Michal Brezina rolled back the years to lead after the short program at the European Figure Skating Championships in Graz, Austria.
The 29-year-old Czech, who took bronze back in 2013, scored a season's best 89.77 to finish the day just over a point ahead of Russian champion Dmitri Aliev.
Just behind in third is 16-year-old Artur Danielian who took silver behind Aliev at the Russian nationals four weeks ago.
But it was a day to forget for pre-event favourite Kevin Aymoz.
The Frenchman, who was third in last month's Grand Prix Final in Turin, failed to land any of his three jumping elements successfully and 26th place saw him fail to qualify for Thursday's free skate.
Brezina bounces back to form
Going in the penultimate group, Brezina received a warm reception before the start of his short program.
And the three-time Olympian, trained in California by Nathan Chen's coach Rafael Arutunian, produced by far his best performance of what had been a lacklustre season so far after he reached his second Grand Prix Final last term.
Brezina opened with a quad Salchow-double toe loop combination and backed that up with a triple flip and a superb triple Axel in a dynamic skate to Chris Isaak's 'Bady Did a Bad Bad Thing' which had the crowd clapping in time.
He tapped the ice with joy after his routine and eclipsed his previous season's best of 81.11 by eight points to take the lead.
The last skater in the penultimate group was Danielian and he opened with an excellent quad Salchow but then took a step on landing on his triple Axel.
He was back on track with a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination and scored a new personal best of 84.63 to go into second.
First in the final group was fellow Russian Alexander Samarin who finished fourth in the Grand Prix Final.
But Samarin had a disappointing skate, under-rotating both his quad Lutz and quad toe loop as he scored 74.77 to finish the day down in 13th.
Next up was Dmitri Aliev who showed he meant business with a solid quad Lutz-triple toe loop combo although that quad Lutz was downgraded by the judges.
He followed that with a fine quad toe loop, but a hand down on his triple Axel cost him the lead as he was awarded 88.45, just 1.32 points behind Brezina.
Aymoz scored a personal best of 96.71 in the short program last month in Turin, but this was a very different experience.
He under-rotated and fell on his opening quad toe loop and then he singled what should have been a triple Lutz.
Aymoz then under-rotated and fell on his triple Axel and even his trademark artistry could not save him.
This was a rare setback in his breakout season and he trailed off the ice dejectedly with his head bowed.
As he received a score of 64.40, he could not hold back the tears in the kiss and cry with the audience similarly stunned as he was placed 24th with two skaters to come and only 24 making the free skate.
Georgia's Morisi Kvitelashvili came next and he went fourth on 82.77 to seal Aymoz's fate.
The free skate takes place at 18:30 CET on Thursday.