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Grand Finals Caster Called Shots

October 06, 2020
Adam Styborski

It's not every day you assemble a field of the top-performing players for the biggest showdown of the season. That's the excitement and spectacle coming with the 2020 Season Grand Finals, where all 32 competitors are each in a unique position to win, the elite of the game are still hunting for an elusive trophy in their career, and friendships mean more than testing success.

It also means the best casters in Magic are here to bring us every minute of the action.

From October 9-11, starting at 9 AM PDT each day on, this team of ten will share the play-by-play and stories unfolding at the Grand Finals. While nobody can predict the future, experienced players and casters have an uncanny knack for seeing what comes next.

And they've already seen how we got here.

To get to the top of the Players Tour Finals and Mythic Invitational, and invitation to the Grand Finals, incredible Magic happened—giving us a taste of what's to come next.

Riley Knight noted that playoffs between the elite lead to amazing moments, like "Gabriel Nassif's buzzer-beating game from the Mythic Invitational. For someone who has built a firm reputation for being slower than a '90s dialup connection, for him to clinch a win as he did as the clock was running down and then flex on Twitter about it. Incredible."

Both Marshall Sutcliffe and reigning World Champion Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa recalled how a rogue deck piloted by Riku Kumagai stormed through the Players Tour Finals.". His journey taking "an otherwise unknown Mono-Black Aggro deck to the finals was amazing," Sutcliffe said. "I love that people who put in the work and try stuff nobody else thinks of can still succeed."

"The format was pretty established at that point and most of the players were resigned to playing the Wilderness Reclamation decks," Damo da Rosa said, "but Riku Kumagai took a deck ... and transformed it into a powerhouse due to a series of unconventional tweaks to reflect the metagame he expected."

Kumagai's unconventional deck took him to the doorstep of victory before falling to Kristof Prinz in the championship match. But his story wasn't alone in attacking what we expected with something that wasn't: Reid Duke recalled another talented player with another deck nobody saw coming.

"For me, the biggest story was Michael Jacob placing third in the Players Tour Finals with Mardu Winota," Duke said. "In an event where everyone had penciled in Wilderness Reclamation as the top strategy, he brewed an original deck and put on a great performance. The 'Darkest Mage' is a beloved streamer, and was the United States National Champion way back in 2008. Over a decade later, I think he's poised to thrive in a world of digital competition."

Standard underwent a metamorphosis as Zendikar Rising led the annual fall rotation, and Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath was removed. With so much up in the air what can we really expect from the format?

"Omnath, Locus of Creation decks will be the deck to beat in the tournament," Paul Cheon declared. "There are several shells that exist for this powerful creature, but I believe the Four-Color Adventures deck will be the most successful Omnath deck."

Cedric Phillips agreed that Omnath, Locus of Creation "is far and away the most powerful card in Zendikar Rising Standard and electing not to register it is simply the incorrect decision in my eyes. If there's anything I've learned in my 20+ years of Magic, it's this: be on the right side of history."

"Every player in this tournament has only one task when it comes to Standard: to beat the Omnath decks," Damo da Rosa said as well, but noted the potential that lies with everyone focused on one deck. As the Mythic Invitational proved, the door is open for skilled players to prey on expectations. "If a player or team does find a clean answer to Omnath builds, then I expect them to make a very deep run in the Standard portion."

"Now that Uro is out, aggressive decks with Embercleave like Mono-Red and Gruul got a lot better," Martin Jůza added. "Blue-Black Rogues now also don't have to worry about Uro, which is a huge boost."

Cheon, too, has his eyes on what Rogues can do. "My dark horse deck for the event is Blue-Black Rogues as it looks to be much better positioned with Sultai Midrange no longer being a top deck in the format."

Standard is one half of the formats for the Grand Final. Historic matters just as much for competitors, and the lessons from the Mythic Invitational shape how the format will adapt.

"Historic is much faster and less forgiving than I thought it was, and I think the key to the format is to be as proactive as possible," Knight said. "Playing reactive, interactive decks is asking for trouble. ... Successful decks need a streamlined game plan and a way to end the game swiftly, rather than the ability to adapt and grind."

"It's all about power, power, power," Maria Bartholdi said. "Who can do the most powerful thing the most reliably and the most often? ... Lots of people will be looking to run Omnath here in Historic as well as Standard, but I know for a fact that the Ooze boy is beatable."

Streamlining or adapting is a choice deckbuilders make every tournament, and Damo da Rosa knows which camp he is in.

"Jund Sacrifice decks performed very well throughout the tournament, but that's a deck that can be adapted to," he said. "Sultai Control, Goblins, Jund Citadel, Mono-Black Gift and Rakdos Arcanist all showed themselves to be viable choices, so there isn't really a 'deck to beat' at this point. Because of this, I expect similar diversity at the Grand Finals."

"My main question will be if Goblins can make a comeback now that it doesn't have quite as big of a target on it," Duke wondered.

Both formats share one common line though: the addition of Zendikar Rising. New cards always lead to new decks and strategies—and everyone has their favorites.

Lotus Cobra is exactly the kind of card that Cheon knows to watch for. "This is one of the absolute best options available to ramp in the format, and should be a staple in most green decks in Standard."

Zareth San, the Trickster

"The card I am most excited to see is Zareth San, the Trickster," Damo da Rosa said, "because this would mean Rogues is being played and the Dimir Aggro-Control archetype is very dear to my heart."

Cleric of Life's Bond Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose

My favorite card from the new set is Cleric of Life's Bond," said Bartholdi. "You love to see it paired with Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose." While admitting it isn't likely to be a pick for Standard at the Grand Finals, her experience has proven "it is a very fun deck to mess around with low on the ladder."

"I hate to be a broken record, but Omnath, Locus of Creation is the obvious choice for me," he said. "It's the strongest card in Zendikar Rising, and I'm curious to see what happens when some of the best players in the world work together to put it to its limit across two different formats."

Omnath, Locus of Creation Agadeem's Awakening

Kazandu Mammoth

"My non-Omnath answer is Agadeem's Awakening because it's more or less free to include in Rakdos Arcanist decks," Phillips continued. Agadeem's Awakening "lends itself to some incredible turns since the deck utilizes its graveyard better than any other deck in the format."

But the most surprising card to be celebrated from the set is one that teases the potential of a deck outside the obvious metagame.

"My personal favorite card from the new set is Kazandu Mammoth," said Duke.

"Sadly, medium-speed creature decks have it pretty hard right now," he admitted, "so my pet Elephant might have to wait until the time is right."

Solving the choice of deck and strategy for the Grand Finals is just the beginning for the raison d'être: there can be only one winner, and everyone has called their shot.

Brad Nelson

Knight has a compelling reason for Brad Nelson to take home their first premier event trophy. "We have a crystal-clear, well-established Standard metagame with a dominant deck. This is exactly the type of atmosphere in which he flourishes."

Ivan Floch

"My pick is Ivan Floch. The Czech Magic House has put Ondřej Stráský into the MPL and Stanislav Cifka, Ivan Floch, and Jakub Tóth into the Rivals League for this season," Jůza said. "That's an incredible accomplishment, and you can bet they are all working hard helping Ivan prepare for the Grand Finals."

Luis Scott-Vargas

Sutcliffe had perhaps the simplest reason to point to his Limited Resources co-host as the soon-to-be winner, "going way out on a limb here and picking Luis Scott-Vargas, the best player in the field."

Piotr Głogowski

"This is a very stacked field, so it's hard to pick any single individual to win the event, but my called shot for winner of the Grand Finals is Piotr Głogowski. First, [he] plays a lot of Magic," Damo da Rosa declared. "I know he will comfortably be able to test for both formats."

"Second, I don't take [him] for a deck builder but for a deck tuner," Damo da Rosa continued, "and I think this is what this tournament is going to be about: it will not be about building an entirely new deck, but about finding the best versions of the decks that already exist."

But what about someone that can do it all: build new decks, tune them well, and play with unshakable skill? Not everyone loves to see champions go back-to-back, but with the skill need to do it in Magic there's plenty to root for with a follow up trophy run from Seth Manfield.

Seth Manfield

Bartholdi, Cheon, Duke and Phillips all picked Manfield to win, but Phillips summarized why the best: Manfield "never plays a bad deck, his decks are always built incredibly well, [and] he rarely (if ever!) makes a mistake during his games. He actually seems to get better the more pressure ramps up. Simply put, Seth is built different and I can't imagine picking anyone else to win the Grand Finals."

Will Seth Manfield earn the first back-to-back premier event trophies in years? Will Omnath define both Standard and Historic formats? Will an unknown deck again cut through to an unsuspecting field?

Watch with the world beginning at 9 AM PDT each day, October 9-11, live on to see who had all the right calls for the 2020 Season Grand Finals.

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