An epic Magic weekend is in the books and I’m home from Grand Prix Las Vegas. It was an amazing event that kept everyone busy in the air-conditioned convention center to beat the Sweltering Suns outside. The setting was a perfect flavor match for Amonkhet.

I played the Limited main event and one of the two Limited PTQs on Sunday. Neither tournament was kind to me, but the games were tons of fun and mostly interesting. I lost a heartbreaker in round nine to finish day one 6-3. I came back for day two but a bad draft left me dead for any prize in the giant event, so I dropped to take advantage of the rest of what the tournament and city had to offer.

The sealed format is basically dead now until Hour of Devastation comes out, so I’ll focus this week more generally.

#1—115 Degrees Fahrenheit is Very Hot

A record heat wave has been crushing the American Southwest for the last week or so. I’ve been to Las Vegas in summer a few times, and even visited Death Valley in September (when it is still very hot), but I was surprised by how hot it was in Vegas all weekend. There’s a reason the city is designed to keep you busy indoors all the time, but this was ridiculous. There was also zero humidity (go figure) so your skin (especially face) would dry out quickly.

I live in Denver, which is already very dry, so I didn’t mind too much, but I noticed. Others from humid climes had a rough time. Chapstick stocks are rising among the Magic community. A grand prix seems like a best case scenario if you’re in Vegas in extreme heat. The popular electronic music festival EDC was going on at the same time, and I can’t imagine partying outside in that heat.

Overall, it was a strange addition to a surreal weekend. It really did feel like we were on Amonkhet. And let’s be real—Nicol Bolas would love Las Vegas.

#2—You Just Missed the Window Where Affinity Was the Deck to Play

Mani Davoudi took down the giant Modern main event with his beloved Affinity deck. I was so happy to hear this. Mani and I go back a few years, and he’s truly one of the nicest people on the grand prix circuit. (We met during round seven of GP Toronto four years ago: “Now earlier, Mani had mentioned that he ordered a pizza. It was close to 10:00 so I could totally understand.”) I saw him Sunday morning while I was waiting for the PTQ to start and he was between rounds in day two, and it was a highlight of my weekend. Chalk another win up for the good team.

I considered playing in the Modern event, but decided I’d rather take the chance to draft. I haven’t played Modern since the PPTQ season last fall, when I got tired of losing with Affinity to Dredge. I brought the robots with me, and also slapped together Grixis Shadow, but without any time to prepare it felt like a waste to register.

While I was selling cards on Thursday, I talked Modern with the buyer. I said I liked to play Affinity but that it had been bad for a while. He had heard people saying it was the perfect time to spike the event with Affinity while the hate was low. That is the truth, and the fact that someone like me who plays and enjoys the deck felt like it wasn’t worth playing had to contribute to the metagame leaving Stony Silence at home.

I have thought for a while that Kolaghan’s Command would help Affinity because it game fair decks reasonable game against the deck, meaning less people would pack aggressive hate. One of the main appeals to Affinity has traditionally been it’s strength in game one. As more decks pick up edges against it without targeted hate, less people bother playing the deck. Eventually there’s no fear in the metagame, and Cranial Plating lives for no fear.

Mani hit it on the right day and took down a giant trophy. That probably means Affinity will face the hate for a while. If you’re looking for a deck for the Modern PPTQ season that starts next month, be wary. But still, it’s a strong proactive deck so it can’t ever be that bad.

#3—Grand Prix Prize Payouts are Absurdly Low

The ten thousand dollar first prize is good. But only the top 64 players get any money except in the absolute largest events. Sure, they say they add extra prizes for tournaments with more than 3,000 players, but only Modern in Vegas crossed that threshold. Limited had 2,700, and one 34-point player finished in 65th to miss the cash prize. Legacy had roughly the same number of players, and the prize cutoff was a clean cut between 35 and 34 Swiss points. That’s absurd.

Maybe prizes have been shifted to be extra top-heavy to bring more attention to the winners. It looks better to say the prize is $10,000. Maybe that’s a stepping stone to beefing up the lower payouts, thus growing the entire prize pool slowly. I could believe that’s the budget-growing strategy at Wizards as they battle the Hasbroverlords.

Let’s hope so, because right now people like we who are live to cash GPs but don’t have enough pro points to chase Silver have basically no value in playing Grand Prix. They are glorified RPTQs that also help out players grasping at or holding on to a pro club membership. That’s not very many players.

#4—Switching Colors in Sealed is Much Easier Online

I’ve reall enjoyed Amonkhet Sealed, except for one thing: it’s too swingy for competitive play. Te games are amazing, the deckbuilding choices interesting, sideboarding creativity is highly rewarded, and both the rares and commons matter to the quality of your pool. It’s too hard to win consistently, though, because some games you just flat out lose to a turn five Glorybringer, or your opponent having their five best cards in their top ten when you just have a normal draw.

Don’t get me wrong: the games are amazing. In round three of the Sunday PTQ, in the 0-2 bracket with a good deck against another good deck, we shared stories of absolute mayhem (mine mostly red five drop fliers) that led us there. It was a fun match (that I also lost in a close and fun three where we both sided into a backup Drake Haven deck). We agreed that it was hard to be too emotionally invested in winning Amonkhet sealed tournaments.

That’s fine I guess. Khans of Tarkir sealed was amazing and skill-testing. It rewarded tight play and provided consistent results to prepared players. (I won a Khans sealed PTQ, and my playtest friends won three more of them, so maybe I’m biased.) Shadows Over Innistrad was similar. But Amonkhet, like Kaladesh, gives a lesser edge to tight play. Mixing up the variance of competitive metagames is good overall, I just wish such a sweet set weren’t in the middle of the swing away from the style that favors me.

More deeply, though, I think Amonkhet has revealed an interesting divide in the online and paper sealed metagames. Normally when you get a mediocre sealed pool, you have to try an aggro deck, or maybe two mediocre decks you can swap after game one. In deeper, more powerful formats, you have multiple viable deck options, and more of the edge goes to sideboarding. (Aside: maybe this is where I’m wrong above, and I just need to improve at the key skill test of the format by sideboarding better.) Amonkhet is powerful enough to give a lot of options.

Leagues make it easy to go deep on a sealed metagame. The online interface makes it simple to build multiple decks for one pool and switch them in seconds. In paper, you have to plan carefully to swap colors or fully customize a multicolor good stuff deck in the few minutes you have to sideboard between each game. I did this in both sealed events in Vegas, but it was a huge hassle. I like doing it—though I prefer having a strong enough pool that drastic changes aren’t necessary—but it takes effort I’d prefer to channel into gameplay.

Plenty of others won’t bother. Because of that, people with mediocre pools in paper Amonkhet sealed go with the aggro approach instead of customizing a group of packages and colors to swap in or out for each matchup. The aggro decks are pretty good, even if they aren’t necessarily the best options. You can still get crushed by them, and it will happen more often in paper tournaments. Online, you see aggro decks more as a post-board way to win quickly when running low on the clock or go under a better deck.

We should watch this trend with sealed leagues and paper tournament metagame divergence. That might be a new thing because the technological ease of sideboarding makes it much more possible in Magic’s competitive format with the largest sideboard.

#5—Nobody Misses Aetherworks Marvel

They stopped firing Standard on-demand side events during GP Vegas. The ban did not go in effect until Monday, so that people could bring their Standard decks to Vegas without being uprooted at the last minute. There was no main event, but they did hold a PTQ on Sunday. Oliver Tomajko took it down. I don’t know what he played, but he’s probably the only person who enjoyed playing Standard in Vegas last weekend.

Early reports are that the metagame is much better with the Marvel menace gone. I sure hope so.

Carrie O’Hara is Editor-in-Chief of Hipsters of the Coast.

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