Defense Mechanisms in Magic

As the people who know me are fully aware, I love to study the psychological aspect of games. Before I dipped into serious Magic, I used to play football, Pokémon TCG and Counter Strike all at a somewhat serious level. I didn’t just play these games – I also studied them whether it was advanced tactics, cunning mind games, reading of the game plus put a big emphasis on the importance of a positive environment in the dressing room, in testing or on the voice communication server. If you haven’t read “My 10 MTG Commandments” I advise that you give that a look before diving into this one. Keep in mind that everyone either is or has been guilty of all of the following, including myself. Reading this article will hopefully help you as much as it helped me write it.

1) “I lost even though I played perfectly”


Players will use this phrase to project the attention after a tough loss. More often than not, the recipient of this message, usually a friend they traveled with to the tournament, will tell the losing player that they couldn’t do any more than that (doing their best), and that just happens in Magic. While that is a positive response from your friends, the responsibility lies with the losing player. While they maybe didn’t have any other decisions to make during the game, they might not have researched the metagame well enough before constructing a sideboard. Another possibility is that they didn’t playtest the matchup thoroughly enough and that their “truth” is flawed. I suggest playing the match in your head and come up with points where you actually had decisions to make and try to evaluate those after the tournament. Mulliganning, whether to fetch out a basic or shockland, sideboarding and other stuff can be relevant to look at. But at the tournament after the match – just focus on your next game instead of being frustrated about the past.

2) “My opponent got extremely lucky”


I often hear players talk about their match as if only the last draw from the opponent mattered. While it is very hard to practice in the aftermath of a tough loss, it is somewhat simple to see what the constructive way of dealing with this is. You should take a deep breath and look at everything from start to finish in the match instead of looking at the last draw (in case of a devastating top deck) in a vacuum. Conveniently, with a comment like this, the player got to sneak in that they are a way better player than their opponent. I mean, without the extreme luck, how else would he beat you? Sometimes you get into situations against a deck like Burn in Modern where the absolute best line you can draw up will need your opponent to draw either a creature or land for their turn, so you can attack for lethal in a scenario where a targeted burn spell wins your opponent the game. If you figured out the best line, you live with the result and get back into the saddle no matter the outcome.

3) “I didn’t test for this tournament”


Players will usually slip this comment before the tournament to lower the expectations to them from their peers. If they end up doing badly, they want people to remember what they said. On the other hand, if they do great, their friends will most likely look at them as a God-gifted talent (or at least, that is what they hope will happen). Trying to set up artificial win/win situations like this is a very common defense mechanism. What I wish I was able to do in cases where I know I didn’t prepare as well as I could for the tournament, is keep quiet about it and hope to lean on my experience instead of recent actual playtesting. If situations occur, where I lose because of lack of preparation, I will either have to live with it or prepare better next time. No reason to create a false narrative to protect your pride.

4) “This format is horrible”


A commonly used quote from good players about fast formats like Modern and Vintage after losing to a proactive or prison style strategy. Yes, it is not the best feeling in the world to lose to a turn three Karn Liberated or never getting to cast a spell, but remember who chose to devote money and time to sign up to the tournament. During the last couple of years, I have taken a break from Modern whenever I felt the metagame was too proactive – the kind of Magic that I don’t enjoy. You either accept the name of the game or take the necessary procautions.

5) “My Opponent’s deck is unplayable”


Let me be the first to say that I have been extremely guilty of this one in the past. I spend a reasonable large amount of time to figure out the metagame and aim to choose just the right deck for a given tournament. If I then faced a deck that was bad against the consensus “best” deck in the format, which would make that deck unplayable in my mind, and that deck randomly had a great matchup against my m3t4g4m3 k1ll4h deck, I would just tell myself that my opponent was bad and he would probably just play against the “best” deck next round and get what he deserved. Needless to say, all my thoughts were not doing anything good for my tournament success or well being in general. The lesson for me was that players at Grand Prix especially will always show up with whatever they already had built prior, disregarding metagame trends and recent printings. That is part of what makes Magic a beautiful game.

I hope you enjoy the mix-up between strategy, results, psychology and deck breakdowns as much as I do. I might start to do some videos in the future, but I can’t promise anything yet. Thank you for reading and please share your experiences about defense mechanisms with the me and the other readers. We all have a lot to learn.

First Data from the Jace and Bloodbraid Era

Dead Format, BUT…

While the format for Grand Prix Lyon this past weekend was Modern, the data from that tournament is not as interesting as it could have been, as the tournament used the old banned list (no Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Bloodbraid Elf allowed). However, the winning deck played by my fellow Snapcardster goon, Polish platinum-aspiring pro player, Grzegorz ‘urlich00’ Kowalski, might have a shot in the new metagame thanks to its’ individual high card quality and hasty creatures.

If you want to learn more about Red/Green Eldrazi, head over to our friends at Hareruya and read his words about the deck now and moving forward.  I love the interaction between Ancient Stirrings and Crumble to Dust in a deck with mana acceleration.

Modern Challenge February 17

A few days ago, approximately 140 players tried their hand at the fresh format and decided to participate in the weekly “Modern Challenge” on Magic Online. The competition is always fierce online, so I figured it would be a great sneak peak to the new metagame to take a look at the top 32 finishing decks from that event.

Top 32

* = Jace, the Mind Sculptor decks
+ = Bloodbraid Elf decks

  • 4 Burn
  • 3 Blue/Red Control (1 Thing in the Ice, 1 Kiki-Jiki, 1 Breach/Emrakul)*
  • 2 Red/Black Hollow One
  • 2 Green/X Tron
  • 2 Jund Midrange+
  • 2 Dredge
  • 2 Humans
  • Grixis Shadow
  • Blue/White Turns*
  • Grixis Control*
  • Living End
  • Bant Knightfall
  • Bushwacker Zoo
  • Tribal Zoo+
  • Storm
  • Jeskai Ascendancy
  • Affinity
  • Temur Midrange*+
  • Blue/White Control*
  • Ad Nauseam
  • Mono Red Prison
  • Blue/Black Mill

check out all the decklists of the modern challenge

Jace in Mind

The final of the tournament ended up being a Burn mirror match, and while that doesn’t tell the whole story, there are some important things to take note of. If you look closely at the metagame breakdown above, you will notice that most decks either were Jace decks themselves, tried to go under Jace decks (fast aggressive strategies like Burn, Humans, Hollow One, Affinity, Dredge and Zoo variants), was packing the natural predator of Jace – Bloodbraid Elf or was trying to punish opposing blue mages for tapping out on their fourth turn (true for Ad Nauseam, Jeskai Ascendancy and Living End). The point is that a lot of decks in the format can continue go about their business, as they are already set up pretty well against Jace.

On the other hand, I don’t think players have come close to finding the best shell for Jace yet, so in the meantime Jace players will not only need to plan for a diverse field of proactive decks, they also need to prepare for the pseudo mirror match. New formats, whether it being a Standard rotation or unbannings in the case of Modern, have traditionally favoured proactive strategies, and this is no exception. Jace will need some more time to reach his full potential.

Less is Not More

The next few days after the banned and restricted announcement, I was afraid that this would make the number of playable decks in Modern smaller. While I’m not 100% convinced the opposite is the case yet, the weekend’s results were a step in the right direction. Modern is the most popular format because of its’ diversity, and I would hate for it to end up like Standard or Vintage with only a handful of truly playable decks. 25 different decks in a top 32 only happens in one format. Fingers crossed this continues moving forward.

Zero Lantern and Zero Bogles

Also interesting to note, no Lantern Control or Green/White Hexproof decks placed well in this tournament. Coming off a Pro Tour win, many people anticipated an uptick in Lantern Control‘s metagame share, but I’m fairly certain that the difficulty and atypical kind of Magic the deck presents to the pilot will always keep the deck well under 5%. I feel okay facing this matchup one out of more than twenty matches.

In the case of the Hexproof deck, I believe reality caught up with the deck. While it’s very good in many metagames on paper, the deck is very high variance, especially in a long tournament like a Grand Prix. Hats off to Dan Ward for taking down the Grand Prix last weekend (by the way, go read the interview I did with him if you haven’t already), but I don’t expect many copies of Gladecover Scout in various top 8’s in the coming months. That being said, if we continue to see more and more Burn and various Control decks at the top tables, I’m willing to revisit this strategy again and try and to either fix or live with the consistency issues.

Three Checkmarks

For my next Modern tournament, I will try to earn the following checkmarks to feel good about my deck choice:

Be even-good against Burn.

The format is still too big to play dedicated hate cards against them, but Lightning Helix, Collective Brutality, Dispel and/or a good manabase will get you a long way.

Be even-good against Tron.

The four copies of Tron in the Grand Prix Lyon top 8 can’t be ignored. You accomplish this by playing a very fast strategy or finding a way to freeroll a land destruction plan into your deck. Spreading Seas, Field of Ruin and Ghost Quarter, while Ceremonious Rejection and Stony Silence are great sideboard options.

Be even-good against Jace.

Play fast creatures, play creature lands with three power, play a combo deck that will win on the spot if they tap out, operate at instant speed with Collected Company or flash creatures, or play value creatures with great enter the battlefield triggers. The options are many, thankfully.

Thank you so much for reading about my thoughts. Which checkmarks are you aiming for in the beginning of the format?

Keepin’ it Old School

So, I believe most of you are now familiar with the old kid on the block: the elusive, intriguing and vastly expensive format of 93/94 or simply Old School magic.

The format had its humble beginnings in Sweden, but these days it seems more and more people are (triple-?)sleeving up those Savannah Lions, them Icy Manipulators and all of the moxen they can get their hands on. The format is – as far as I can tell – thriving in most parts of Europe.

For those of you who are not familiar with the format, the basics are these:

You can only play cards printed in the following sets: Alpha, Beta, Unlimited, Summer/Edgar, Arabian Nights, Legends, Antiquities and The Dark. Yep. Only those! Do you know these sets? Where you even born, when they were released?! Oh! Also Chaos Orb is legal. Go look it up. One of the greatest, most iconic pictures in all of Magic‘s history. Unfortunately also a dexterity-based card (you have to throw it), which makes it banned in all formats. That is, of course, all formats besides Old School (which, for the time being, ensures that Old School can never become a sanctioned format).

The main intention with the Old School format is to relive the feeling from back when our beloved card-game was brand new: Back in the 90’s when Spice Girls was a thing. When Clinton had no sexual relations with that woman and when Christian conservative groups were dumbfounded and outright outraged by the fact, that the original printing of Unholy Strength had a pentagram in the background – surely the youth would now be beyond salvation and the end was, by all means, near!

Back on track. It was also a time – believe it or not – when there was basically no thing called internet. Which mean there was no thing called net-decking. Also no thing called Grand Prix’s or Pro Tours and therefore practically no professional play- and test-groups. This meant that there was a lot of brewing and kitchen-table testing and playing – the original way to build decks and play games. You would play the cards you had access to, and there were no giant internet-shops with every card ever printed on display, so you had to hide your collection from the bullies in the schoolyard, and stay inside to trade and be lucky to find that extra Goblin Balloon Brigade to finish your crazy, blistering fast, friend-removing, mono-red goblin deck (complete with Ball Lightning and Blood Lust)…

It is this format that is now beginning to thrive. But how is that even possible? you ask. And you are right. Make no mistake. Even though it is possible to make a somewhat budget mono-colored deck. It is not that possible. These cards are expensive, and they are on the rise! Remember only the original printings are allowed, which makes it impossible for Wizards – even if they wanted to – to make the format cheaper and more accessible by, for example, printing new versions of the cards. This is a format, where you will have to shell out around 30€ for the cheapest possible Savannah Lions – the unlimited one. Counterspell is around 20€ and Shivan Dragon is closing in on 100€. And I’m not even starting to mention some of the all-stars: the Power Nine, the dual lands, Library of Alexandria, the aforementioned Chaos Orb and Juzam Djinn, Erhnam Djinn and Serendib Efreet. Oh, and beta and alpha versions of the cards! It is a format for the very rich, the very lucky or the very foresighted who bought the cards years ago and held on to them.

But the format is thriving and expanding and it actually makes sense. It is thriving because of several things:

  1. Nostalgia! Even though it is impossible to recreate the feeling from the early 90’s – especially in regards to no net-decking – for a lot of players, there is a lot of nostalgic feeling in playing with these cards.
  2. Players from the 90’s have grown up, cut their hair, shaved their necks, crawled out of their basements and even landed paid jobs, so they are able to actually buy all the Nightmares and Serra Angels they’ve always dreamed of! (and let’s be honest, we have all dreamed of that particular Angel…)
  3. People want to play with and show off their crazy expensive, beautiful cards and decks.
  4. Less restrictive local (or national) rules are emerging all over the world. Which means the price of entering the format is drastically reduced. When revised or even 4th edition becomes legal, you can actually make playable or even competitive decks for a couple of hundred euros. And they won’t rotate out…

Enough of this introduction to a format I am sure most of you have already heard of. What I actually wanted to write about today was an experience I had playing the format at a tournament recently, which led me to think, or at least ponder. It has to do with the differences between playing kitchen-table magic with your friends and tournament-magic against unknown, less-casual players. And indeed about the possible near future of the Old School format (at least in Denmark).

It was no big tournament – 13 players arrived – but it was highly enjoyable and very much fun.

For me at least. People who know me, knows that I am no grinder, I am not a very competitive person or player and, indeed, not a very good player at all. But when I take the time to play at a tournament, for the most time, I am there to try and win. And have fun, of course. Besides being a mediocre to bad player, I also enjoy playing combo and/or prison strategies, and my weapon of choice this day was to play a 5 color PowerMonolith-monstrosity filled with most of the restricted cards of the format. Yep, a combo deck featuring cards like Balance, Strip Mine and Recall. And 4 power sink. I think I’m in love…

Emil’s Deck

It is a very capable deck and without a doubt one of the most powerful of the format. It ends games playing an arbitrarily large fireball to the opponents face or firing a Rocket Launcher (no, actually the card Rocket Launcher – look it up!) for 50 billion damage at the opponents baffled crotch. This is done via the age-old unlimited mana combo of Basalt Monolith and Power Artifact. Much fun is had. At least I think it is much fun. And that may be a problem.

During the 5 rounds of the tournament I had several surprising reactions to my deck and the games we played. My opponents didn’t seem to have much fun. Let me just pause a minute to make something clear – I am not advocating that one has to be happy about being killed by a combo deck, but if playing against combo ruins your day or gives you a feeling of being unfairly treated, is tournament-magic really your thing? My deck is in no way unbeatable. A well-timed Shatter ruins me day! A Blood Moon makes me cry and a turn one Argothian Pixies followed by a turn two Serendib Efreet can be very tough for me to beat! But of course, to beat it, you have to come prepared. It is not a casual deck – you have to bring counterspells, removal or your own combo.

I know that a deck like mine won’t make me many friends at kitchen tables. I admit that it is based on decklists I’ve seen online and I know that there is a lot more nostalgia in attacking with a Sengir Vampire or landing an impressive 2/3 Kird Ape off a taiga in the first round (Kird Ape was actually banned for being too powerful back in the day…). But I will still hold that in tournament-magic it is not unsportmanlike conduct to play combo or prison. It is not being a bad friend to play to win. And especially in Old School it is not very cool to be mad about losing to a bizarre interaction between three old cards. These bizarre interactions is – I would argue – what the format is all about.

Also: many of the games in question were very interesting and not decided before the resolving of the infinite ball of fire. I had to keep my opponent off black mana, so he couldn’t play his mind twist; I had to find a Mox Sapphire AND a Blue Elemental Blast to kill an opposing Blood Moon; I had to play and replay my Demonic Tutor (via Regrowth) to find both mana and a removal to a horrible Energy Flux and the list goes on. This format – for me – is all about enjoying the interactions between cards – often relatively unknown cards – as the game were originally thought. It is quite a simple game of magic but it stills requires you to think. It is about having fun doing that – and even if you should sometimes lose, don’t despair!

In the next round you will face another strange, spicy brew consisting of Triskelions, Titania’s Song, Hypnotic Spector, Sol’kanar the Swamp King or even freaking Copper Tablet. So if all else fails, play your deck, lose or win and just enjoy the immensely powerful, expensive and beautiful decks that are roaming the format. Again: I would consider entering an Old School tournament with a brew of only Mountains and a single Fireball – hell a brew of only Mountains! – just to look at all the incredibly, iconic, sexy pieces of cardboard. They don’t come any hotter than here! But anyway, this is – for now at least – a very open format where many strategies are viable.

And that leads me to the next of my worries. Even though the format is expanding, it is – still – a somewhat obscure, fringe format with a relatively small dedicated group of players. Many of whom have a very casual mindset when playing, some of whom are not very skilled players – or at least not very used to play at tournaments. My fear is that at some point some maybe not-so-nice but great players will take advantage of these facts and begin to roam the Old School tournaments flinging the “Best deck of the format” and simply be almost certain to win. This will be a heavy blow to some of the vibe and feel of the format, and it will probably enhance the notion, that it is impossible to win a game of Old School, without playing the legendary power nine. Which really is not true.

I am aware that many Old School groups and indeed several of the larger tournaments, don’t really play with prices and oftentimes don’t play top4/8. This means that the tournaments have a heavy emphasis on playing games, rather than win. This also helps ensure, that the incentive to grind these tournaments become a lot less appealing. Since you won’t win anything worth anything, and you won’t even gather those sought after Planeswalker points.

BUT as a former tournament organizer, with around a hundred tournaments in the sack, I discovered that, at least in Denmark, one of the best/only ways to make people actually show up at tournaments is to hand out good to ridiculously great prices based on a reasonable entry-fee. And so we have a classic dilemma: No prices means more dedicated, casual players, that ensure the right “Old School vibe”, but also less players overall. Prices means more “outsiders” – players who can’t remember trading their Serra Angel for a Black Lotus – but also, probably a lot more players overall. What to do?

I honestly don’t know. A friend of mine is trying to harness a competitive Old School scene in Copenhagen. That means entry-fees, prices, play-offs and a general feeling of playing competitive magic (which means: if you want to win, you have to play an optimized deck). But he also tries to make sure that the cozy element of just playing whatever crappy combo you wish that specific day, is there. I am excited to see where it ends, as of now some of the more casually oriented Old Schoolers are not too keen on the idea. But let’s see. I think the most important part is to enjoy a unique and highly challenging format.

Sculpting Minds with Jace in Modern

Jace, the Mind Sculptor

On the days leading up to the banned and restricted announcement, I was fairly sure that Bloodbraid Elf would come off the banned list and nothing else would happen to Modern. To say I was wrong is an understatement, as Wizards injected the most powerful planeswalker of all time into the format alongside the seemingly innocent value elf. I’m not going to build a ton of Jace decks just yet, because I need to know the metagame in order to build good control decks. Instead I will share my thoughts about which cards and strategies whose value will be boosted.

Ramping Out Jace

Noble HierarchTalisman of Dominance

Accelerating out your four-mana planeswalker has been a winning strategy in Vintage, Legacy and Vintage Cube for a long time, and I believe the same will be true for Modern. I like the talismen, because it allows to keep up a defensive play, like Fatal Push or Dismember, the turn you play it. In the case of Noble Hierarch, I imagine various Bant builds with disruptive creatures and heavy hitters to close out the game. This deck will not be looking to control the game; rather, it will try and play cards with high individual power level and play them ahead of schedule thanks to the Hierarch and possibly Birds of Paradise. These mana creatures are rather bad top decks later on, but can then be used to block and protect Jace. Which leads me to…

Blocking Becomes Valuable

Lingering Souls Wall of Omens

Controlling Jace decks will look to find cheaper, defensive cards that protect Jace and are not embarrassing to play. Lingering Souls will double as a win condition in Esper builds while straight Blue/White can play Wall of Omens on turn two and protect Jace ahead of time. I don’t quite think that Squadron Hawk has what it takes in this era of Magic, but I’m sure it will be tried out. These decks will already run Snapcaster Mage for obvious reasons, but the 2/1 body attached is now more important than ever.

Burn Spells Get Better

Lightning BoltLightning Helix

Burn spells used to be pretty bad against blue Modern decks outside of their sometimes relevant ability to pressure the blue mage’s lifetotal. Their delve creatures or Tarmogoyf would be too big, and you needed to resolve two burn spells in order to kill one. That changes with Jace in the picture, because now your copies of Lightning Helix and Lightning Bolt will actually be decent cards. If they get to “brainstorm” once, and you finish Jace off with a Lightning Bolt, you should be happy. Be aware that experienced players will use Jace’s +2 ability more frequent than you might expect.

Creature Lands Are Great

Treetop VillageRaging Ravine Stirring Wildwood Creeping Tar Pit

We should see more decks than usual pack a few creature lands to be better equipped to deal with Jace. I only listed the three-power ones, because I believe lands like Mutavault and Shambling Vent will prove lackluster thanks to their two power instead of three. Jace decks will be built to keep the battlefield as clean as possible, and the difference between two and three power on your creature land can be the difference between life and death against Jace.

Whaaat, Free Spells?

Slaughter Pact Disrupting Shoal

Whether you get to untap with Jace on the battlefield the turn after you cast him is critical. If you manage to “brainstorm” with him twice, you should be in good shape depending on how your deck is constructed, so that is your goal. I believe a card like Slaughter Pact will help you achieve this and should see play in the coming months. Having a Doom Blade the turn you cast Jace will be powerful, but also being able to Snapcaster Mage back the Pact later with only two mana up sounds delicious. I listed Disrupting Shoal because a friend of mine is certain it will become a mainstay way to protect your Jace, but I have my doubts. Very interesting nonetheless.

ETB Effects vs. Fatties

Eternal Witness Thalia's Lieutenant Bedlam Reveler Gurmag Angler Knight of the Reliquary Tarmogoyf

It is inevitable that the Jace player will need to “unsummon” your creatures from time to time, and having creatures with relevant “enters the battlefield” triggers on them will reduce the power of Jace. On the flipside, Jace loves to bounce big fatties with delve or green monsters with huge power.

Hopefully you got a tip or two that will lead you to even more productive thoughts about abusing or beating Jace, the Mind Sculptor in Modern. Let me know if you have some tricks up your sleeve that I need to know about for my next Modern tournament!

Follow Andreas on Twitter and as ecobaronen on MTGO.

Preparing for Grand Prix Lyon

Wow, that was a great Pro Tour to watch. Any concerns about Modern not being able to hold up to the scrutiny of the pro teams were pretty much rendered mute. The top 8 had 7 different archetypes, and the diversity continued throughout the posted decklists. The most popular deck was 5-color Humans but because it’s just a bunch of creatures it is very beatable if you just try a little.

Lantern winning the whole thing seems to have garnered the most talk about banning but I’m not sure it’s warranted. I have very little experience playing against Lantern so I don’t have a good idea of how beatable it actually is. It seems like Burn and Tron have decent matchups but I for one do not want those decks to see more play. Anyway, as long as there are so few people actually capable of piloting Lantern, the problem might be too small to warrant bannings. Then again, it’s a pretty weak argument that it’s only a small number of people ruining things for the rest of us. I’ll stay out of the debate for now and be content whether something is banned or not.

Instead I’ll try to figure out what I should play at Grand Prix Lyon next week. When deciding on a deck in Modern I think you should always choose between decks you have extensive experience with. There are so many different matchups and weird interactions that you will be very hard pressed picking up a new deck the day before a tournament and do well. Of course, if you have a long time to prepare and build up a mastery of a new deck, by all means go for it, but a week which includes working full time is not enough.

That actually brings me to an important announcement if you haven’t heard: I have decided to quit my day job and spend all my time on Magic. For this blog it means that I will be devoting more time to writing and I will try to do more writing while I’m playing. This way I write down my thoughts as they occur so I don’t have to remember a couple of days back when I sit down to write an article. So if you feel like my posts are of low quality (yet are somehow still reading?) you should see an improvement soon. If you don’t, then I hope you will still see an improvement. I will also be trying my hand at streaming and a good friend and I have started working on a Youtube project so keep an eye out for that. I’m very excited for all of this and of course a bit nervous but I hope the excitement will win out and shine through.

Back to Modern, I have 3 options: Storm, UW Control and Mardu Pyromancer. I have played both Storm and UW at Grand Prixs before and I played a lot with Mardu during December and January. Given ample practice time I think I would play Tron since it’s good against Mardu, Lantern (I think) and Humans, all of which I could see being popular in Lyon. Then again, it’s Modern so week to week metagame changes are pretty negligible, another reason why I favor just playing something you know well.

Of the three, I have the least experience with Mardu so there would have to be some big tendencies in the metagame for me to choose it over one of the others. If I knew the metagame would be the same as the Pro Tour I would snap it off but the trifecta of Burn, Tron and Scapeshift will likely be more popular at the Grand Prix so I don’t think I have the guts to bring it.

I had actually thought UW Control to be kind of dead but the printing of Search for Azcanta and maybe more importantly Field of Ruin has given new life to the deck. I definitely enjoy playing it more than Storm but not enough to want to play it unless it is as good or better, so I’ll have to figure out if that’s the case.

Looking over the Pro Tour lists, they are actually quite similar to what I used to play, and I have tried both with and without Ancestral Vision. Last I played it, around Grand Prix Birmingham, I had abandoned Ancestral but when people like Raphael Levy, Lee Shi Tian and Tomoharu Saito include it, I consider the discussion reopened at least.

There were two main reasons why I cut it. First, the most important thing for the deck was to play its fourth land on time to unlock Supreme Verdict and Cryptic Command. Cards like Wall of Omens were more help there. Second, the top dogs were Grixis Shadow and Eldrazi Tron who had Stubborn Denial and Chalice of the Void respectively, which made it too uncertain that Ancestral would resolve.

I set to testing with a non-ancestral list and found myself struggling to get to just 3 wins in a league. I don’t think I played the same deck more than twice during 5 leagues, so it’s not like I just faced a bad matchup all the time. It’s just that UW is a deck that really requires you to be focused almost all the time. The games are often close until well after turn 5 and even in the late game you can lose by spending the wrong counterspell/answer on their threat. Since it was so long since I had played UW I often made these small missteps in the first two leagues and then I got frustrated and made even more in the next. For me at least, if I am going to play this deck I need to be calm and comfortable which I wasn’t. Since I don’t know if I can get there before the Grand Prix I turned back to trusty old Storm.

I started out with a chat with Snapcardster buddy Michael Bonde who had just played it at the Pro Tour to a 6-3-1 record. He still like the deck so I questioned him about his list:

Creatures (6)
Baral, Chief of Compliance
Goblin Electromancer

Spells (37)
Serum Visions
Opt
Sleight of Hand
Pyretic Ritual
Desperate Ritual
Manamorphose
Remand
Unsubstantiate
Gifts Ungiven
Noxious Revival
Past in Flames
Grapeshot
Empty the Warrens
Lands (17)
Spirebluff Canal
Steam Vents
Shivan Reef
Mountain
Island
Snow-covered Island

Sideboard (15)
Pieces of the Puzzle
Empty the Warrens
Wipe Away
Echoing Truth
Gigadrowse
Shattering Spree
Lightning Bolt
Dismember

There are a couple of new things here, compared to my last list. First off is the full amount of one mana cantrips which I don’t have any argument against; you want to churn through your deck so let’s play all the cards that help do it. Then there is one Unsubstantiate instead of the third Remand. I think this is brilliant because while you lose out on a card, being able to bounce something like Meddling Mage or Eidolon of the Great Revel can give you a chance in a lot of games where you otherwise wouldn’t have any. Next, it seems Noxious Revival has claimed another victim. I even gave it a second chance after talking to Michael and I never cast it. Either I was winning without it or I needed it to be a card in my hand and not on top of my library to be able to win. I am sticking to Simian Spirit Guide and I will spend a lot of thought over the next weeks to come up with a proper argument rather than just “one has been great for me, the other hasn’t.”

Finally, the manabase is completely free of fetches. The advantage is that when you scry something to the bottom of your library, you get to keep it there until you play Gifts Ungiven. The downsides are that you are slightly weaker to Blood Moon and I think you take slightly more damage from your lands (calling Frank Karsten to do the math here). I think both downsides are pretty negligible; since playing without fetches, I have faced Blood Moon twice and won even with no Islands in play. The cost is just one mana for playing a Manamorphose before you play a guy. No matter how the actual math shakes out, I’m sure there is a less than one life per game difference. I remember one game in Madrid that I won because my turn 1 Scalding Tarn made my opponent play his turn two a bit differently in case I was playing a deck with Lightning Bolt or Spell Snare, but I think that’s extremely rare and doesn’t move the needle noticeably. I like going fetchless.

The sideboard is where things get really interesting. Michael had gotten it from Caleb Scherer’s blog  and I recommend you read the 5 or so posts he has written about Storm. I played some leagues with his list and followed his sideboard guide. The essence is that when you expect graveyard hate (which is close to always), you cut the Gifts package for Pieces of the Puzzle and look to play a long game where you either play multiple smaller Empty the Warrens or just stock up your hand and kill with Grapeshot plus Remand. I had just been playing Pieces as an extra grindy card and rarely shaved even a single Gifts, but I tried it out nonetheless.

My opinion after 10 leagues or so is that Caleb goes overboard with the Pieces plan, at least in some of the matchups. Against Tron, for example, I don’t think there’s a need to take them in, I would rather just keep my game plan intact, force them to draw hate and when they do, you still have bounce and/or artifact removal to power through it. I like to have some number of Pieces, but I see them more as a way to help dig for a bounce spell. Against all the blue decks, Gifts is often better, even for grinding, because it’s an instant, and you still get card advantage.

The only matchup where I agree with making the full Gifts-Pieces switch is against Shadow decks where can be quite sure that you won’t be able to combo off the normal way, and where even small Empty’s are likely to win the game. Otherwise, the main plan is just so strong that by switching you have already given up considerable percentage points, whether they draw hate cards or not. Of course, I am not 100% on this and I’m not sure how it is possible to have a rational discussion about this since it basically come down to numbers which none of us are able to calculate properly (I would think even Dr. Karsten would be hard pressed). Nevertheless, I am very interested in any points you might have, no matter which side of the argument they favor.

I am not quite sure what list I’ll play but if you swap Noxious Revival for Spirit Guide in Michael’s list above, you’ll be pretty close. If you have a list, I’d love to see it and hear your reasoning. Wish me luck in Lyon, and good luck to you wherever your next tournament might be. If you’d like to see some of the video content I’m going to do, follow me on social media, I’ll post whenever something goes up.

Modern Pro Tour Recap

Hello there and welcome back. Today we have some fresh Modern data from the Pro Tour to look at, so let’s dive in! First of all, let’s have look at the metagame percentages recorded on Wizards‘ homepage.

Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan metagame

The Archetype Breakdown – click to see full graph

 

Yeah, that’s an insane amount of diversity ranging from 1% to just below 10%. Going in, a lot of people were afraid that we would see a top heavy metagame with too many Tron lands and too many one mana 9/9’s, but those people sure got a pleasant surprise. The strength of Modern in a casual FNM and a competitive Grand Prix has always been the diversity, but at the professional level we have a tad more unstable track record until this Pro Tour. I think everyone from the players and spectators to Wizards them selves are beyond content with the outcome. My gut feeling is that Modern on the Pro Tour is here to stay this time.

The players who managed to win half of their matches or more on day one got to play 10 rounds of Modern total. Up next are the decks that managed to win eight or more matches, and there are a few sweet pieces of tech I would like to highlight.

2 Tron
2 Lantern Control
2 Grixis Shadow
Abzan Midrange
Blue/White Control
Bogles
Traverse Shadow
Grixis Control
Storm
Eldrazi Tron
Affinity
Burn
White/Black Eldrazi
Humans
Black/Red Hollow One

8-2 or better decklists

Unsurprisingly, Corey Burkhart sleeved up Grixis Control this event and managed to best eight of his ten opponents. Winning with controlling decks in Modern is no easy task, but he clearly got something right for this weekend. Looking at his decklist, you will notice he plays no less than 25 lands and a full playset of Field of Ruin. Traditionally, three-color control decks have had a horrible Tron matchup and no good way to fix this. Tectonic Edge was too much of a setback for their own gameplan, and no matter how many copies of Fulminator Mage you packed in your sideboard, the bad guys would always win.

Field of Ruin lets you disrupt Tron lands and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle while not setting you back manawise in your mana hungry control deck deck. In a recorded deck tech from the Pro Tour, Corey said that cutting the Serum Visions was a great change because playing it looking for lands felt too clunky in a blazing fast format like Modern. For me, control is suddenly much more interesting because I can now almost freeroll a playable big mana matchup that used to be a huge concern.

Yet another Grixis deck, whose pilot decided that Serum Visions and Opt are too slow, is Ben Friedman with his Grixis Shadow deck. He added a playset of Mishra’s Bauble to make sure he hits his land drops, builds a graveyard for Gurmag Angler and gets a little free information along the way. This version of Death’s Shadow wants blue because of Stubborn Denial, Snapcaster Mage and the blue Dark Ritual (Corey’s reference to the synergy with delve spells) Thought Scour. Red adds Temur Battle Rage to close out combo decks or boardstate decks like Devoted Company and Affinity, but also some flexible sideboard cards in Kolaghan’s Command and Rakdos Charm. I really like this build instead of the traditional Grixis lists and the four color Traverse versions.

Looking at the top 8, we were blessed with seven different decks and a truck load of interesting matchups. When the dust settled, Luis Salvatto was standing tall with the trophy in one hand and his Lantern of Insight in the other. Huge congratulations to him! Here are the eight decks that battled on Sunday:

2 Humans
1 Lantern Control
1 Mardu Midrange
1 Blue/Red Control
1 Black/Red Hollow One
1 Abzan Midrange
1 Traverse Shadow

Top 8 decklists

In my preview before the tournament, I talked about how Izzet Control decks were not controlling enough to win without a combo and how all the combo options were bad. I even said that Izzet equals Blood Moon, but Pascal Vieren wouldn’t listen to that kind of nonsense. He ran the tables with his deadly duo of Young Pyromancer and Thing in the Ice all the way to the semi finals with a combination of Izzet cards we have not seen before.

Blue/Red Control by Pascal Vieren

Creatures (10)
Snapcaster Mage
Young Pyromancer
Thing in the Ice

Spells (28)
Serum Visions
Ancestral Vision
Roast
Opt
Lightning Bolt
Spell Snare
Abrade
Remand
Mana Leak
Electrolyze
Cryptic Command
Logic Knot
Lands (22)
Scalding Tarn
Flooded Strand
Misty Rainforest
Polluted Delta
Steam Vents
Spirebluff Canal
Sulfur Falls
Snow-Covered Island
Snow-Covered Mountain
Island
Field of Ruin

Sideboard (15)
Spell Snare
Abrade
Electrolyze
Anger of the Gods
Dispel
Negate
Ceremonious Rejection
Vendilion Clique
Relic of Progenitus
Disdainful Stroke
Molten Rain
Crumble to Dust

Note that he also incorporated Field of Ruin in his mana base and decided to diversify his win conditions, all of which synergize with his eight cantrips. For card advantage, Pascal hopes to suspend Ancestral Vision on turn one and use his many reactive cards to buy time until the last time counter is removed. Snapcaster Mage and Cryptic Command ensures that he has a superior lategame than most Modern decks, and from there closing out the game should be simple. I like the two copies of Roast to make sure he doesn’t die to the first Gurmag Angler or Tarmogoyf that hits the battlefield.

Bonus

We have the banned and restricted announcement coming up, and I just wanted to add my two cents on the matter. Bloodbraid Elf would be a welcome addition to Jund Midrange that has recently fallen out of favor and would incentivize some Big Zoo brewing and would possibly have players look into the Temur color combination trying to get lucky with a cascade into Ancestral Visions. Just make sure you don’t put too many counterspells in your deck in the case of Temur.

What was your favorite tech, play, moment or deck from the Pro Tour?

My 10 MTG Commandments

Hello and welcome back to an actual article from my hand. I’m taking a small break from the interviews to share some mixed thoughts about the way I approach the game. I have come a long way since I started playing, and I feel like sharing my experiences will be beneficial for you reading, but also for me putting my thoughts on paper. All of them has contributed to make me the player I am today, and adopting even one or two of these perspectives will without a doubt make you a better player. Note that the order of these are random.


1. Don’t be too results oriented

If you 5-0 a League on Magic Online, it doesn’t mean that your deck is the flawless. If you 1-3 a League, it doesn’t mean that your deck sucks. Maybe you won a lot of die rolls, maybe your opponents mulliganned a lot, maybe you drew your sideboard cards in your opening hand in games two and three or the other way around. Get a big enough sample size with your deck to have an educated opinion before jumping to conclusions. I see many players, even good ones, switching decks after a Grand Prix because they didn’t get a good finish. If you switch deck right after a big tournament that you prepared for, your preparation wasn’t good enough.


2. Be better at evaluating when you win

It’s easy to try and evaluate a close, important match where you lost, because we find it natural to look for reasons that something bad happens to us. We assume that we must have played sub-optimally or incorrectly, simply because we lost the match. Accept that this is not always the case and be better at looking at the matches you won. The natural behavior after a sweet victory is to feel relief or happiness, but I learned a ton by desecting those games without taking the end result into consideration.


3. Don’t be proud and stubborn

This is something I’m still guilty of practicing, but observing that problem is the first step to improvement. When I get an idea for a deck or sideboard card, I fall in love with it like it’s my new born child. I will ruthlessly defend it when met with critique or raised eye brows like my life depended on it sometimes losing what should be the focus. What I should be doing in these cases is embracing the constructive criticism and use it as a “reality check” to confirm a good idea or feedback to throw away a bad one. Being innovative is great, but don’t fall in love with your ideas. Your peers are here to help you.


4. Be a team player

Fortunately, I learned this many years ago, and it has severely boosted my joy of playing Magic. When I do well, I’m happy and Magic feels very rewarding. When you do badly, if you’re not a team player, you will feel horrible and the negativity makes you unpleasant to be around. Whenever I’m knocked out of an event, I like to stay around and root for and help out my closest friends. Maybe help them scout the opposition, bring them a bottle of water and spectate their matches to cheer them on. If you implement this, all of your Grand Prix trips will feel rewarding regardless of your own performance, and your Magic buddies might even turn into important friends outside of the game.


5. Focus on things you can control

I frequently hear a lot of players talk about circumstances that are out of their control when talking about a match. You can’t do anything about your opponent having the perfect curve in limited or the equivalent in any constructed format. Some percentage of the time it’ll happen, and even the best player in the world would have no chance. I view this as something we sign on an invisible waiver when entering a Magic tournament under “terms and conditions”.


6. The glass is half full, not half empty

When browsing social media or walking through a tournament hall, you will often read or hear comments like “I lost my win-and-in for top 8”, “I was two pro points away from Gold” and “I finished 17th on tiebreakers” with a very negative tone or a crying emoticon. To me this is a very bad habit on the Magic community because it influences the upcoming players a lot. Here is how the above statements would sound in a more positive and constructive way:

“I’m super excited that I top 16’d that Grand Prix!”, “I was only a few points from hitting Gold, so that will be my goal for next season” and “12-3 is a great result that I’m proud of”.

I’m not saying that this is easy to adopt, but we should all strive to make Magic more positive.


7. You play against other Magic players, not immortals

The pairings go up, and you learn that you have a feature match against Seth Manfield. A lot of newcomers and semi-pros will already mentally add one in the loss column, but in reality they should just focus on the game and trust their preparation. Yes, the absolute top level opposition will make very few mistakes and punish immediately for yours, but the gap is not as big as most players think. In matchups like this, I have mostly seen two things happen. Either the newcomer/semi pro will play too conservatively, respecting opposing bluffs and giving too much credit to the platinum pro or the newcomer/semi pro will find it necessary to apply a “Hail Mary” strategy because they feel they can’t win a “normal” game of Magic. If you can play your game like you did last round against Average Joe when getting paired against top level players, you’re in a good spot to take it down.


8. Networking is great in multiple ways

Most of us started playing Magic because of social reasons where the competitive nature came into play much, much later. Once you get to a certain level, your Magic friends will be the ones you bounce ideas off of and the ones you travel with to tournaments. By being friendly and not just minding your own business, a lot of doors will open for you. Whether you need cards for your RPTQ deck, need a couch to sleep on when traveling overseas or want a qualified opinion about a new idea of yours, a good network and group of friends of similar (or better) skill level around you is just what the doctor ordered. Remember you have the same function for them, so this is not a just a selfish perspective.


9. Use the internet, but give credit

Magic anno 2018 lets you find a good decklist with just a quick google search. While this is true for everyone and that should even the playing field, that information is still free for you. While the deckbuilder might have spent 100 hours coming up with ideas and testing, you just loaded it up on Magic Online after a few minutes. This is of course perfectly legal, also ethically, but if you manage to do well with a copied list, at least take your time to credit the creator on social media or a private message on facebook. They will feel great, and you obviously feel great because you just won without putting in too much hard work.


10. Set realistic goals

There is absolutely nothing wrong with using personal goals as motivation, but there are a few pit falls here. You need a more or less objective way to determine what a “realistic” goal is for you, and if you over- or underrate yourself, the whole point of setting goals is invalid. When (not “if”, because no one succeeds every single time) you fail, you need a very strong psyche to get back in the saddle. I suggest working a lot on dealing with failure and tweaking your expectations. As an example, “I want to make as few mistakes as possible and see where that takes me” is a lot better goal for a tournament than “I want to play on Sunday, otherwise the trip is wasted”.

Thank you so much for reading this, and hopefully you can implement some of it to upgrade the way you approach the game.

What are your MTG commandments that I should learn?

Modern’s new wunderkind

I came home from GP Madrid excited to play a lot of Storm online. The deck felt great and I already knew some ways to improve the list as I mentioned last time. The following week was an online PTQ and I was going to Grapeshot my way to the top of it. Then reality slapped me in the face as it is wont to do. I rarely got above 3 wins in the leagues I played and by Saturday morning I wasn’t feeling confident at all. I was in sort of the same spot leading up to Madrid, but then I decided that it was just variance and the deck was still good.

This time I had a harder time convincing myself. Then I happened to look at the league leaderboard and noticed that the leader, Selfeisek, had more than twice as many trophies as number two. That big of a gap couldn’t be just variance and hours played, so I went through the published decklists and found several entries from this guy. Some were recent, some were from as far back as October, but all of them were the same deck and almost identical lists; Mardu Pyromancer.

Mardu Pyromancer

Creatures (10)
Monastery Swiftspear
Young Pyromancer
Bedlam Reveler

Spells (31)
Lightning Bolt
Burst Lightning
Forked Bolt
Inquisition of Kozilek
Thoughtseize
Faithless Looting
Lightning Helix
Dreadbore
Terminate
Lingering Souls
Kolaghan's Command
Blood Moon
Lands (19)
Bloodstained Mire
Wooded Foothills
Marsh Flats
Sacred Foundry
Blood Crypt
Mountain
Swamp
Blackcleave Cliffs

Sideboard (15)
Blood Moon
Kambal, Consul of Allocation
Dragon's Claw
Wear//Tear
Leyline of the Void
Fatal Push
Shattering Spree
Pithing Needle

I tried it out and immediately went 5-0. I guess this would be my deck for the PTQ then. My confidence and hopes for the tournament were back up and they went up further when I beat THE sandydogmtg in round one. Then I faced burn twice more, got killed and was brought back down to earth. I still really liked the deck and decided to keep working on it. The matchups are roughly as follows:

Creature decks (devoted druid decks, humans, affinity etc.): These are great as you might have assumed from the roughly one million removal spells we play.

Spell combo (Ad Nauseam, Storm): Also great as you have lots of discard and can combine it with a reasonable clock.

Burn: Pretty bad. You have few ways to gain life or negate their spells and it’s often hard to not take damage from your lands. Games are usually close, though.

Death’s Shadow: Very close. Lingering Souls is obviously great but you have very few ways to kill their guys.

Eldrazi Tron: Bad. They go over the top eventually but your aggressive draws have a decent chance of getting there.

Control: Good. You have value creatures and discard. You do have to keep pressure on them, which not all your draws are capable of.

Tron: Horrible. You need discard and Blood Moon and a fast clock and the mana to play all of them.

Boggles: I was about to call this unwinnable but then I beat a guy who play a total of one aura in two of the three games. If you value your time more than your record, just concede the match.

 

The first thing I changed was a Sacred Foundry to a Godless Shrine. I sometimes found myself wanting both black and white from one fetch and the second foundry is unnecessary. Next, I had a chat with Peter Ward after we played the mirror and he suggested changing Lightning Helix to Collective Brutality. Helix might be great against Burn but it often forces you to fetch and shock to cast it which means it effectively only gains you one life. Brutality fits perfectly in the deck and I am actually surprised that Selfeisek isn’t playing it. Both the discard and -2/-2 modes fit with the rest of your deck and you have cards that you can discard either for profit or minimal cost. These are the only things I feel made the deck straight up better and I don’t see anything I would want to change regardless of the metagame.

So the time came to try and fix the bad matchups. I got really tired of losing to Tron and Burn. Burn was easily fixed by having the full 4 Dragon’s Claw in the board and now I actually look forward to facing people with so much disregard for interactive games of magic that they would sleeve up Lava Spike and friends. Unfortunately, some people have even more disregard for the intricacies of ‘good’ games of magic and decide to play tron lands and Karn Liberated. Even more unfortunately, I haven’t figured out how to punish them for this disregard. I realized that Blood Moon is just not enough, especially against Eldrazi Tron, so I tried Fulminator Mage. Blood Moon wasn’t cutting it against Eldrazi Tron because it means you spend turn 3 not doing anything so making their Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher a turn or two later to the party isn’t enough. It’s also worth noting that even though we are playing red, Blood Moon can still be quite a nuisance.

The Fulminators didn’t make enough of an impact though. I figured that you could also get them back with Kolaghan’s Command but even the ‘ideal’ case of turn 3 mage, turn 4 get it back, turn 5 replay it isn’t necessarily going to win the game against either tron variant, and you spend almost all your mana for 3 turns on it. If the best case scenario for a plan doesn’t destroy a plan as linear as Tron, we should be able to do better. So I took Brian Demar’s idea of Molten Rain and Surgical Extraction. It doesn’t hurt you mana like Blood Moon or take up too much mana like Fulminator, and if you kill a tron piece turn 3 and the extract it, regular Tron will have a very rough time. Eldrazi Tron will still be able to play a game most likely but here it matters that you deal 2 damage and trigger prowess or make an extra 1/1 token. I’m not sure it’s the best way to deal with the big mana decks and I’m sure it’s not enough to turn it into a positive matchup, but it’s the best I’ve got for now.

After these considerations my list currently looks like this:

Mardu Pyromancer by Anders Gotfredsen

Creatures (10)
Monastery Swiftspear
Young Pyromancer
Bedlam Reveler

Spells (31)
Lightning Bolt
Burst Lightning
Forked Bolt
Fatal Push
Inquisition of Kozilek
Thoughtseize
Faithless Looting
Collective Brutality
Dreadbore
Terminate
Lingering Souls
Kolaghan's Command
Lands (19)
Bloodstained Mire
Wooded Foothills
Marsh Flats
Sacred Foundry
Blood Crypt
Godless Shrine
Mountain
Swamp
Blackcleave Cliffs

Sideboard (15)
Molten Rain
Dragon's Claw
Wear//Tear
Leyline of the Void
Fatal Push
Surgical Extraction

Keep in mind that this list, the sideboard in particular, is quite skewed towards Burn and Tron since I seem to face them in every single league I join. For a bigger tournament like a Grand Prix, I probably wouldn’t play 3 claws and 4 molten rains.

Since a lot of the deck is discard and burn, I don’t think it’s the hardest deck to play so I don’t have that much profound insight, but here are a few things I’ve learned so far:

 

  • Obviously Lingering Souls is a good discard to Faithless Looting but so are excess lands. This means that you usually want to keep one land in hand in case you draw looting. Keeping more than one can bite you if you draw a Bedlam Reveler though.

 

  • If you have more than one reveler in hand, all but one are ‘free’ discards to looting. Against some decks like BGx midrange, you can keep two to protect against Thoughtseize because reveler is your best card against them. Kolaghan’s Command can count as revelers too in this regard; if you have one of each, you can discard the reveler and get it back later with the command. If you are in a hurry to get reveler into play, you can discard the command instead.

 

  • It is tricky to decide what to play turn 1. I tend to order it Monastery Swiftspear > discard spell > looting on the play. On the draw, if they played a one drop, killing that can easily be top priority, and if they don’t but you are low on removal for an important two drop, discard can jump swiftspear as well.

 

  • Your land sequencing and fetching also requires some thought. You only need white for Lingering Souls so black and red are obviously more important. If you have neither Swamp nor Blackcleave Cliffs, you will often want to fetch Blood Crypt. At some point you then want to get one of the white shocks. If your life total is under pressure and you have ways to discard souls if you draw it, you can get away with fetching a mountain instead of having to shock Sacred Foundry.

 

I encourage you to try out this deck, it seems great for the format and it has a lot of play to it. Also, casting Bedlam Reveler empty handed is just a great feeling. Enjoy, and thanks for reading.

Top 8 at GP Madrid

A few weeks ago I attended Grand Prix Madrid with my awesome and frequent travel buddies Oscar Christensen and Christoforos Lampadarios. It was Team Modern so the first task was to find a good lineup of decks. We agreed early on that the optimal strategy was for each of us to play a deck that person had a lot of experience with, and to value experience over metagame considerations. This presented a problem immediately as Oscar was on Abzan Company (and top 8’ed a GP with it) while Chris was on Abzan Midrange. Obviously these are not compatible for a team Grand Prix so something had to give.

At first my thought process was that Oscar is the better player (no shade on Chris, we just have to admit that Oscar is pretty damn good) so he should play something else and let Chris play what he knew. But as we got closer to the tournament, Oscar became more and more convinced that it was a mistake to not play the Company deck; it was too good to leave out, especially with an experienced pilot. He managed to convince me but I decided to stay out of it and let the two of them settle on a solution since it was their decks.

Whoever didn’t play Abzan would probably play Eldrazi Tron, so Oscar got Chris to play some games with Eldrazi Tron and he reported back after a few days that the deck was insane and he wouldn’t mind playing it. I had been set on Storm for a long time and since it didn’t have any overlap with the other decks, there was never any reason to deviate.

With our Company, Eldrazi, Storm lineup set, I really liked our chances. There are very varied opinions on Eldrazi Tron and I have heard pros call it anything from unplayable to insanely good, but the fact is that it has some unbeatable nut draws and a lot of late game power, so there is at least potential. To be honest, I didn’t really influence our choice that much. I just said I would play Storm and let the other two decide what to play, so I don’t have an informed opinion on their decks. They both really liked Tron, though and Chris ended up going 12-2 at the Grand Prix for what it’s worth, small sample size and all.

This brings me to the thing that disappointed me most about this Grand Prix; we didn’t actually prepare as a team that much. I think it’s pretty common in a format like Modern since you have all these linear decks that probably only has one expert on your team, so everyone just figures out their own list. The only teamwork is figuring out what decks you’re playing and making sure you have no overlap. After that, I can’t imagine a Lantern player needing much input from his team.

The only exceptions I’ve seen is from Joel Larsson’s latest article on ChannelFireball where his team had to figure out their manabases together since they had overlap in colors and the fetches and shocks they wanted. And of course the great moment we had in the airport Friday night when Oscar and Chris where playing some games and someone noticed that they both had Walking Ballista in their deck… At least it was better than another Danish team who didn’t realize the same mistake until during the actual tournament. Their Company player had to continue with a basic land instead of ballista. We at least got to play Rhonas the Indomitable which makes little to no difference.

Anyways, we arrived in Madrid late Friday and I set about figuring out what list to play. I had tested on MTGO for about two weeks but had mostly focused on game play since I hadn’t played the Gifts Ungiven version of the deck before. As such, I hadn’t tried out all the potential configurations and sideboard cards so it was all theorycrafting. This is where I would really have liked to discuss it with two teammates with similar amounts of experience with the deck. Again, it’s not their fault, it’s just a natural consequence of the Team Modern format. If you haven’t played Storm (or UWx Control against Storm), how would you have an informed opinion on whether to play Gigadrowse or Dispel for that matchup? How would you know whether to play Empty the Warrens main or not, or Blood Moon in the board or not? Despite my displeasure with the process, I think I arrived at a good list:

Storm

Creatures (7)
Baral, Chief of Compliance
Goblin Electromancer

Spells (35)
Grapeshot
Empty the Warrens
Apostle's Blessing
Remand
Past in Flames
Desperate Ritual
Pyretic Ritual
Manamorphose
Gifts Ungiven
Serum Visions
Opt
Sleight of Hand
Lands (18)
Scalding Tarn
Flooded Strand
Polluted Delta
Steam Vents
Island
Mountain
Spirebluff Canal

Sideboard (15)
Empty the Warrens
Wipe Away
Gigadrowse
Blood Moon
Abrade
Lightning Bolt
Pieces of the Puzzle
Shatterstorm
Engineered Explosives

There is a surprising amount of variation in the Storm lists so I think it’s useful to go over why I made the choices I did. Let’s start with the main deck. I have seen anywhere from 2 to 4 electromancers and I went with 3 after having played 2 during testing. I can’t tell you for sure which is correct but I can tell you that I have rarely lacked one for going off (this is factoring in opponent’s removal), and I boarded one out against decks without removal. I also played one Apostle’s Blessing instead of the third Remand. This counts as an extra guy if you have already drawn one and it means you can play your guy on turn 2 and still protect it. I think it is a mistake, however Remand is just too good. It is obviously great with Baral, but as Oscar pointed out (and I hadn’t thought about for some weird reason) you can Remand your own Grapeshot to essentially double your storm count. I remember playing up to 4 Grapeshot before Baral and Gifts were a thing because you could often kill easier if you drew two. Remand does that and so much more and I’m beginning to agree with the people who play the full 4.

Next is my omission of Noxious Revival. I am pretty convinced that this card is bad. There are some obscure scenarios where you need it to put a card on top to be able to go off or you can counter something like Surgical Extraction but in all the common scenarios, it’s just a useless card and as soon as your hand size is pressured by discard or counterspells it absolutely sucks. Finally is the main deck Empty the Warrens. It is great against stuff like Grixis Shadow because you can go off early and make 8 goblins or something and they often can’t beat it. Also some crazy people play stuff like Leyline of Sanctity or Witchbane Orb in their main decks.

Lastly, Martin Müller played a Simian Spirit Guide, which I agree with and recommend going forward. The main point is that if you draw Past in Flames, you only need 5 mana to go off with Gifts (and a guy in play) instead of 6 because you can Gifts for 4 spells that make mana. Even if they give you Manamorphose and spirit guide, you can go up to 4 mana, cast Past in Flames and have one mana left to cast everything again. The crucial thing in favor of the ape is that unlike Noxious Revival, it doesn’t suck outside of this corner case scenario, it just makes an extra mana. I have even won several games where I had to kill turn 2 because I could play a guy, exile ape and the go off.

Then there is the sideboard, which I was really pleased with. My friend Magnus Christensen was kind enough to borrow me a bunch of cards and also suggested Abrade as both [/mtg_card]Lightning Bolt[/mtg_card] and artifact removal. It is great and effectively freed up two sideboard slots. Sometimes you want to bolt something turn 1 but I found that often I could spend two mana and work around it. Usually you kill something end of their turn and then untap and kill them. As artifact removal you often need it against decks where your guy lives and then it only costs 1 anyway.

The Shatterstorm should have been a Shattering Spree no doubt. One of the Wipe Away should have been Echoing Truth. I was very pleased when by Grishoalbrand opponent brought back a Griselbrand and asked to go to combat before drawing cards. Since that gave me priority I could bounce it and he couldn’t draw any cards in response. Being able to bounce Relic of Progenitus without them cracking it is also quite valuable. Still, being able to bounce two [/mtg_card]Rest in Peace[/mtg_card] or leylines with one card can be just as important so a 1-1 split makes sense to me.

Blood Moon is great in this deck and has won me so many games. It’s even better here than in other decks since you can play it turn 2. Shadow decks, all the new Search for Azcanta control decks and of course the big mana decks are all vulnerable to it. Pieces of the Puzzle and empty are pretty standard by now and I like the role they play. I was actually going to play a third pieces but I couldn’t immediately find one so I took the opportunity to throw in the miser’s Engineered Explosives. I like it a lot in Modern as there are a lot of troublesome permanents with converted mana cost 2 and once you’re lucky enough to draw it in a deciding game against Boggles, you’ll never want to get rid of it. Seriously, I don’t know if it’s correct to play and aside from the obvious cases I was always on the fence about bringing it in or not so I can’t recommend it wholeheartedly.

Day 1 of the Grand Prix was pretty unexciting for me. I only finished 5 matches before my teammates had decided the outcome, losing to a Company player who had turn 3 kill all 3 games, including turn 0 white leyline in game 3, and to Luis Salvatto’s Elves where I couldn’t overcome his Rest in Peace and Eidolon of Rhetoric in game 3. That’s what you sign up for with a deck like this; you can often beat a hate piece because it has made their draw slow enough to give you time to bounce it but if they still kill quickly or have multiple hate pieces, things get rough. There wasn’t anything super exciting happening in my games, even all my Gifts piles were pretty normal. What I want most with this deck is to win games because I play Gifts and my opponent gives me the wrong cards, but it didn’t happen all weekend.

Even on day 2 nothing special happened in my games, I think the highlight was the aforementioned bouncing of Griselbrand. On top of this, I was in seat C and was usually the last one to finish so I didn’t see that much of my teammate’s play either. It got a bit better on day 2 and I’m happy I got to sit next to Chris for the deciding game of the last round. I looked at the standings before the round and figured that if we won, we would get 8th and if we lost, we would get something like 21st, so it was a game for several hundred dollars and 2 pro points each.

The matchup was Chris’ Eldrazis against Dredge and he was on the play game 3 (he should have lost game 1 but the opponent attacked into his Wurmcoil Engine when he shouldn’t have, and that allowed him to race). His opener was a one lander with Ghost Quarter, Relic of Progenitus, Grafdigger’s Cage, 2 Matter Reshaper, a Walking Ballista and a Chalice of the Void. Against a deck as linear as Dredge, I think it’s a good hand and none of us disagreed. Several turns in, Chris had only drawn an Eldrazi Temple for land but luckily the opponent couldn’t do anything about the cage in play. Chris had to decide whether to play out the Matter Reshapers or play a second relic (the first had been popped to find land). Both Oscar and I were leaning towards playing more hate pieces but Chris was very keen on getting some pressure applied. It was his game, so we let him decide, but it did put a knot in my stomach. What if the opponent drew an Ancient Grudge?

Chris played reshapers and ballista the next turns and that made the second ballista for 1 exactly lethal through the opponent’s hardcast Narcomoeba and Prized Amalgam blockers. I’m not sure if he would have lost by playing relic instead of the first reshaper, but I also don’t care. Chris took a line that Oscar and I were doubtful of, followed through with it, and won with it; beautiful Magic. And it got us 700$ and 3 pro points each as we did indeed get 8th, putting Oscar only 5 points away from Silver(!) and me close to reclaiming Bronze (not ‘!’).

We have already agreed to team up for the next Grand Prix Madrid which is Team Trios, meaning one will play Standard, one Modern and one Legacy. As I said earlier, I was a bit disappointed by the strategic aspect of Team Modern and I can only imagine it being worse in Trios since you’re now playing completely different formats. Nevertheless, I look forward to it because, leaving aside the strategy, I had such a blast with these two guys and being able to share your wins and losses is a much, much richer emotional experience than what you get in an individual tournament, and it has really strengthened our friendship. If you haven’t played a team event yet, find two friends and try it out! Let me know what you think about both the Storm deck and team tournaments in general.

Temur’s next Move

So William Jensen crushed Worlds in what looked like a most deserved tournament win in terms of preparation and level of play. Of course he got lucky along the way but I don’t think anyone has won a tournament without luck. His and his PGO brothers’ weapon of choice was a very finely tuned version of Temur Energy (you don’t randomly put one Supreme Will and one Glimmer of Genius in your deck for Worlds), and it begs the question: “why play anything else?” An identical copy even won the MTGO PTQ on Saturday.


Temur Energy

Creatures (23)
Bristling Hydra
Glorybringer
Longtusk Cub
Rogue Refiner
Servant of the Conduit
Whirler Virtuoso

Spells (15)
Abrade
Attune with Aether
Commit // Memory
Confiscation Coup
Essence Scatter
Harnessed Lightning
Magma Spray
Lands (22)
Aether Hub
Botanical Sanctum
Forest
Island
Mountain
Rootbound Crag
Spirebluff Canal

Sideboard (15)
Negate
Abrade
Confiscation Coup
Supreme Will
Glimmer of Genius
Torrential Gearhulk
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Aethersphere Harvester
Chandra's Defeat
Appetite for the Unnatural

To answer the question, let’s start before the rotation where I thought UB Control was a good choice against Temur and the metagame as a whole. Two important changes mean that this is no longer the case. First, the departure of Grasp of Darkness really hurts, especially against Monored where you also lose Flaying Tendrils and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. Vraska’s Contempt is considerably worse as the two life just isn’t enough to remedy two extra mana spent to kill Hazoret the Fervent (or heaven forbid, one of the cheaper creatures).

Against Temur it is also a blow because you now have to lean heavily on Fatal Push in the early game. With Grasp you could board out some number of Pushes and still be able to deal with early Longtusk Cubs and Servant of the Conduits. Having to keep in all four Pushes means you end up in spots like Kelvin Chew did in game 4 of the semifinals where he drew all four and had to spend two on Thopter tokens while not being able to kill the Whirler Virtuoso that made them. If just one Push had been a Grasp I think he would have won that game.

Second, you can now expect Temur to have Essence Scatter in the main deck. Having such a tempo positive way to deal with The Scarab God for good or Torrential Gearhulk while stopping the trigger is huge. Of course they don’t always have it and the God is still game over if you untap with it but it does change the matchup and the way you have to play. Search for Azcanta is getting rave reviews but I just don’t think it does enough to make UB the place to be (although I have only played 4 leagues with it).

Generally I would say the way to punish Temur is to play a focused strategy that goes over the top of them. There are two decks that I think do this in Standard, Anointed Procession decks and God-Pharaoh’s Gift decks. The problem is that these decks have either/both consistency issues and/or trouble against the other big decks (UB and Monored).
So even if you beat Temur (which you might not if they prepared their sideboard for you) you aren’t necessarily favored against the metagame. There was an Anointed Procession deck that crushed the PTQ Swiss and it looks to have addressed at least the inconsistency issues with Champion of Wits, so I will be exploring that avenue soon. For now, though, I want to play the best deck and beat the mirror, a tried and true strategy:


Temur Energy

Creatures (23)
Bristling Hydra
Glorybringer
Longtusk Cub
Rogue Refiner
Servant of the Conduit
Whirler Virtuoso

Spells (15)
Abrade
Attune with Aether
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Confiscation Coup
Essence Scatter
Harnessed Lightning
Magma Spray
Lands (22)
Aether Hub
Botanical Sanctum
Forest
Island
Mountain
Rootbound Crag
Spirebluff Canal

Sideboard (15)
Negate
Struggle // Survive
Confiscation Coup
Carnage Tyrant
Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Aethersphere Harvester
Chandra’s Defeat
Appetite for the Unnatural
Nissa, Vital Force

This list isn’t revolutionary but the core of the deck is so large now that there is limited room to maneuver, in the main deck at least. I like Chandra a lot and I was actually surprised to see PGO omit her from the main. I hope it was because they wanted to strand opposing Negates and that there isn’t a bigger picture that I’m not seeing (interestingly the control decks largely omitted Negate from their main decks).

As the Worlds list indicate, the sideboard is fair game and where you really make your edge with a deck like this. I haven’t liked the Torrential Gearhulk plan that much so I want to make room for some real mirror-breakers. I think Nicol Bolas is the best for the job but I don’t know if it’s a good idea to play more than one seven-drop.

As I mentioned earlier, The Scarab God has lost a little luster with Essence Scatters being more populous, but it is still the next best in my view. However, you need to play a Swamp which I would like to avoid. The mirror isn’t everything and your mana is pretty stretched as it is. You could put a Swamp in the board but I think Swamp and a God is worse than, for example Nissa and Confiscation Coup.

By the way, I had a great chat with my friend Mattia De Colle and he brought up a good point about Confiscation Coup: what are you actually hoping to steal in the mirror? Longtusk Cub is a great target but you usually board it out. Taking The Scarab God is obviously amazing but many aren’t even playing it. Then you’re basically left with a tapped Glorybringer which means you get a two for two (I’m assuming it killed a creature so the creature and your coup for their Glorybringer and a Harnessed Lightning which they often have since you save it for Glorybringer mostly).

I guess it helps you get Glorybringer superiority but we think the game more often comes down to Bristling Hydra superiority. I will still bring in coup for the mirror but it’s mostly for mono red.

I will board in Carnage Tyrant in the mirror but it’s really there to crush UB. Bristling Hydra is your best threat against them and the tyrant is even better. It’s basically Bontu’s Last Reckoning or game over. Nissa is also quite the boss against control, I only lost one game where it stuck and that was because I punted.

Initially I wanted to cut Appetite for the Unnatural because it just seemed unimportant but with Anointed Procession and God-Pharaoh’s Gift on the rise, it gets to stay. This is also where I hope Struggle // Survive will come in handy. These decks can seem like tough matchups and you can easily lose to their good draws. They are inherently inconsistent though as they need Anointed Procession or God-Pharaoh’s Gift respectively to do broken things.

Since you have answers to both of them, it is possible to keep them from functioning properly in which case you just need to make sure to close out the game before they can find another one. This is a prime example of why Temur is the best deck: it might only be an 8 on the power level scale but it is an 8 almost every game, whereas something like tokens regularly varies from 2 to 10.

The final point I want to discuss is flooding. My list has 22 lands, the Scarab God version goes up to 23. Then you have 4 Attune with Aether which thins your library a bit but still almost counts as a land, and 4 Servant of the Conduit. That’s almost half your deck just making mana (yes you get a bit of extra energy but still).

Variance and observation bias probably plays a role here but I’ve flooded a lot since I picked the deck up a couple of weeks ago and I can’t help but wonder if there are too many mana sources in the deck. I don’t have any conclusion so feel free to chime in but I will try shaving a servant since it pretty much always gets killed turn 2 and is a pretty bad draw late.

I hope I can find something that beats Temur consistently before the Pro Tour but I am content with it as my fallback plan. Let me know what ideas you have for both. Thanks for reading.