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Stern’s Bant Auras Take Atlantic City

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Congratulations to Grand Prix Atlantic City Champion Jon Stern!

1646 players descended upon Atlantic City to test their mettle in one of the most diverse Standard formats of all time. But even though the majority of top pros agreed that the format was diverse, many of those same pros assumed that there was little room left for innovation.

Boy were they wrong.

Going into this weekend Zombies, Mono Red, Jund, Blue White/x Control, Green-White Beatdown, Naya, and a variety of Unburial Rites Reanimator decks were thought to be the only decks that had a chance of competing.

But when the dust settled and the Top 8 was announced, there were two Bant Aura decks, and an Izzet Staticaster Jund deck amongst the ranks.

Former Player of the Year Brad Nelson led the pack going into the Top 8 with an Izzet Staticaster/Nightshade Peddler Jund deck that (despite writing and streaming with the deck all week) many players nonetheless assumed was "just a joke." Joining Brad in the Top 8 were Pro Tour Dark Ascension Top 8 alum Matt Costa with Blue White Red Flash; 4 time Grand Prix Top 8 competitor Ari Lax with Mono Red; Ryan Leverone and Seneca Hobler each with Jund Midrange; Lloyd Kurth with Esper Control; and finally - Jon Stern and 3 time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Josh Utter-Leyton each with Bant Auras.

Two single elimination matches later, Jon Stern and Josh Utter-Leyton were facing down against each other in a Bant Aura mirror match.

After splitting the first two games, Josh Utter-Leyton (playing in his 7th Grand Prix Top 8) found himself within a single game of earning his first Grand Prix Title.

But Canadian Jon Stern would not be denied – ultimately riding a Geist of Saint Traft (paired with Silverblade Paladin, and enchanted with Rancor plus Spectral Flight) to the top.




Quarterfinals   Semifinals   Finals   Champion
1 Brad Nelson   Brad Nelson, 2-0        
8 Seneca Hobler   Jon Stern, 2-1
       
4 Matt Costa   Jon Stern, 2-0   Jon Stern, 2-1
5 Jon Stern    
       
2 Ari Lax   Ari Lax, 2-0
7 Lloyd Kurth   Josh Utter-Leyton, 2-1
       
3 Josh Utter-Leyton   Josh Utter-Leyton, 2-0
6 Ryan Leverone    


  Streaming video coverage of Grand Prix Atlantic City provided by ggslive.com with Rashad Miller, Marshall Sutcliffe, and Nate Price. See full video archives at ggslive's YouTube channel.


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EVENT COVERAGE TWITTER

  • by Jacob Van Lunen, Steve Sadin,
    and Adam Styborski
    Top 5 Cards

  • by Jacob Van Lunen
    Finals
    Josh Utter-Leyton (Bant Auras) vs. Jon Stern (Bant Auras)

  • by Adam Styborski
    Semifinals
    Brad Nelson (Staticaster Jund) vs. Jon Stern (Bant Auras)

  • by Steve Sadin
    Semifinals
    Josh Utter-Leyton (Bant Auras) vs. Ari Lax (Mono Red)

  • by Adam Styborski
    Quarterfinals
    Arix Lax (Mono-Red) vs Lloyd Kurth (Bant Control)

  • by Steve Sadin
    Quarterfinals
    Matt Costa (Blue White Red Flash) vs Jon Stern (Bant Auras)

  • by Jacob Van Lunen
    Quarterfinals
    Brad Nelson (Pedal to the Metal) vs. Seneca Hobler (Jund Midrange)

  • by Adam Styborski
    Sunday, 3:04 p.m.
    Deck Tech: Mono-Red with Ari Lax

  • by Jacob Van Lunen
    Sunday, 1:18 p.m.
    Deck Tech: Pedal to the Metal with Brad Nelson

  • by Event Coverage Staff
    Top 8 Profiles

  • by Event Coverage Staff
    Top 8 Decklists

  • by Event Coverage Staff
    Top 16 Decklists
    Decks 9-16

  • by Event Coverage Staff
    Day Two Blog
  • by Event Coverage Staff
    Day One Blog
  • by Event Coverage Staff
    Info: Fact Sheet

INFORMATION
 1.  Jon Stern $3,500
 2.  Josh Utter-Leyton $2,300
 3.  Brad Nelson $1,500
 4.  Ari Lax $1,500
 5.  Matt Costa $1,000
 6.  Ryan Leverone $1,000
 7.  Lloyd Kurth $1,000
 8.  Seneca Hobler $1,000
Pairings Results Standings
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Top 8 Decklists

by Event Coverage Staff

Brad Nelson - Pedal to the Metal
Grand Prix Atlantic City 2013 - Top 8



Josh Utter-Leyton - Bant Auras
Grand Prix Atlantic City 2013 - Top 8



Matt Costa - Blue White Red Control
Grand Prix Atlantic City 2013 - Top 8



Ari Lax - Mono Red
Grand Prix Atlantic City 2013 - Top 8


Jon Stern - Bant Auras
Grand Prix Atlantic City 2013 - Top 8




 

Top 16 Decklists 9-16

by Event Coverage Staff

Jonathan Sukenik Mono Red
Grand Prix Atlantic City - Top 16


Kevin Michael Green Black Aggro
Grand Prix Atlantic City - Top 16


Andejs Prost Blue-White Control
Grand Prix Atlantic City - Top 16


Robert Koenig Jund
Grand Prix Atlantic City - Top 16





Ben Stark Junk Reanimator
Grand Prix Atlantic City - Top 16




 

Top 8 Profiles

by Event Coverage Staff


Matt Costa

Age: 20
Hometown: Eastham, MA
Occupation: Student


Previous Magic Accomplishments:
Pro Tour Dark Ascension Top 8, Grand Prix Baltimore Champion, 4 Grand Prix Top 8s.

What deck are you playing, and why did you choose it?
Blue White Red Flash.

What's your best matchup?
Red or black aggro decks.

What's your worst matchup?
Dark Naya (with both Restoration Angel and Rakdos's Return).

What changes would you make, if any, if you were going to play your deck again next week?
Play Rest in Peace over Purify the Grave in my sideboard.

What's your favorite Gatecrash preview thus far?
Boros Charm




Brad Nelson

Age: 26
Hometown: Mandan, ND
Occupation: StarCityGames Content Producer


Previous Magic Accomplishments:
Player of the Year 2010, played a Pro Tour Hall of Fame Member

What deck are you playing, and why did you choose it?
Pedal to the Metal, it's well positioned against everything that isn't shrouded

What's your best matchup?
Temple Garden decks.

What's your worst matchup?
Hexproof.

What changes would you make, if any, if you were going to play your deck again next week?
The sideboard wants one more Snapcaster Mage

What's your favorite Gatecrash preview thus far?
Aurelia, the Warleader. It lets me attack with Craterhoof Behemoth twice!




Jon Stern

Age: 34
Hometown: Montreal
Occupation: Software


Previous Magic Accomplishments:
Top 8 Grand Prix MontrealTop 32 Pro Tour Yokohama2nd Canadian Nationals

What deck are you playing, and why did you choose it?
Bant Auras - an unprepared metagame and lots of free wins.

What's your best matchup?
Reanimator

What's your worst matchup?
Black-Red Aggro

What changes would you make, if any, if you were going to play your deck again next week?
Play Strangleroot Geist somewhere in the deck

What's your favorite Gatecrash preview thus far?
Dimir Charm




Ryan Leverone

Age: 23
Hometown: Uxbridge, MA
Occupation: Lab Tech


Previous Magic Accomplishments:
Top 32 Grand Prix Atlanta

What deck are you playing, and why did you choose it?
Jund (good in all formats). Rakdos's Return for the big stuff, life gain for the small stuff.

What's your best matchup?
Other midrange decks.

What's your worst matchup?
Resolved Sphinx's Revelation.

What changes would you make, if any, if you were going to play your deck again next week?
Shift around some of the removal spells.

What's your favorite Gatecrash preview thus far?
Boros Charm




Josh Utter-Leyton

Age: 27
Hometown: Rohnert Park
Occupation: Software Engineer


Previous Magic Accomplishments:
Three Pro Tour Top 8s, six Grand Prix Top 8s, US National Champion

What deck are you playing, and why did you choose it?
Bant Auras because it beats up on green midrange decks and I didn't want to play Magic: The Gathering this weekend.

What's your best matchup?
Naya

What's your worst matchup?
Bant Control

What changes would you make, if any, if you were going to play your deck again next week?
I would cut Curiosity for sure, and I would want to have a playable sideboard.

What's your favorite Gatecrash preview thus far?
Boros Charm




Lloyd Kurth

Age: 18
Hometown: Middletown, NY
Occupation: Hotel Enthusiast


Previous Magic Accomplishments:
Star City Games Open Worchester Top 8

What deck are you playing, and why did you choose it?
Esper Control because it destroys all the other control decks and is reasonable against the aggro decks.

What's your best matchup?
Bant Control

What's your worst matchup?
Mono-Red

What changes would you make, if any, if you were going to play your deck again next week?
None

What's your favorite Gatecrash preview thus far?
Prime Speaker Zegana




Seneca Hobler

Age: 31
Hometown: Owego, NY
Occupation: Retail Management


Previous Magic Accomplishments:
FNM Ringer

What deck are you playing, and why did you choose it?
Jund, I had very little time to test and decided to play a deck full of powerful threats.

What's your best matchup?
Bant Hexblade?

What's your worst matchup?
Other midrange decks?

What changes would you make, if any, if you were going to play your deck again next week?
Find room for Bonfires.

What's your favorite Gatecrash preview thus far?
Shambleshark




Ari Lax

Age: 22
Hometown: Boston, MA
Occupation: Engineer/Star City Games Writer


Previous Magic Accomplishments:
2 Pro Tour top 16s, 3 Grand Prix top 8s,

What deck are you playing, and why did you choose it?
Mono-Red, only deck that can just beat anything. It punishes poor draws.

What's your best matchup?
B/R Zombies

What's your worst matchup?
Izzet Staticaster

What changes would you make, if any, if you were going to play your deck again next week?
Zero Archwing Dragon, maybe try splashing black to play Aristocrat over Thundermaw Hellkite.

What's your favorite Gatecrash preview thus far?
Ghor-Clan Rampager




 

Sunday, 1:18 p.m. - Deck Tech: Pedal to the Metal with Brad Nelson

by Jacob Van Lunen

Brad Nelson's Pedal to the Metal
Grand Prix Atlantic City


Brad Nelson needs little introduction. Once the most impressive competitive player in the game, the 2010 Player of the Year has become a bit of an oddball over the last couple years. Brad wants to win, but he's most interested in having fun with innovative decks.

I was able to sit down with Brad to talk about his latest deck choice. The deck, lovingly referred to by Brad as "Pedal to the Metal," focuses on combining Nightshade Peddler with Izzet Staticaster or Olivia Voldaren. Giving either of these creatures deathtouch turns them into horrifically efficient repeatable removal engines.

Brad Nelson

The archetype first appeared at Grand Prix Bochum in November, but it disappeared shortly thereafter and hasn't been heard from since Brad revived it earlier this week on his live internet stream.

JVL: "What initially drew you to this archetype?"

Brad Nelson: "I was looking for an interesting deck to do playtest videos with. I didn't think the deck was very good when I first played the Bochum version. I love Unburial Rites more than you could ever imagine. I did, however, appreciate the power of Izzet Staticaster or Olivia Voldaren with Nightshade Peddler. I thought I was going to play Angel of Glory's Rise reanimator at this event, but I found myself losing to Rest in Peace far more often than I was comfortable with. All the good white decks have three copies [of Rest in Peace] in their sideboards and I didn't want to be in that spot. I decided to go back to the Bochum version of the deck and see if I could make some improvements."

JVL: "What did you change about the maindeck played by Max Pritsch and Jan-Mortiz Merkel in Bochum?"

Brad Nelson: "I took out all the cards that seemed random to me. Cards like Falkenrath Aristocrat and Evil Twin are powerful, but they didn't seem well-suited for this particular archetype. I made the obvious change of going up to four Olivia Voldaren, but the real innovation in the maindeck is the inclusion of Rakdos's Return. I also brought the deck up to 26 lands because a deck like this can't function if it gets stuck on three lands. The deck also plays well when I get mana flooded because I have Rakdos's Return, Tracker's Instincts, and Olivia Voldaren which are all efficient mana sinks."

JVL: "Your sideboard is very interesting. Would you like to explain the Snapcaster Mages?"

Brad Nelson: "The Snapcaster Mage/Spell sideboard plan from the Bochum deck was brilliant. This deck plays a lot of creatures that aren't particularly good in specific matchups. By having spells and Snapcaster Mages in the board we can take out the creatures that aren't good in that particular matchup and bring in relevant spells and Snapcaster Mages. This makes Snapcaster Mage have a ton of overlap in my sideboarding strategies."

JVL: "Why did you feel this deck was well positioned for Grand Prix Atlantic City?"

Brad Nelson: "All the decks in the current standard environment only want to trade creatures on their turn and use removal during combat. This deck forces those decks to operate outside of their comfort zone. Bonfire of the Damned and Angel of Serenity are the most efficient and popular removal. This deck performs well against both of those cards. Bonfire of the Damned is at its best when you can cast it with a board presence and my deck prevents that from happening unless the bonfire was just overkill anyway. There aren't a ton of opportunities to outplay people in the current standard format. By that, I mean you need to play well, but it's hard to make your opponent make mistakes. All the decks people are playing have their own plan and want to play a specific game; the decks are designed to be efficient. My deck can force people to play a different game as long as I'm able to stabilize."


Brad just clinched his top 8 berth as I'm finishing writing this. Stay tuned to coverage of Grand Prix Atlantic City to follow Brad Nelson as he attempts to win his first Grand Prix since 2010.




 

Sunday, 3:04 p.m. - Deck Tech: Mono-Red with Ari Lax

by Adam Styborski

Not every deck is filled with answers, delays, and ways to stymie an opponent. Oftentimes it's an excellent plan to simply end the game before it can even get started.

Arix Lax Top 8

Ari Lax chose to do just that with a powerful deck full of red cards, and made his way into the Top 8.

Ari Lax’s Monored
Grand Prix Atlantic City 2013


We asked Lax a few questions about his fast deck.

Why play monored?

"Every other deck plays the late game. Bant, for example, has milling. They play for trumps at the end. Monored doesn't give them time to find those trumps."

Why not a black-red like we've seen recently?

"The two-drops in the monored deck are better than in the black-red. Lightning Mauler gives you the best chance of just crushing your opponents before they can do anything. The only black-red card that I'd want is Falkenrath Aristocrat, but it may not be worth adding the black to play it over Thundermaw Hellkite."

What makes the monored deck compelling or different from other decks?

"It's a one-drop game. Other decks plan to go over the top of other decks with five-drops. They don't have anything to do while I play Rakdos Cacklers and Reckless Waifs to kill them. The mana curve of the deck is ten one-drops, eight two-drops, four three-drops, four four-drops, and just two five-drops. It's a real curve for an aggressive deck.

Unlike the black-red deck, this one can accept an early Izzet Staticaster that puts it far behind. The ability to ignore it and still play the best two-drops means a lot. It also only plays two Thundermaw Hellkites. I would consider cutting them for two more four-drops, which may even let it go down to just 22 lands.

And I don't want to be playing Rakdos Guildgate!"

What's the most exciting moment you've seen while playing this deck?

"This deck creates exciting moments all the time. There are plenty of times where I draw a card and can kill my opponent. It's Thundermaw Hellkite or Hellrider, attack, game over. But the most interesting moment happened yesterday when I played Frostburn Weird and Volcanic Strength out of the sideboard. My opponent just couldn't believe he was killed by this thing."

What's something about this deck that isn't apparent at first glance?

"Because of all of the creatures with flash – Snapcaster Mage, Izzet Staticaster – it's a lot harder to play than it looks. Player who use these types of decks, like Patrick Sullivan, always say how decisions really matter. In the early and midgame you can play around every trick, like Selesnya Charm and Restoration Angel. You even need to watch for Azorius Charm with the life gaining mode.

If you play into their tricks you'll lose. The decisions you make are very important."




 

Quarterfinals - Brad Nelson (Pedal to the Metal) vs. Seneca Hobler (Jund Midrange)

by Jacob Van Lunen

Brad Nelson is the former player of the year. He has a lot of experience in high pressure matches and he seems particularly comfortable under the lights in the feature match area tonight. His opponent, Seneca Hobler, is a new-comer to the competitive scene. It's the classic David vs Goliath matchup. Brad is playing an innovative Nightshade Peddler midrange combo deck while Seneca is piloting Jund Midrange.

Game 1

Brad, being in first place after the swiss, chose to play first without even having to roll a dice. Brad kept his opening seven, but Seneca was forced to toss his first hand back. The six were better and the battle was underway.

Brad curved Deathrite Shaman into Nightshade Peddler and Seneca stopped the bleeding with two copies of Pillar of Flame.

Izzet Staticaster and Huntmaster of the Fells were next for Brad and Seneca was forced to let them resolve.


Seneca had a brutal Rakdos's Return to empty Brad's hand. He attempted to reestablish board position with a Huntmaster of his own the following turn.

Brad drew another copy of Nightshade Peddler, though, and Seneca found himself in a rough position. Nightshade Peddler was Soulbonded to Izzet Staticaster and Brad began destroying everything that Seneca played. Once Izzet Staticaster has Deathtouch, it becomes very difficult to stand a chance if you're on a create plan and you're out of removal.

Even Garruk, Primal Hunter from Seneca wasn't enough to compete with the power of Brad's combo. Brad's Huntmaster, now a Ravager of the Fells, was able to barrel in for lethal damage while Seneca was locked down by Izzet Staticaster and Nightshade Peddler.

Brad Nelson 1 - 0 Seneca Hobler

Seneca Hobler is battling in his first Grand Prix top 8!

Game 2

Seneca kept his opening seven and it was Brad's turn to be down a card on the draw. Seneca got off to an early advantage with a turn 2 Farseek on the play, but Brad had a Farseek of his own to keep up with Seneca.

Seneca continued developing with Rakdos Keyrune, but Brad cast Huntmaster of the Fells. Seneca didn't seem phased by the Huntmaster and he calmly tapped his lands and cast Garruk, Primal Hunter.

Brad sent his Huntmaster and Wolf at the Garruk, a Beast ate the Huntmaster, but Rakdos's Return for three was enough for Brad to empty Seneca's hand and destroy Garruk.

Seneca was left with a Beast and a Rakdos Keyrune, which were soon joined by Liliana of the Veil. Brad had Izzet Staticaster, but it didn't affect the current boardstate much. Zealous Conscripts came down and dealt with Garruk and Brad continued to advance his position with Deathrite Shaman.

Meanwhile, all Seneca could find was another Rakdo Keyrune. The Keyrunes were enough to hold Brad at bay for a bit and Seneca followed up with another Garruk, Primal hunter.

Brad dealt with the Garruk, but Liliana came down and forced both players to discard.

Brad made an interesting line of plays the following turn. Rakdos's Return for one made Seneca lose his hand and knocked Liliana down to three loyalty. Olivia Voldaren came down and Brad passed the turn. Seneca drew a blank and brad used a pair of Izzet Staticasters and Olivia to kill Seneca's beast and pull firmly into the lead.

Seneca tried to force his way back into the game, but Olivia Voldaren continued to grow and Seneca couldn't find an out to the Legendary Innistrad Vampire.

Brad Nelson 2 - 0 Seneca Hobler.

Brad Nelson is all business




 

Quarterfinals - Matt Costa (Blue White Red Flash) vs. Jon Stern (Bant Auras)

by Steve Sadin

Jon Stern tore through the Swiss rounds of the tournament with his Bant Auras deck – rattling off 13 straight wins (and all but locking up his spot in the Top 8) before losing consecutive matches.

The first loss came at the hands of fellow Top 8 competitor Brad Nelson. The second loss? That one was delivered to Stern by his quarterfinals opponent, Platinum level Pro Matt Costa.

Game One

Stern got off to a fairly strong start with an Abundant Growth, an Invisible Stalker, and a Geist of Saint Traft - while Matt Costa (who had nothing but come into play tapped lands) could merely cast an Augur of Bolas, and a fourth turn Counterflux to stop a pre-combat Ethereal Armor.

With Costa tapped out, that opened up the opportunity for Stern to resolve a Silverblade Paladin which he soon paired with an angel token.

Matt Costa

An Azorius Charm a turn later bought Costa a turn, but a post-combat Increasing Savagery meant that the Mizzium Mortars in Costa's hand wouldn't be enough to clear Stern's board.

In order to deal with his opponent's 6/6 Invisible Stalker, Costa would need to draw the only Supreme Verdict in his deck...

He didn't.

Jon Stern 1 - Matt Costa 0

Game Two

Both players mulliganed to start the second game, but while Stern was able to stick with his 6 card hand, Costa went down to 5.

Stern got off to another good start with an Avacyn's Pilgrim, into a turn two Geist of Saint Traft - while the best that Costa could muster was a Snapcaster Mage, and a Detention Sphere which exiled his opponent's Avacyn's Pilgrim.

Game State

Stern, who had already gotten all the mileage that he needed to get out of his Avacyn's Pilgrim, played an Ethereal Armor on his Geist of Saint Traft and knocked Costa down to 13 with just a single attack.

Costa played a land and passed his 4th turn without a play, prompting Stern to cast a precombat Nevermore, which Costa begrudgingly responded to by casting Restoration Angel.

Stern named Supreme Verdict with the Nevermore, and attacked with his now 4/4 first striking Geist of Saint Traft.

Jon Stern

Costa was able to survive for a few more turns by chump blocking, but without the opportunity for Costa to overload a Mizzium Mortars, it was just a matter of time before Stern's Geist of Saint Traft took him to the Semifinals.

Jon Stern 2 - Matt Costa 0




 

Quarterfinals - Arix Lax (Mono-Red) vs Lloyd Kurth (Bant Control)

by Adam Styborski

Ari Lax has been in the spotlight all weekend, holding his place firmly near the top of standings by tapping Mountains every turn. The secret sauce of his speedy deck was revealed earlier in a deck tech, and looking across his opponent's deck list showed he wouldn't find his feared Izzet Staticasters in Kurth's deck.

Kurth, in his first Grand Prix Top 8, was bringing a Bant deck to bear. While final standings ensured Lax would have initiative to play first, it remained to be seen if that would be enough against a deck that does everything to survive?

Game 1

Lax started off taking a mulligan, and had an unleashed Rakdos Cackler. He missed his critical two-drop, and only added a third turn Pyreheart Wolf. Lingering Souls from Kurth only provided effectively one blocker, which was anemic when Lax's fourth turn Hellrider joined the fray.

Lloyd Kurth

With damage triggers everywhere Kurth put both his Spirit tokens in front of the Rakdos Cackler in trade, and fell to 9 life. He untapped into a Supreme Verdict, which cleared everything but a Pyreheart Wolf with a +1/+1 counter. Lax didn't have another creature but did play Hellion Crucible to begin adding pressure counters.

Kurth flashed back Lingering Souls and cast Think Twice, emptying his available mana. Lax took the turn back and stopped.

"You're at nine?" he confirmed.

With a flourish of Brimstone Volley and Pillar of Flames, Kurth's life plummeted to zero.

Lax 1 – Kurth 0

"Your deck's not that bad against this match up," Lax admitted.

"You're casting Hellriders and I'm casting Lingering Souls. It doesn't feel that good," Kurth said. "I wish I had other things here."

Game 2

Kurth's Glacial Fortress was slow against Lax's opening Stromkirk Noble. Evolving Wilds found a tapped Swamp for Kurth, and Lax moved quicker with Ash Zealot to drop Kurth to 17. Another land and pass was all Kurth offered.

"Did you see that one? It's a good one. It wasn't a land," Lax said. Kurth used Azorius Charm on Stromkirk Noble, and fell to 15, before Lax added a paired Lightning Mauler and Stonewright to the team.

"Not my best second main phase," Lax admitted.

Kurth paused again. Isolated Chapel was all he played before giving Lax another chance at damage.

"You're at 15, right?" Lax asked before taking his moment to think. Feeling of Dread tapped down the Stonewright and Ash Zealot, and Lax's Lightning Mauler took Kurth to 13.

The pace of play had slowed.

Sorin, Lord of Innistrad and a 1/1 lifelink Vampire forced Lax to use Brimstone Volley to clear the way for his team to take out Sorin and drop Kurth further, but it cost him all his mana: Stonewright had done its work as Kurth's Supreme Verdict cleared things away.

Lightning Mauler paired with Stromkirk Noble turned the pressure right back up for Kurth, leaving him at 7. Without a way to keep Lax at bay, the follow up Hellrider next turn put the lights out for Kurth.

Ari Lax

"At least I'll see you in San Diego?" Lax asked.

"It's what I was most excited about for this," Kurth shared, leaving with a loss but beaming with pride.

Lax 2 – Kurth 0




 

Semifinals - Josh Utter-Leyton (Bant Auras) vs Ari Lax (Mono-Red)

by Steve Sadin

This weekend marks Josh Utter-Leyton's 7th Grand Prix Top 8, and Ari Lax's 4th. But despite their many single elimination appearances, neither of these long time pros are yet to take home a trophy of their own.

The winner of this round will find himself within a single match of becoming a champion. The loser, well, he'll just have to wait till the next time that he (almost inevitably) makes a Top 8.

Game One

Ari Lax got off to a fast start with a Rakdos Cackler, and an Ash Zealot – while Josh Utter-Leyton's first play of the game was a turn two Invisible Stalker.


By the time Utter-Leyton was able to give himself some defense by playing Abundant Growth, Avacyn's Pilgrim, and an Ethereal Armor which made his Invisible Stalker a first striking 3/3 – Lax was able to play an end of turn Searing Spear which knocked Utter-Leyton down to 9.

Lax then untapped, cast a Hellrider, and attacked with all 3 of his creatures. When the dust settled, Lax lost his Hellrider, while Utter-Leyton gave up his Avacyn's Pilgrim and fell to 4.

Utter-Leyton untapped and cast a Geist of Saint Traft – and even though he was able to block both of his opponent's attackers, Utter-Leyton was unable to survive Lax's morbid enabled Brimstone Volley.

Ari Lax 1 – Josh Utter-Leyton 0

Game Two

Ari Lax got off to a decent start with a Stromkirk Noble, and a Pillar of Flame to exile a Strangleroot Geist... but then he was completely out of gas.

Ari Lax

Meanwhile, Utter-Leyton was able to unload with an Abundant Growth, an Avacyn's Pilgrim, a Geist of Saint Traft, an Ethereal Armor, a Rancor, and a Silverblade Paladin.

"You're at 17, correct?" asked Lax as he was being attacked by a 7 power double striking Geist of Saint Traft, and its accompanying angel token.

"Yep," replied Utter-Leyton.

"Well, I think we've had enough here," said Lax as he reached for his sideboard.

Ari Lax 1 – Josh Utter-Leyton 1

Game Three

Ari Lax mulliganed in the third game, but nonetheless opened strong with a Rakdos Cackler, a Stonewright (which he paired), and a Pillar of Flame which took out his opponent's Avacyn's Pilgrim. Utter-Leyton then played an untapped Temple Garden falling to 16, an Abundant Growth, and an Avacyn's Pilgrim before passing the turn back to Lax.


Lax attacked with both of his creatures (which were unblocked) and pumped his Stonewright to take Utter-Leyton to 12 before playing a postcombat Lightning Mauler.

Utter-Leyton, fully aware of how vulnerable he was to any burn spells that Lax might have had no choice but to play a Silverblade Paladin, pair it with his Avacyn's Pilgrim, and hope that his opponent had once again ran out of good cards.

If Lax had a removal spell at this point, then he would have been able to take the match in a hurry. He didn't. And all that he could do was play an unleashed Rakdos Cackler before saying go.

This, unsurprisingly, wouldn't be enough for Lax.

Josh Utter-Leyton

An Invisible Stalker, a Geist of Saint Traft, and a pair of Rancors on his Silverblade Paladin later, and Josh Utter-Leyton was off to the finals.

Ari Lax 1 – Josh Utter-Leyton 2




 

Semifinals – Brad Nelson (Staticaster Jund) vs. Jon Stern (Bant Auras)

by Adam Styborski

Brad Nelson's Izzet Staticaster deck had been a colorful show throughout the day. Pairing together a combination of creatures that control the battlefield kept many aggressive decks at bay, and put him into the Top 4.

Jon Stern's Bant Auras deck dodged almost all removal throughout the weekend. The hexproof creatures in Stern's deck kept cards like Izzet Staticaster, among many others, from doing what they normally do to preserve life totals.

But nothing is foregone in Magic when players like these are involved. Stern entered the Top 8 with just two losses at the end of a 13-0 start, one each to Matt Costa and Brad Nelson. With quick back-to-back games, Stern avenged his Swiss loss against Costa with methodical precision in his quarterfinal match.

His chance to follow through against Nelson was at hand.

Game 1

Nelson played first after Stern took two mulligans, and each open with tapped lands. Nightshade Peddler was Nelson's first spell, and Stern matched with Avacyn's Pilgrim. Farseek and an attack from Nelson offered Stern a clear window. Stern took it with Geist of Saint Traft enchanted with Ethereal Armor

If Nelson was worried, he didn't show it yet.

Huntmaster of the Fells padded Nelson's life as Stern added a Spectral Flight and second Ethereal Armor to attack Nelson to 8 life despite the previous buff. Nelson flicked the cards in his hand as he looked for a way out.

He could only reach for his sideboard as Stern struck him down next turn.

Nelson 0 – Stern 1

Unlike their jovial entrances, Stern and Nelson stayed silent through their deck changes. The attitude had shifted as Nelson felt the pressure: He didn't crack his characteristic smile. Stern, ever patient and thoughtful, methodically shifted cards back and forth as he reviewed Nelson's deck list.

"All these GPs are mirror matches of the breakout aggressive deck," Nelson said, looking over at the Utter-Leyton and Lax match that featured another deck with Auras making games difficult for an opponent.

Jon Stern

Was there an answer in Nelson's sideboard?

Game 2

Nelson led off after Stern who, again, took two mulligans. Lands flew into play as Nelson used Farseek on the second turn. Stern remained stuck with a solitary Island as Nelson cast Huntmaster of the Fells that immediately transformed, and took large bites of Stern's life away. Stern showed his frustration as he couldn't find more than two lands against Nelson's Werewolf.

We'd have to wait for the third game to see if Nelson had something else. His confidence had certainly returned.

Nelson 1 – Stern 1

Game 3

This time Stern could move first, but yet again took a mulligan to start. Tapped lands began the turns, and continued for both as Nelson ramped with Farseek. Stern did have a spell on his third turn, and it wasn't what Nelson wanted to see: Geist of Saint Traft.

The damage would begin.

Nelson looked over this lands and hand, stopped cold by the Legendary Spirit. He nudged Stern for clues of what was hidden in the opposing hand, but all Nelson could do was cast Farseek again before he passed back.

Brad Nelson

Stern cast Abundant Growth to draw a card before he played Spectral Flight on Geist of Saint Traft. Nelson dropped to 12 life in the ensuing attack, and used his turn to cast Huntmaster of the Fells. 14 life is considered a safe life total.

It wasn't enough as Stern's Ethereal Armor pushed the Geist of Saint Traft over the edge on the next attack. Nelson's mirror match prediction was prescient.

Nelson 1 – Stern 2




 

Finals – Josh Utter-Leyton (Bant Auras) vs. Jon Stern (Bant Auras)

by Jacob Van Lunen

1646 players came to Baltic Avenue with Boardwalk dreams. Only two remain in this massive Standard Grand Prix. Bant Auras was relatively unknown coming into this event, but two copies of the innovative archetype have found themselves facing off in the finals.

This is Josh Utter-Leyton's second Grand Prix finals appearance in two months. Josh is already one of the most well-respected players in the game, known for his ability to fine-tune decks as well or better than anyone else in the business. Jon Stern has been quietly building an impressive resume of his own with a number of high profile finishes. This match promises to be lightning fast. It's an all out slugfest in this Bant Aura mirror.

Game 1

Josh got the privilege of playing first thanks to his strong showing in the swiss.

Josh led things off with an Avacyn's Pilgrim, taking two from Temple Garden. Jon had a Pilgrim of his own.

Hinterland Harbor from Josh let him cast Silverblade Paladin and soulbond it with the pilgrim, but Jon one upped Josh with a Geist of Saint Traft.

Josh Utter-Leyton

Josh's Silverblade Paladin picked up a Rancor and crashed into the red zone for eight damage. A post-combat Geist of Saint Traft destroyed Jon's with the legend rule.

Jon established a board with Invisible Stalker and Rancor, but was still badly losing the race to Josh's Double Striking Duo. Josh sent both creatures at Jon and left him at two life. Fencing Ace came down, giving Josh three different lethal bodies.

Jon couldn't find an answer to the tremendous amount of damage that Josh was outputting at such an early stage of the game and died to the next attack.

Josh Utter-Leyton 1 - 0 Jon Stern

Game 2

Jon chose to play first and both players kept their opening hands without too much conversation.

Jon made the first play of the game with a second turn Nearhearth Pilgrim. This card could prove itself to be an all-star in this all-out race of a matchup.

Josh had Invisible Stalker and the race was on.

Geist of Saint Traft came down for Jon and found a lifelong partner in Nearhearth Pilgrim. The Pilgrim entered the fray and Josh elected to trade away his Invisible Stalker.

Josh cast Silverblade Paladin and passed into Jon's Geist of Saint Traft. Jon sent his Geist of Saint Traft into the red zone, again offering a trade with Josh. This time, Josh chose to take the damage and fell to fourteen. Invisible Stalker joined the team for Jon and he passed the turn back to Josh.

Josh sent his Silverblade Paladin into the red zone, putting Jon back at twenty. Geist of Saint Traft legend ruled out Jon's copy, but Jon was quick to replace it with another Geist of Saint Traft as he cracked Josh for another point of damage with Invisible Stalker, leaving Josh at thirteen.


Another Geist from Josh prevented Jon's Geist from attacking, but in a particularly spooky turn of events Jon had a third copy of the Innistrad Legend and was happy to plop it onto the table.

Josh cast Rancor and Increasing Savagery on his Silverblade paladin and crashed in for nine damage.

Jon put himself in the driver seat with a Spectral Flight on his Invisible Stalker and a Selesnya Charm for Josh's Silverblade Paladin.

It only took one more attack for Jon to seal the deal with his obnoxiously large Hexproof/Unblockable monster.

Josh Utter-Leyton 1 - 1 Jon Stern

Game 3

Both players remained quiet as they shuffled up for the third game. This was it. The winner of this single game would be crowned the Grand Prix Atlantic City Champion!

Josh chose to play first and immediately sent back his initial hand of seven cards. Jon took a bit longer on his decision, but eventually decided to keep. The six seemed better and Josh led things off with Abundant Growth, while Jon accelerated with Avacyn's Pilgrim on his first turn of the game.

Josh had a Fencing Ace for the second turn, but Jon had Geist of Saint Traft yet again.

Jon Stern

The double striking human was Rancored by Josh and got an opportunity to get in for six damage.

Jon had some double Striking action of his own in the form of Silverblade Paladin, which linked up with Geist of Saint Traft. Rancor got picked up by the Geist and Jon got in for a huge chunk of damage.

Josh had Garruk Relentless to deal with the Silverblade Paladin, but a Spectral Flight on Geist of Saint Traft from Jon was enough to get in for lethal and ensure his victory.

Josh Utter-Leyton 1 - 2 Jon Stern

Jon Stern is your Grand Prix Atlantic City Champion!




 

Top 5 Cards

by Jacob Van Lunen, Steve Sadin, and Adam Styborski



5. Brimstone Volley

When you look through Standard Top 8 decklists it isn't uncommon to see droves of Thragtusks, Huntmaster of the Fells, and Centaur Healers. It seems like an awfully hostile environment for Mono-Red. But in spite of this, Mono-Red performed exceptionally well this weekend. Many players went deep in the tournament with their burn spells including Ari Lax who made it all the way to the top 4 by burning his opponents for 5 with Brimstone Volleys.








4. Nightshade Peddler

We've all seen Nightshade Peddler alongside Izzet Staticaster and Olivia Voldaren, but it hasn't been since Bochum that players have used these combinations in a midrange deck that wasn't trying to Unburial Rites Angel of Glory's Rise. Brad Nelson resurrected the strategy from Bochum and systematically picked apart his midrange opponents by creating pingers with deathtouch and very few people were prepared. Brad won a Grand Prix Trial with this unique strategy and made it count with a top 4 finish in the main event!






3. Mizzium Mortars

Supreme Verdict and Terminus are Standard's premier ways to empty the battlefield, but they aren't necessarily the best ways. Mizzium Mortars is featured in many of the Naya and Jund-based decks. It works wonderfully when you don't want to kill your own team in the process. Matt Costa's blue-white-red deck's best way to handle any aggressive start is to overload Mortars, and gain the same no-targets-needed function of its white siblings. Without the tough mana to do so, it failed to protect Costa in his quarterfinal match against eventual victor Stern's hexproof creatures.






2. Rakdos's Return

How do midrange decks win against both faster, aggressive and slower, controlling decks? Play a de facto game ender. Rakdos's Return was found in decks of many color combinations, including a specific splash in Naya decks for it's Fireball and Mind Rot qualities. Unlike Thragtusk or Sphinx's Revelation that prolong games, when you can resolve Rakdos's Return your opponent should quickly crumble.









1. Invisible Stalker

Only a few players were "in the know" coming into this tournament. Less than fifteen people played the Bant Aura deck at this 1646 player event and the deck managed to put two copies into the Top 8, and ultimately the Finals. No one was prepared for an Invisible Stalker suited up with Ethereal Armor, Rancor, Spectral Flight, or Increasing Savagery. The metagame has shifted, and Invisible Stalker is force to be reckoned with!









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