Showdown Recap: Frontier and Amonkhet Prerelease
Welcome to another Showdown Recap, where we take a look at what happened at Face to Face Games Toronto’s weekly Sunday Showdown, a series of 1k events feeding into the Ultimate Showdown 5k Invitational. Today, we’ve got two events to cover, a Frontier Showdown on April 16th and the Amonkhet Prerelease Showdown on April 23rd.
Last Frontier Showdown highlighted the rise of Emrakul, the Promised End Jund strategies, though the event was eventually won by one of the two Hardened Scales decks in the top 4. The Snake decks stuck around for the month in between these events, but Emrakul, unfortunately, did not show up in the expected numbers this time around. Let’s take a look at the top finishers!
Clocking in at eighth place is Peter De Vries, with an interesting take on a mono-white aggro strategy. Instead of going down the path of Thalia’s Lieutenant and Humans synergies, Peter chose to play significantly more disruption, with eight removal spells in his maindeck alongside a playset of the format all-star Smuggler’s Copter. While this deck packs less of a punch than the hyper-aggressive Humans decks, Peter can lean on more consistent midgame threats like Archangel of Tithes to disrupt the opponent’s gameplan. The sideboard continues down this Hatebears approach with Phyrexian Revoker and Hushwing Gryff. Hopefully we’ll see more of this kind of strategy going forward in Frontier, as it’s something that’s been sorely missing from the metagame, with the printing of Aven Mindcensor in Amonkhet.
Phil Bickle brought a wild version of Grixis Ensoul to a seventh place finish, playing a ton of different and diverse cards in his deck. Recently, this strategy has fallen massively out of favour since the printing of Fatal Push, an effective hoser to a 5/5 Ornithopter, but Phil deals with that by playing significantly more midrange threats. From Maverick Thopterist to Chief of the Foundry, his deck is more of an artifact synergy deck than an all-in Affinity-style beatstick. Going forward, however, I’d like to see him consolidate the diversity of his threats a bit more. Is the first Thopter Engineer actually better than the third Pia Nalaar or the second Chief of the Foundry? Making these kinds of decisions in deckbuilding, especially outside of a well-tuned archetype, is a major challenge.
In sixth place we have perennial weekend warrior Eric Li running a heavy nostalgia deck – Esper Dragons! Generally the control decks in Frontier have gone down the Grixis or 4-colour paths, largely due to the unbelievable power of Kolaghan’s Command, but Eric saw that nobody was playing Crackling Doom anymore, which means Dragonlord Ojutai can sneak its way in to the metagame. This deck is very similar to its powerful Standard version, getting to play the closest analogue to Counterspell in years as well as gaining the all-star Fatal Push. As long as sacrifice effects remain out of the public eye, Hexproof Dragons will be something to pay attention to.
Rounding out our quarterfinalists is… oh hey, it’s me, Daniel. I brought an ambitious build of Bant Company, excruciatingly well-tested over four entire rounds of Magic the previous Wednesday. I didn’t want to source copies of Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, and I always hated that card in the Standard version of this deck anyways, so I decided to go all-in and cut it for a playset of the rarely seen Greenwheel Liberator. We want to play 11-12 fetchlands anyways, so why aren’t we adding a 2-mana 4/3 to our deck? Renegade Rallier was an all-star, frequently getting a full Collected Company of value on its own, and the killer duo of Spell Queller and Reflector Mage were as efficient as ever at keeping the board clearly in my favour. One major change I’d make is getting rid of the terrible maindeck Den Protectors. I thought the metagame would be full of big Emrakul decks with tons of Languish, so I wanted to be able to switch into a deck full of Disdainful Stroke and Den Protector post-board, but in reality, the two in the maindeck should really just be [card]Selfless Spirit[card]. This deck is otherwise great, play it!
Moving on to fourth place, we have Frontier master Andrew Oyen, playing his dearly beloved BG Hardened Scales. I don’t have much more to say about this deck than that it’s really good, and really hopes to see very few copies of Fatal Push, Reflector Mage, and Dromoka’s Command staring it down. Andrew brought a nice little innovation with a grindier sideboard, featuring a “free” splash of Kolaghan’s Command alongside a ton of Smuggler’s Copter and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet.
Brad Burden made it to a podium finish with Jeskai Black Saheeli Rai, a deck he’s been working on for a while. This deck takes a similar gameplan to the late Standard Jeskai Saheeli deck and ports it into a format where it doesn’t have to contend with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. A bunch of removal, a bunch of interaction, a bunch of card advantage, and an infinite combo? It’s Splinter Twin all over again. This deck is a real contender in the format, especially given the low density of answers to the combo that people actually actively play. Unfortunately, while Fatal Push is bad against Felidar Guardian in Standard, Frontier’s fetchland legality is a bit of an issue for that advantage.
To anyone who follows this series, Liam Kane being in the finals is no surprise. He towers above the rest of the top 10 on the leaderboard, and continues to demonstrate absolute mastery of both Frontier and Standard with absurdly consistent results. This week he brought Bant Company – despite playing Jeskai Black on Wednesday to a 4-0 finish – featuring a full four planeswalkers in the 75, including a maindeck Tamiyo, Field Researcher. Every time I looked over to a match of his in the top 8, he was drawing multiple cards and locking down the board with her. Definitely an all-star.
In the end, however, Simon Tubello, of “would be in first place in Standings if it wasn’t for Liam” fame, was able to beat the child prodigy in a long, grindy finals match. This is his second win with Grixis Control, a deck he’s been tuning for ages. I’m excited to see his decision to move to Toronto to play more Magic paying off for him in a big way. His Grixis deck is extremely powerful: a strong set of creatures that generate card advantage backed up by a suite of counterspells, removal, and lasting card advantage that will put any deck to shame. I particularly like his decision to shy away from Languish in favour of Yahenni’s Expertise, as there are few x/4s in the format these days, and the Expertise’s ability to throw out a quick Jace or Liliana is very significant.
Of course, both our finalists are the top 2 on the leaderboard, so Simon’s win and Liam’s near miss do very little other than tighten their race slightly – check out the details in the standings. Brad Burden, Andrew Oyen, and Arkein Pangilinan all earned enough Showdown Points to push themselves above the 50-point threshold and qualify for the Ultimate Showdown.
On April 23rd, as is tradition, we played host to our Prerelease Sunday Showdown, a rare beast in that it’s a prerelease event catering not only to the casual crowd, but also to those looking for a more competitive experience. Some of the best players in the city show up to this event on the regular, and it’s telling that the top 8 drafts at these are no slouch. Because the tournament is still a Prerelease, it’s held at Regular Rules Enforcement Level, which means that we don’t collect decklists from the top 8 players.
Instead, I’m gonna talk a bit about the Sealed format, and extrapolate a bit into what we know of the Draft format so far. This set has three major mechanics: Exert, which encourages aggressive decks to be able to attack in board states where they wouldn’t otherwise be able to, Embalm, which gives creatures significant longevity, and Cycling, which reduces inconsistency in decks and allows situational cards to be played in higher density. I can’t speak highly enough of Cycling. What this ability does to a Sealed format is unparalleled. Morph, in Khans of Tarkir, helped in a similar way, as you get to basically play a bunch of slow, powerful cards, but instead of having them rot away in your hand, they have a second mode of decreasing variance in draws. It’s beautiful. The Sealed format is doubtlessly slow. Aggressive decks struggle to perform in a format where 1/4s, 1/5s and 2/4s clog up the ground, making it so that Exert creatures can only attack every other turn, while slower strategies have extremely powerful high-end cards like Lay Claim and Pull from Tomorrow.
As usual, there are powerful rares, but powerful common answers exist for many of them, from Final Reward to Illusory Wrappings. Counterspells are oddly good due to the low speed of the format, and the magic number for a creature typically being larger than everything else in play is 4/4. The split cards, especially the multi-colour ones, offer a lot of tension to deckbuilding, encouraging players to stretch their mana thin to incorporate powerful cards into their slow decks. It’s beautiful. This is Magic as it was intended to be. Slow, grindy, and skillful.
As for draft, it seems to be significantly faster, as usual, but still subject to a lot of the same rules. Random cycling cards, especially the cheap ones, are very valuable, as are Cartouches and Trials, the synergy of which can push a decent deck well over the top. My top 8 draft deck from this Prerelease Showdown had a killer combination of three Cartouche of Valor, three Trial of Valor, and a Trial of Ambition. When I drew them in multiples, it was unreal.
Chris Ha was able to take down this event, sneaking past last week’s champion, Simon Tubello, in the standings, while both Jeff Swaluk and myself continue our battle, with him trailing me by a single point. Maksym Gryn, Samuel Tyler, and Eric Sturm also earned qualifications off of their top 8 finishes. Join us this weekend for a Modern Sunday Showdown! We’re nearing the end of the season, so make sure you get your top finishes in and qualify for the Ultimate Showdown! See you all next week!
Simon Tubello – Grixis Control – 1st
Liam Kane – Bant Company – 2nd
Brad Burden – Jeskai Black Saheeli – 3rd
Andrew Oyen – BG Hardened Scales – 4th
Daniel Fournier – Bant Company – 5th
Eric Li – Esper Dragons – 6th
Phil Bickle – Grixis Ensoul Artifact – 7th
Peter de Vries – Mono-White – 8th