You spend that much on an avr then cheap out on speakers? Why? Should probably spend 2x at least on speakers...
The 818 was on a terrific sale yesterday, what were they, five or six hundred dollars, so no, I am guessing he didn't spend a lot on the AVR. He has the right idea anyway, if you don't have a lot to blow on a whole surround sound setup, get quality components one at a time, and wait for good deals. He will have a killer system by the end of that, and he won't have spent a fortune to get it.
I've never listened to EMP's in person, but I've heard and read good reviews about them. Furthermore, that's one awesome sale. If I hadn't bought my Monitor 70's with Klipsch RW-12D, I would jump on that deal I would also recommend the HTD speakers. These I've head in person, and they sound awesome.
In addition to the HTD and emptek you should also look at the Arx a2, a3 or a5's. They have a lot of normally higher price tier components stuffed into no frills, well built cabs. They are really high bang for the buck and sound fantastic. Lots of love for them recently on the hts $1k shootout thread.