosive Humans variant of Collected Company strategies to the GP.

Whilst most Bant Company decks aim to out-tempo their opponents with the likes of [Card]Reflector Mage[/Card] and [Card]Bounding Krasis[/Card], the Company hits in Sochûrek’s list put opponents off curve whilst also rocketing the power and toughness of his team via the key to the deck – Thalia’s Lieutenant. The Lieutenant helps Lambholt Pacifist enable itself with the boost up to 4/4 immediately, turning the two-mana investment into a five-turn clock on its own! With a powerful early game curve, Bant Humans also carries a strong late game with the likes of Tireless Tracker and is able to recover quickly after a [Card]Languish[/Card] or [Card]Radiant Flames[/Card].

After watching many rounds of play, the one major difference I noticed between the two main variants of Bant Company was that the Humans version casts main phase Companies significantly more often, aiming to finish off tap out control strategies with a single spell if you are lucky enough to hit two Lieutenants adding to a board full of humans. Even hitting a Knight of the White Orchid on the draw allows for major value plays if you are behind on board. The sideboard contains plans for the control decks of the format with the likes of Negate, Den Protector and Hidden Dragonslayer, with options for the Cryptolith Rite decks, with Tragic Arrogance being the all-star on this occasion.

For any Collected Company aficionado looking for something different to play before Dragons of Tarkir rotates in October, Bant Humans is certainly an explosive option to consider if you don’t want to take the Cryptolith Rite direction.


#2. Matthew Hunt – UR Ulamog – 6th Place

[Deck]3 Drowner of Hope
3 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
2 Chandra, Flamecaller
2 Jace, Unraveler of Secrets
4 Hedron Archive
2 Anticipate
1 Brutal Expulsion
4 Clash of Wills
1 Confirm Suspicions
1 Epiphany at the Drownyard
2 Kozilek’s Return
4 Spatial Contortion
4 Void Shatter
4 Highland Lake
4 Mage-Ring Network
4 Shivan Reef
4 Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
2 Spawning Bed
4 Wandering Fumarole
5 Island[/Deck]


[Deck]1 Drowner of Hope
3 Reality Smasher
1 Ruin Processor
2 Fevered Visions
2 Fiery Impulse
2 Kozilek’s Return
2 Negate
1 Warping Wail
1 Roast[/Deck] 

[Card]Mage-Ring Network[/Card] control decks had made a short stint at the very top of pro level play in 2015, but hadn’t quite made the conversion into a full on ramp strategy. GR Ramp made up a large percentage of the day one metagame, but Matthew Hunt introduced ramp to his inner blue mage with his intuitive UR Ulamog list.

Permission and removal spells dominate the low end of the curve, charging Mage-Ring Network or finding [Card]Hedron Archive[/Card] as the game progresses. Then we reach the spectacular top-end of [Card]Jace, Unraveler of Secrets[/Card], Chandra, Flamecaller and [Card]Drowner of Hope[/Card], leading up to the heady heights of [Card]Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger[/Card] himself.

Powerful yet spicy one of inclusions of [Card]Confirm Suspicions[/Card], [Card]Epiphany at the Drownyard[/Card] and [Card]Brutal Expulsion[/Card] made Matthew’s deck truly unique. Speaking with Matthew after the event, he took me through some of his card selections and why he chose UR Ulamog for the GP:

“Standard is beginning to feel like a “play what you know” format, so sticking with the deck I’d been tuning since the release of Shadows Over Innistrad seemed like the best call. I enjoy the way it plays, preventing my opponent from landing an early threat and allowing me time to be able to swiftly finish off the game with Ulamog. The strategy was extremely efficient in dealing with the various midrange strategies (i.e. Naya and Grixis in particular), especially in match-ups without access to hand disruption. [Card]Confirm Suspicions[/Card] and [Card]Brutal Expulsion[/Card] were included as additional hard counter spells, whilst Epiphany allowed for huge card advantage in the late game. The singleton [Card]Ruin Processor[/Card] in the sideboard primarily came in against the aggressive decks in the format providing the ability to trigger [Card]Kozilek’s Return[/Card] where Ulamog would have been too slow.”

And finally, moving onto one of the most talked about 75s of the weekend: Martin Müller, already having secured Platinum status ahead of the 2016-17 season, brought one of the most intricately designed and unique Standard builds seen in recent history – Mono Blue Prison!


#1. Martin Müller – Mono Blue Prison – 25th Place

[Deck]4 Prism Ring
4 Jace’s Sanctum
4 Anticipate
4 Engulf the Shore
4 Hydrolash
3 Day’s Undoing
4 Nagging Thoughts
4 Part the Waterveil
4 Pore Over the Pages
1 Rise from the Tides
24 Island[/Deck]


[Deck]4 Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
4 Thing in the Ice
2 Invasive Surgery
4 Negate
1 Displacement Wave[/Deck]

When was the last time you saw a GP top 32 deck running a landbase of simply 24 [Card]Islands[/Card]? Utilising the cumulative power of [Card]Jace’s Sanctum[/Card], Müller’s game plan resolved around stalling and gaining life through [Card]Prism Ring[/Card], bouncing opponent’s creatures with [Card]Engulf the Shore[/Card], resetting hands with [Card]Day’s Undoing[/Card] and finally winning with [Card]Part the Waterveil[/Card] or an enormous [Card]Rise from the Tides[/Card]. Being able to bounce all creatures with Engulf and then reset both players’ hands with Day’s Undoing as early as turn five, thanks to [Card]Jace’s Sanctum[/Card] reducing their respective costs, is a unique line within prison control and something blue mages were dying to see.

With a maindeck completely impervious to spot removal and wrath effects, whilst being able to control the width of board states produced by the numerous tokens and [Card]Collected Company[/Card] strategies, the deck selection seemed ideal for the GP metagame. Plus, in spite of its linear strategy, the sideboard composed of [Card]Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy[/Card] for the control match ups and [Card]Thing in the Ice[/Card] for the various Ramp strategies, in addition to the usual counter magic options, didn’t disrupt the overall strategy of the main deck and was truly a sight to behold.

I was lucky enough to be just a few seats down from Müller on day two to see this deck in action, watching the opposing Company player sit and scratch his head for the full 50 minutes of the round. Prison decks have rarely peaked in Standard since the days of [Card]Squirrel Nest[/Card]–[Card]Opposition[/Card] and [Card]Tangle Wire[/Card]-[Card]Smokestack[/Card] decks, and although Müller said he wouldn’t have played such a deck if he hadn’t already secured the Pro Points he required, we are sure glad he did!


In regards to the future of the Standard format, Matthew Hunt made a very good point in that, like Modern, Standard is becoming a play-what-you-know-best format full to the brim with variations on the pillars of Standard but with room to brew and bring to the table some extremely intricate and alternative ways to play Magic. And, although GW Tokens and Bant Company dominated the statistics for day two conversion, I couldn’t nail down a single deck as the leading force in Standard, and this suggests a vibrant and exciting time to be playing ahead of the release of Eldritch Moon. Will the release of Eldritch Moon change everything, I wonder?

I hope you all enjoyed a stellar weekend up in Manchester, and I look forward to seeing you for the next instalment of GP goodness in London this October.

Community Question: Did you take a deck outside of the Standard metagame to GP Manchester? If so, what did you play and why?

Thanks for reading,

George Mostyn

Top 5 Decks We Wish We'd Played At Grand Prix Manchester (And How They'll Impact Standard), by George Mostyn
So there we have it! The first British Grand Prix of the year done and dusted in Manchester, before we take the short hop to London in October. 1697 players whittled down to a single, diminutive French Hall of Famer, as Raphaël Lévy brought home his sixth Grand Prix victory late on Sunday night.

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