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?

Daniel Ward winning GP Toronto

Meet the Pros: Daniel Ward

Hey Dan and first of all, huge congratulations on your well deserved victory this weekend! For those unfamiliar with you, can you give a quick introduction of your self? From professional life to magical accomplishments.

I am a Veteran of the US Navy, now working for a drug and alcohol recovery center. Magic has always been a passion to me from the kitchen table to the Pro Tour (I just qualified for my 10th). I have now top 8’ed in five Grand Prix and top 8’ed a World Magic Cup Qualifier.

You managed to take down the Grand Prix in Toronto this weeking piloting Green/White Hexproof. Looking at your list, a few card choices stand out. Talk about the Leylines in the main deck, and Dromoka’s Command and the two copies of Seal of Primordium in the sideboard.

The Leylines in the main deck have always been a consideration depending on the metagame. After speaking with friends about the deck,  I made the decision that it was prime for this weekend. Dromoka’s Command was a card that was put in the deck thanks to my friend and trip mate Chris Juilano. I had room for two cards in my sideboard and wanted them to be high impact. With Command comes so much flexibility and it took us about an hour on the ride up to go over all applications which we obviously missed some. In this tournament I did everything from have my opponent sacrifice his Phyrexian Unlife, prevent all damage from Secure the Wastes (Command needs two targets) and have my opponent sacrifice Search for Azcanta, fight Goblin Guide plus have my opponent lose his Eidolon of the Great Revel. Seal of Primordium was something I’m not a big fan of, but if you watched the finals I’m sure glad I had them. So the big thing is they deal with Chalice of the Void while being on board pumping your creature with Ethereal Armor. Pretty much when it’s good it’s great. Also with Affinity and Lantern being popular they are added hate which is great.

According to my research, this weekend wasn’t the first time you sleeved up hexproof creatures and auras at a Modern tournament. Tell us why it was the right choice for this weekend.

In my opinion, Bogles is always good, but in some cases great. This weekend I really liked it since I thought there would be more hate for Lantern and just simply not enough players willing to pick Lantern up (thank god because that matchup is miserable). Humans performed the best at the Pro Tour and going in to the tournament I thought that matchup was a bye, but I was surprised it was way closer. So I thought people would either play Humans or play a deck that beats Humans which is great for a deck with mostly untargetable creatures.

On the flipsde, which metagame changes would make Bogles a bad choice in the future?

I think if people want to beat any deck in Modern, they can. But Bogles is worse when combo is good. Bogels is by definition a fair deck and has trouble when the unfair ones are at the top.

I know you have enjoyed Standard a lot over the years. If you were to give your best sales speech to convince players to play Standard, despite chaotics printings and bannings the last few years, what would it sound like?

My Standard soap box goes as follows. If you like change and not getting bored with playing the same deck, I think you have found a format to enjoy. It’s wide open right now, and the game play is very fun. I think from a deck building standpoint, it’s also a format that allows a shifting meta game.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf just got unbanned in Modern. Thoughts?

My thoughts are I do not understand why they would do anything to shake up a format that has finaly been stable and awesome for a while. With that said, I think Bloodbraid Elf is fine to come off, and it will have impact, but not change too much. With Jace, the Mind Sculptor I’m just shaking my head. This card is potentially format warping, and I predict it will make it back on the banned list again.

Thank you so much for taking your time to take part in this interview. If you have any sponsor, twitter handle or twitch stream to share, now is the time!

Twitter is @Bigward28, stream shoutout my friend Kappolo42, And lastly #Goonsquad.

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.

The Quest continues

When I last discussed Standard, I had arrived at Abzan Tokens as the best way to leverage sweepers. As I continued grinding at the leagues and failing to escape mediocrity, I realized the problem; sweepers just aren’t good right now. As I alluded to last time, the combination of diverse and resilient threats and sideboard countermagic just makes it too risky to rely on resolving sweepers.

I wouldn’t accept the demise of Control so easily, so I looked for a way to 1-for-1 the opponent with good removal and then either outdraw them or play a big threat that they can’t deal with. UB is the natural place to look here but I was hesitant to be confined in those two colors since you have no way to deal with artifacts or enchantments, and very aggressive decks can be tough since they overload your Fatal Pushes.

This is what I came up with:

Creatures (10)
Whirler Virtuoso
The Scarab God
Torrential Gearhulk

Spells (24)
Fatal Push
Essence Scatter
Search for Azcanta
Abrade
Harnessed Lightning
Supreme Will
Glimmer of Genius
Vraska's Contempt
Lands (26)
Aether Hub
Spirebluff Canal
Fetid Pools
Drowned Catacomb
Dragonskull Summit
Canyon Slough
Island
Swamp

Sideboard (15)
Negate
Duress
Arguel's Blood Fast//Temple of Aclazotz
Disallow
Moment of Craving
Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh
Chandra's Defeat
Crook of Condemnation

One of the big reasons why I like Standard is that even if there are many distinct decks, they pretty much all fall under the umbrella of aggro, midrange or control. Furthermore, all decks in each archetype more or less does the same thing, which means the same sideboard cards are good against all of them. Cheap removal and incidental lifegain is great against both Mono Red and Mardu Vehicles, and Negate is great against both UW Approach and UB Control. Of course I am oversimplifying but the important point remains that you can put rather narrow cards in your sideboard and still have them be useful against many decks. In Modern, for example, the cards that hose Affinity are not much use against Burn.

This makes you more likely to be rewarded for predicting tendencies in the metagame, so if you correctly predict there will be a lot of aggro, you can build your deck to crush all types of aggro quite handily and you will likely face a lot of them in the tournament. You just don’t get metagaming like that in Modern.

All that being said, I think this Grixis deck has a good shot against both aggro, midrange and control. You have removal, The Scarab God and Torrential Gearhulk so midrange is very easy. All the removal alongside the full set of Whirler Virtuoso manages aggro decks quite well. More hardcore control decks are tough and close to unbeatable in game 1. So I added a bunch of Negates and Duress to the board and hoped it would fix things. As is often the case when you just shoot and pray like that, it didn’t. The problem was that Negate and Duress just didn’t create a coherent plan. When all my threats cost 5 or 6 mana they’re just too hard to force through, even with the extra disruption, it simply requires too much mana in one turn.

Luckily there is a cheap threat that fits brilliantly with the rest of the deck; Glint-Sleeve Siphoner. It comes down before they can keep countermagic up and they probably won’t have left very much removal in for it. It then keeps drawing cards and eventually forces them to act lest they just die. And the first one to act in a control mirror midgame usually loses.

I also realized that it would be nice to have a few answers to stuff like Carnage Tyrant so I added two Doomfall as well. This is where my list is now:

Creatures (10)
Whirler Virtuoso
The Scarab God
Torrential Gearhulk

Spells (24)
Fatal Push
Essence Scatter
Search for Azcanta
Abrade
Harnessed Lightning
Disallow
Supreme Will
Glimmer of Genius
Vraska's Contempt
Lands (26)
Aether Hub
Spirebluff Canal
Fetid Pools
Drowned Catacomb
Dragonskull Summit
Canyon Slough
Island
Swamp

Sideboard (15)
Negate
Duress
Disallow
Moment of Craving
Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh
Chandra's Defeat
Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
Doomfall

The deck feels great and I think I would have top 8’ed the MTGO PTQ last Saturday if not for my own mistakes. I will keep sporting this at the PTQ’s but for now it’s time to head back to Modern. The Pro Tour just added a ton of new data and my next Grand Prix is Modern in Lyon in a little over a week so I better get to it. By just skimming over the Pro Tour decklists UW Control could be a good choice, dare I hope that turns out to be true? Stay tuned to find out.

Meet the Pros: Simon Nielsen

Simon Nielsen is a Danish professional player. Best known for winning the 2014 World Magic Cup as a member of the Danish national team, at which he famously turned around a seemingly unwinnable game by topdecking the one-of Duneblast (dubbed the “Daneblast”) in a crucial situation.[1] Nielsen also has four Grand Prix top eight finishes, and his best Pro Tour result is a 10th-place finish at PT Eldritch Moon in 2016.mtg.gamepedia.com

Nickname RedButtonTie
Born June 30, 1994
Residence Copenhagen, Denmark
Nationality Denmark.png Danish
Pro Tour debut PT Fate Reforged 2015
Pro Tour top 8s 0
Grand Prix top 8s 4 (0 wins)
Median Pro Tour Finish 110
Pro Tours Played 11
Lifetime Pro Points 117 (as of 2017-11-28)
source mtg.gamepedia.com

Many people might know you as a curly-haired dude wearing silly clothes at Grand Prix and Pro Tours, but I want to hear some background story. Do you remember the turning point where you evolved from a casual player to an aspiring high level player?

As with most evolution over time, I can’t pinpoint an exact spot where I “leveled up”, though back in the beginning of 2011 when I had just started playing (and told myself that I wouldn’t want to invest anything into Magic. Yeah, right…) I randomly tripped over the Top 8 coverage of Pro Tour Paris online and watched it all in one go. I was hooked. I thought it was really cool what I saw Ben Stark and Paul Rietzl do – play this game at a high competitive level – and I wanted to do that too.

Since then, I remember some crucial moments in my ascension towards the Pro Circuit. Going to my first FNM where I met Martin Müller, experiencing a Grand Prix for the first time, winning a WMCQ with my own deck and subsequently winning that World Magic Cup, being accepted into team EUreka when it was still in its infancy, and making a deep run in Pro Tour Kyoto to miraculously hit Gold.

Simon Nielsen vs. Antonio Castellani

You have jokingly talked about your self as the luckiest player in the world numerous times. Can you share your view on variance, skill and dedication and talk about how they each contribute to becoming a professional Magic player?

To me, these three elements are highly intertwined. I obviously can’t be the world’s luckiest player, because there is no such thing, but since the beginning I’ve been quite good at focusing on when I get lucky instead of the times I am unfortunate and devote most of my attention to what I actually can control. It’s no secret that you need to get lucky to win a tournament, but I do think there is a way to somewhat control that luck.

Let’s imagine that you play a game where all you need to do is roll two sixes with two dice. You wouldn’t just roll the dice once, hope to get lucky and complain if you don’t. You wouldn’t even settle for 10 rolls, you’d just keep rolling until you eventually get there. And it’s basically the same thing you need to do with Magic. Attend as many PPTQs or Grand Prix as you can, eventually you’re bound to win or top 8 one.

But some players might actually never get there, because the other thing you need to do is work on your game and improve your skill. Sort out your ingame mistakes, ask better players for advice and learn from their strategy, do plenty of smart testing, preferably daily. Only by combining the constant improvement and the infinite persistance will you reach your goals.

Some might say that I got pretty lucky to get on the train so easily, and while I do think I’ve hit some great strides along the way, I’ve also put a ridiculous amount of work and time into this game. I do believe that once you reach a certain level where you’ve played some RPTQs and gotten deep into some Grand Prix day 2’s, if you dedicate yourself to get there and you work hard and smart, you’re favored to hit Gold within 3-4 years. That might just be survivorship bias, though.

Finals: Denmark vs. Greece

Testing for important tournaments, most players do it in teams. Please tell us about the role(s) you have had on the various teams you have been a part of.

I’ve been joking that my role on Team EUreka was that if anyone 0-3’d a team draft and felt bad about themselves, they could always just like at me, throw a comment or two, and all of a sudden feel much better.

Out of my 11 Pro Tour appearances I’ve been rogue teams twice and otherwise on superteams like EUreka and MTG Mintcard. And honestly, I often doubt how I could end up on these teams, especially EUreka since back then I was clearly one of the worst players on the team. But I just got on the team when it wasn’t that serious and kept requalifying for the Pro Tour to stay on. But I worked hard and I’m friendly enough that everybody likes me.

So that has mostly been my role, just the hard worker who could easily play Magic for 12-14 hours a day. When I got on Mintcard I had grown a lot as a player and I feel like I contribute more and also help with organisation. Even though I still am one of the weaker links on Mintcard it feels like it’s much more justified that I am on their team. And I’ve grown really close with some of the players, especially the ones from Australia and New Zealand, so being on the team is just as much about friendship as it is professional Magic.

Going for Gold Again: Team Denmark

Wizards of the Coast seems to favor team tournaments moving forward. In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of individual and team tournaments respectively?

Team Sealed is one of my favorite formats, even though it has dawned on me recently that I’m not actually very good at it. I’ve also quite enjoyed Team Modern as it takes out the pairings-based variance that is one of the bigger problems with Modern, as you get 3 pairings per round to water it out, not just one.

And playing with friends is always awesome, you win together, you lose together. But there can be such a thing as too much, as it’s a bit of a hustle sometimes to find teammates, and losing to your own mistakes feels especially bad when you also let your teammates down. I’m looking forward to the next half a year with curiosity, but it wouldn’t surprise me if I’m tired of team tournaments next August.

Speaking about their team focus, what does the Team Series on the Pro Tour mean for you playing?

To be honest I’m not too hyped about the Team series. Last season I decided to stay out of it to not bother with binding myself to a testing team, getting shirts etc. for the miniscule upside that I might be in the top 2 teams. Also, where was I going to find 5 other people who’d want to wear the tie?

But after hanging out with some of the guys from Team Lingering Souls I got to see their excitement as they qualified for an extra Pro Tour through the Team Series. So this year I wanna partake in that excitement to see your teammates do well and also try to qualify my friends Zen Takahashi and Anthony Lee for the Pro Tour. We had a very bad first Pro Tour in Alburquerque, where all our Gold players missed Day 2 and only Anthony got extra Pro points with Onwards/Victory on Carnage Tyrant.

Fast forward two years from now. Where do you see Magic as a whole and your career at that point?

It’s always to tell what’s going to happen in the future, but I would hope and expect that I’ve settled into a temporary lifestyle as a professional Magic Player. It’s really exciting for me to watch players like Pascal Maynard and Sam Pardee reach PT final after PT final, because 3-4 years ago they were in kinda the same spot I’m in now: hard workers who aren’t necessarily naturally talented but who just started to top 8 Grand Prix more or less regularly.

Now they’re both forces to be reckoned with on the Pro Tour scene and hopefully that will be the future I have ahead of me if I keep working hard.

Quarter Finals: Denmark vs. Serbia

Which are the three next important tournaments on your schedule and what are your expectations like?

Now I have a bit of a Christmas/New Years lull before the season starts up again with Pro Tour Bilbao and Grand Prix London before that. I like Modern a lot and expect to play the format a ton during the next month to be ready for it. I think I’m in a good spot to get that 11-5 I need to lock up Gold for another season. As far as Limited goes, Mintcard has been doing a great job of providing me with the Limited intel I need to do well in these events, so hopefully that continues.

I haven’t looked at the Grand Prix schedule after the Pro Tour, so that’s a worry for another day. But before I leave for London, Zen Takahashi comes and visits me in Denmark, which I am very excited about!

Thanks a lot, and best of luck at the upcoming events! Feel free to mention sponsors, thank your mom or leave your twitter handle.

If you’d want to read more from me, I write articles for mtgmintcard.com. My most recommended pieces are “How to become the Worlds Luckiest Magic Player” and “All your invalid excuses

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.

A fan boy goes to the Pro Tour Part 2

Editorial Note: This is part two of Anders Pro Tour Experience. Read more about his first part.

Welcome back. I left you in part 1 knowing that Elias Watsfeldt went 11-5 to re-qualify and that Piotr made top 8. As for me, the tournament went okay but I couldn’t help feeling a bit disappointed afterwards. My dream was of course to go 11-5 to re-qualify but if you told me a month earlier that I would go 8-8 I would probably have been okay with it. However I was both 4-1 and 8-4 before some losing streaks happened and I know of at least two matches that I could have won if not for egregious mistakes.

Furthermore, the last round I made a similar mistake to the one in the PTQ the week before: I won a very long game one in the mirror after which my opponent reasonably suggests that we try to speed up to be able to finish 3 games. I ended up playing way too fast for my own comfort and while this isn’t one of the matches I know I could have won, I know I made some mistakes because of my pace of play. I should have just called for a judge to watch for slow play and then tried to play at a reasonable pace while still thinking through my plays. It’s a tricky scenario because on the one hand, it would be fair if my opponent had time to possibly win two games. On the other, I only needed to win one game and since none of us played slowly in game 1, I should be able to just play at a generally reasonable pace even if that meant my opponent’s chances of winning decrease because of it.

I’d actually like to hear what you think of this, so please sound of in the comments. By the way, for the fanboy in me, I got to beat Jason Chung and Lee Shi Tian in Standard while I lost to Shahar Shenhar and Ivan Floch. It was a further point of comfort that I talked the games through with both Shahar and Ivan and we agreed that the potential mistakes I had noted were the same plays they would have made.

Beating one of the great standard minds at Pro Tour Ixalan


Quick aside, the basketball game that Dan had mentioned happened Thursday morning and while we only ended up being five people (Dan didn’t even show up), it was fun to see that Marshall Sutcliffe is every bit as good as rumored (he shoots 3’s like Stephen Curry and he’s so tall that he can shoot over anybody so your only option is to hope he misses), and that Neil Rigby is every bit as terrible as you would imagine.

Sunday came and I was unable to watch and root for Piotr in his quarterfinal because as you may or may not know you get unlimited free drafts at the site on Pro Tour Sunday!!!! There might not be as many money drafts going on as I have heard stories about in the early days of Magic, but there were still a lot of known players going at each other’s wallets. First, Martin Dang, Thomas Hendricks and I took Ben Friedman, Kevin Jones and another guy’s lunch money (that’s right, Dang won a team draft). Then, Oscar and I teamed up with Niklas to beat Chris, Dang and THE Michael Majors twice.

At one point, Niklas was playing against Majors and he has two vampire tokens and a 2/2 while Majors has some random x/2. Niklas goes to attacks, taps the 2/2 and asks in a normal tone of voice so they could hear it as well: “should I fake attack with the tokens like I have Skulduggery?”. Oscar replies “but you don’t have it”, to which Niklas says “but they don’t know that.” The look on the other team’s faces as they were listening to this was amazing.

Sadly, I learned that Piotr had lost as Pascal Maynard pretty much nut drew him 3 out of 4 games. It was still a great result and I am quite proud of having helped tune the deck and played the same 75. It also gives me hope that if I can just stop making so many mistakes, I can compete at that level. Also thanks to Piotr for being graceful enough to buy winner dinner and putting me and Oscar down for vip access Sunday. Apparently each top 8 competitor gets to choose two friends to join him/her backstage for free breakfast and a separate viewing area. Free breakfast was great but the best part was that I got to see Brad Nelson’s face when the lady in charge of the vip section told him that Seth Manfield had chosen two other people so Brad had to leave. Would have loved to see their conversation afterwards.

With the Pro Tour over, it became time for one of the things I had looked forward to the most: going out with all the pros. We started out at an arcade game bar and after betting Niklas on a pinball game which he lost something like 19,000 – 50,000,000 I got to play NBA Jam with Majors against (I think) Corey and Joel.

Unfortunately they knew that John Stockton is broken in that game and picked him so even though I maintain that me and Majors displayed more play skill, we got destroyed. Seth ManfieldLater we went to a pool bar and I got a couple of nice pictures, first of the two guys who hours earlier competed for $50,000, then a picture with the champ himself! It looks like I am slightly more excited than him but I’m sure it was a special moment for him too…

Piotr left for home on Monday but we were joined by Chris and Martin Dang as they needed a place to stay until Tuesday when Martin went home and Chris joined us for the trip to Atlanta. At this point Chris and I pretty much set the tone for the rest of the trip by playing MTGO and watching movies on Netflix for most of the day, while Oscar was sleeping (not just because we were up late, this kid slept over 12 hours a day for much of the trip). I would recommend the best movies we watched but they were all pretty bad, I guess Moana has some good songs but it’s not up there with the Disney greats. Sicario is awesome but I had already seen it. If you haven’t, put it high on your watchlist.

The three of us arrived in Atlanta Tuesday evening and I think our very first Uber driver told us that we were staying in a very bad part of the city, something that several others later echoed. I am not really sure what the problem was because we basically never saw anyone around and I never felt unsafe, but it was pretty strange to have all these people telling us that it was a bad neighbourhood without any specifics. There was even a place we tried to order food from who said they wouldn’t deliver to our place after dark…

Nothing happened though, and after playing MTGO for a few days, we had close to settled on Jaberwocki’s 4 color energy deck. Corey joined us Friday and said that he was going to play straight Temur, but in the end we stuck to 4 color. Specifically, the power of Vraska and her contempt for other planeswalkers was just too appealing.

After scrubbing out of the GP we went to dinner with a bunch of other people including Niels Molle, his girlfriend Miwa, Alex Haynes, Ben Stark, Sarah Zylah, birthday girl Rachel Otto and 9-0 Petr Sochurek. Good times were had and it set the stage for all of us, minus Niels, Miwa, Ben and Oscar to go out Sunday night and celebrate Petr top 8’ing. We found a karaoke bar, and while it was mostly Rachel who did the actual singing, Haynes and Sarah delivered the moment of the night performing Don’t Speak by No Doubt. If Rachel and Chris hadn’t talked through the whole thing, my video might have been worth sharing so thanks you two.

The last leg of our trip was Portland, and boy was it different from the other places. It was like coming to a new country, and one where you could find more influences from other countries. There were no diners but instead an organic supermarket and a lot of food trucks. I also noticed more Asian restaurants than in the south. The GP was pretty much the same though; I scrubbed out while Corey and Chris started 9-0, all of us playing pretty much the same decks as last week.

It was strange on Sunday to see Corey not top 8 and I felt for him but Chris got there and while he didn’t buy winner dinner at the best (and probably most expensive) restaurant in town like we may or may not have agreed upon beforehand, I was still immensely happy for him, as it meant he will probably play all the Pro Tours this year (This was cemented when he won the team GP in Lyon the week after). This is hopefully the start of his ascendancy towards the top of the game where he belongs.

What a great way to cap off an amazing 4 weeks abroad! I still couldn’t help feeling a little dejected as my personal results had been below lackluster, but I was still left with a feeling that I am the only limitation for my success; I picked the same deck as a guy who top 8’ed the Pro Tour, then I picked the same deck as a guy who top 8’ed a GP. When we were playing during the week I felt like my play was very close to the others’. If I can improve my focus and decision making in tournaments, I don’t see why it can’t be me some day. Until then, I’ll try to enjoy all the moments like the ones described here, and try to focus more on the games themselves than the outcome. I hope you enjoyed my tale and if not, I’ll be back soon with some actual content.

Harambe is evolving Modern

Editorial Note: This is the third guest article on Snapcardster. We’re always looking for innovative and interesting techs and people from the magic community. If you want to contribute, feel free to email us at blog@snapcardster.com

Hello all – in case you don’t know me (and why should you), my name is Hans Christian Ljungqvist – Beast_with_2_backs on Magic Online, and I previously popularized the budget Mono-Green Stompy deck piloting it to a top 8 at the 2014 Bazaar of Moxen tournament. If you are familiar with that deck you will probably notice some similarities in the creature package of my newest creation.

I’ve recently had a lot of success with a RUG version of the traditional budget U/G Evolve deck – managing a couple of competitive League 5-0’s. I wanted to share this deck with you all since WotC recently published a decklist of mine.

I’ve been working on and off on an U/G Evolve list for the last year or so, but it was only after the addition of red to the deck that my win rate went above 50% consistently. Below is my latest list – it is still in the early stages of tuning, so the numbers may appear a bit rough. I’ve chosen to name the deck “Harambe“, as it really is, at it’s core, a monkey deck. Basically what we’re trying to do is turn a random assortment of 10 cent commons and uncommons into powerful apes. And as you all know, the most noble and best known ape in recent times has to be Harambe. Also, the Zoo name was already taken.


Harambe Tempo by Hans Christian Ljungqvist

Creatures (23)
Young Wolf
Experiment One
Narnam Renegade
Cloudfin Raptor
Strangleroot Geist
Avatar of the Resolute

Spells (18)
Pongify
Rapid Hybridization
Lightning Bolt
Spell Pierce
Vapor Snag
Chart a Course
Lands (19)
Wooded Foothills
Windswept Heath
Misty Rainforest
Botanical Sanctum
Breeding Pool
Stomping Ground
Forest
Dryad Arbor

Sideboard (15)
Ceremonious Rejection
Ancient Grudge
Life Goes On
Dispel
Unified Will
Abrade
Magma Spray

3 reasons why you should play Harambe:

It’s fast! It’s cheap! And it’s a LOT of fun to play – blowing your opponent out with a random collection of draft unplayables appeals to a certain kind of people (not the Lantern kind of people – those are bad people). If you are one of those people – keep reading!

The difference between my list and the more general budget Evolve lists is that I am not trying to build an all-in Evolve deck. This is not the second coming of Hardened Scales or Winding Constrictor. Rather it is my attempt at building a tempo/aggro deck in Modern and in my opinion the Evolve/Undying creatures serve that role better than Delver of Secrets. Given that there are no free permission spells like Daze or Force of Will in Modern, playing protect the queen is often a losing proposition, and even a dedicated deck like Grixis Shadow has trouble protecting it’s threats. Harambe has a multitude of threats and Pongify/Hybridization serve as pseudo-threats.

First off – as anyone who has played with the Undying/Evolve creatures are aware, the combination of an Evolve creature + Pongify effect + Young Wolf = 8 power on the board on turn 2. That is one of the main draws to playing the deck – a lot of decks simply can’t keep up with that kind of opener. If you are unfamiliar with the math, I suggest you check out the Evolve primer part about stacking your triggers from Undying + Pongify. In short, you can stack the triggers so that the Evolve trigger from the token goes on the stack first and then the evolve trigger from undying goes on top allowing both to resolve.

The approach to playing the deck is “get ahead – stay ahead”. This approach requires you to be able to get on the board early and interact at relevant levels with your opponent at a mana discount. The playstyle resembles a mix between Zoo and Legacy R/U/G Delver. While it is possible to play Harambe like an aggro deck, I strongly discourage you from doing so – instead try to establish a dominant board presence and force your opponent to respond to it rather than just piling on. Knowing when to smash your own creatures with a Pongify effect and when to smash the opponent’s creatures is the most complex part of playing the deck.
So far so good – now off to the individual card-choices:


These cards all serve as the core Evolve package and I strongly suggest you start off with 4 of each when building the deck. While 8 Pongify effects seem like a lot, experience tells me that you usually won’t be sad to draw one off the top.


These two cards serve as the filler-threats of the deck while still synergizing with the main theme of +1/+1 counters. Narnam Renegade is by itself a decent threat and in my opinion the only viable 4th 1-drop available to the deck. Also with the conspicuous absence of Kird Ape, Narnam Renegade has to play the role of honorary ape. In this deck, Avatar of the Resolute is a powerhouse for only 2 green mana and will frequently enter the battlefield as a 5/4 or bigger, easily trumping what other fair decks have access to for 2 mana. The Avatar’s synergy with the rest of the deck is one of the main reasons to not play Tarmogoyf in the 2-drop slot. The Trample is also quite relevant as Pongify effects allow for instant speed removal of blockers on the Avatar.


These cards serve as your relevant game 1 interaction and are chosen for their flexibility – the sideboard includes more specific answers for different matchups. Vapor Snag, while seemingly a bit underpowered, works well in the situations where you have to smash an opposing creature – bouncing the token allows for a free attack. While spending 2 cards to remove 1 card is not optimal, being a tempo deck with a very fast clock, we can sometimes allow ourselves a 2-for-1 and still maintain a superior board presence. Lightning Bolt also serves the dual role of killing roadblocks and allowing the deck to have a bit of reach to close games out.

This recent addition from Ixalan serves as the most mana-efficient refueling card available in the R/U/G colors. While traditional cantrips aren’t effective enough in this type of deck, Chart a Course‘s rate of 2 cards for 2 mana is a good rate for a tempo deck.


The manabase is currently built to support 3 things.

First of, every single mana source provides green mana. This is a necessity, as 12 of our 1-drops cost green mana. Only 4 of the lands do not produce blue mana, which means that we will almost always have access to Cloudfin Raptor turn 1 if we want it.
Secondly, the deck has 10 fetches – currently tied with Burn for the second highest number of fetches in a Modern deck (Death’s Shadow decks tops that list with 12!). This allows us the luxury of only playing 2 Stomping Ground and means we usually always have a way of triggering Revolt on Narnam Renegade.

The third point is the Dryad Arbor. While traditionally Dryad Arbor serves as Liliana of the Veil protection for creature combo decks like Infect and Bogles, the Dryad Arbor in Harambe serves as a low-cost way to get the engine rolling. It serves as free fodder for Pongify/Hybridization and is able to trigger Cloudfin Raptor on it’s own. While the deck only plays 19 lands, the lack of cantrips means that you will occasionally flood out a bit. Having access to an extra attacker or a surprise blocker is very valuable.

As for the sideboard cards, the deck is generally quite flexible, so you have a lot of options to choose from. While many of the cards that I have included are meant for fairly good matchups, my approach to sideboarding is often to make decent/even matchups even better postboard rather than try to fix some of the abysmal matchups (Bogles is virtually unwinnable). The only card I would strongly advise against tinkering with is Ancient Grudge, as it is the pillar of postboard strategies against the artifact based tier 1 decks.

Some of you may notice that I include no graveyard hate in the sideboard. This is mostly since the relevant cards either hurt us too much (Grafdigger’s Cage) or just don’t do enough in Modern (Surgical Extraction). Apart from that, the graveyard based decks are usually fine matchups – Dredge for instance is easily on of the best matchups, since it turns out that dead creatures block very poorly.


The case against 3-drops

I’m going to spend a few lines explaining why the deck doesn’t play any 3-drops despite a prevalence of powerful cards available in the R/U/G colors. The most obvious choices would probably be Kitchen Finks and Nissa, Voice of Zendikar in the sideboard for the grindier matchups and honorary 3-drops like Snapcaster Mage and Hooting Mandrills in the maindeck.

The reasons for not playing the more mana-intensive cards are two-fold. First of all, my core philosophy for the deck is that it should be able to operate off of 2 lands, similar to the Burn deck’s ability to function on only 2 lands. Having only 19 lands with no filtering means that you will often have games where you never see the third land or choose to prioritize a Dryad Arbor over a third shock. Second of all, the deck is a tempo deck that usually doesn’t tap out past turn 2 or 3.

Tapping out for a 3-drop is very dangerous in Modern, as a lot of decks will be able to punish you for it by either winning on the spot or by deploying their more impactful cards. That being said, both Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Kitchen Finks are very decent choices for the sideboard, I just firmly believe that cheaper, more targeted cards, can serve the same role. Disclaimer: If your meta includes a lot of B/G/X and Eldrazi Tron it is probably correct to include some number of Dismembers in the maindeck to deal with their threats.

Off to the matchups – I’ve chosen to go through the matchups you’re most likely to run into at your local FNM.


Affinity

This one can be a bit rough – Affinity has a fast clock and a number of hard-to-deal-with threats. The games are very play/draw dependent, but the key to winning is to continuously apply pressure while trying to deal with their haymakers. Prioritize getting Steel Overseer off the table, as he can really ruin your day. Arcbound Ravager is not the end of the world, as keeping one mana open means your opponent has to respect your ability to interact with a Ravager target. This matchup drastically improves postboard.


Grixis Shadow

Quite positive matchup – we are very fast, even for Modern standards. The Grixis player will have a very hard time punching through, as Harambe blocks exceptionally well due to the Undying creatures and Narnam Renegade. Don’t be afraid to smash a Shadow that has grown too large. Do make sure to finish the game quickly however, as their superior card quality will take over once they get rid of all the air in the deck.


Eldrazi Tron

One of the hardest matchups for Harambe – the game revolves around you being able to handle a Chalice of the Void for one. This is almost impossible to do game 1 and is one of the main reasons for including Ancient Grudge in the board. Apart from that, the deck is able to stall the ground quite effectively with big bodies and annoying card like Matter Reshaper.


Jeskai Control

Very positive matchup – they rely on single target removal, which Pongify effects severely punish. The only card you need to worry about is Anger of the Gods. Otherwise it’s smooth sailing.


Storm

Quite positive matchup – the combination of a fast clock and relevant disruption is just what the doctor ordered against the pure combo mages. Prioritize keeping removal up rather than counterspells.


Humans

Even matchup – we are faster, but they have a number of incredibly annoying cards like the two Thalias. Don’t get caught off guard by a Reflector Mage – keep a Pongify effect up if you can!


Burn

Positive matchup – we goldfish as fast as burn and are quickly able to outmatch their groundbeaters. The only drawback is our manabase, which means you have to fetch carefully in order to not hurt yourself. Postboard a resolved Life Goes On means game over for Burn.


G/X Tron

Even to positive matchup – Tron games feel quite lopsided. We either win very fast leaving them with no relevant way to interact or they manage to land a haymaker in time to stem the bleeding. Wurmcoil, Ugin and Oblivion Stone are the real issues here, whereas Karn and Ulamog are usually manageable. Counterspells work wonders postboard.


Titanshift

Negative matchup – Our interaction lines up poorly against Titanshift meaning we are forced to race and overextend. The presence of Anger of the Gods makes life hard for the monkeys. Try to keep a hand that goldfishes turn 4.


Counters Company

Even matchup – our interaction is very relevant, but the deck wouldn’t be a contender if it wasn’t able to grind through a few lightning bolts. Kitchen Finks is also a very annoying card. That being said, the deck has a lot of air and Harambe will punch through eventually, given enough time.


U/W Control

Positive matchup – they are by far the slowest of the controlling decks and their interaction is quite expensive like Detention Sphere and Supreme Verdict. Don’t overextend into a Supreme Verdict unless you’re doing it with Undying creatures, but make sure to still keep enough power on the board to be able to pressure their planeswalkers.


Lantern Control

Negative matchup – our inability to remove Ensnaring Bridge game 1 means the preboarded games are very lopsided. Postboard we have a lot of interaction but will often have to win two sideboarded games.


B/G/X midrange

Negative to even matchup – Jund and Abzan have a number of annoying cards. While Liliana of the Veil does very little against Harambe (and may even be a liability), Tarmogoyf and Scavenging Ooze present real problems. The Scavenging Ooze needs to die on sight as it invalidates a large part of our gameplan. As for the Goyf, the stage of the game decides how the old Lhurgoyf should be handled. Experience tells me that it is usually correct to smash him and move on, taking the 2-for-1 in stride.

Hope you enjoyed the article. Take the deck for a spin at your next FNM – you might like it 😉

Until then,

Beast_with_2_backs

Meet the Pros: Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa
Nicknames PVDDR, Pablo Doritos
Born September 29, 1987 (age 30)
Porto AlegreBrazil
Residence Porto AlegreBrazil
Nationality Brazil Brazil
Pro Tour debut 2003 World Championships – Berlin
Winnings $439,135[1]
Pro Tour wins (Top 8) 2 (12)[2]
Grand Prix wins (Top 8) 2 (19)[3]
Lifetime Pro Points 588[4]
Planeswalker Level 50 (Archmage)
source mtg.gamepedia.com

Hello Paulo and welcome to the spotlight! It’s a pleasure to have you. I want to talk a little about the conditions as a Brazilian compared to privileged Europeans and Americans with Grand Prix in their backyard every month. With very expensive plane tickets and bad internet (maybe that’s a cliche?), how did you manage to break through? Also please add a key moment or two that you think back on with great joy that sparked your career.

The internet is just fine, but the plane tickets being expensive thing is very real. It’s not only that they’re expensive, but every trip is a big journey – there’s no “leave Friday arrive Monday” kind of thing, you have to commit to every tournament. A trip to an US Grand Prix, for example, takes about 20 hours each way for me, and costs about $1200. If I top 8 the tournament but lose in the quarters, I’m still down money. That’s not even mentioning things like visas, which we need and aren’t easy to get.

I managed to break through due to a combination of trying very hard and being really lucky. I had very supportive parents, and I was able to do well in my first couple of tries, which gave me the qualification and the resources for future ones. For South Americans, there aren’t many chances – you play in one or two major tournaments in a year, so if you don’t do well, that’s it, you might never qualify again. I managed to do well in a lot of them in a row, so I got to the Platinum equivalent of the Pro Player’s Club, which enabled me to continue playing the following year.

more than 10 years ago: PVDDR at Worlds 2006 in Paris

I think there were two key moments that sparked my career; the first was my first Pro Tour, Worlds 2003 in Berlin. I managed to finish in the top 64, which gave me a prize money of around $500, which was a lot of money for a 15 year old Brazilian kid. It showed me that there was more to the game than I originally expected, and opened up a lot of new possibilities.

The second was my first PT top 8, Charleston 2006. It showed me that I could actually do this thing professionally, that I was good enough.

Your resumé speaks for itself and being inducted in the Hall of Fame in 2012 seems like the peak in any Magic player’s career, but you still keep posting strong results and show a lot of love for the game. Talk about your continued motivation and if being considered the G.O.A.T (greatest of all time) is on your bucket list.


This might be unusual regarding Magic players, but my motivation has never been to be the best – I just want to be happy. I enjoy the lifestyle of a Magic player – waking up whenever I want, practicing for as long as I want, not answering to anyone but myself, getting to meet my friends.

My goal has always been to be able to do that while supporting me and my family. As long as this continues being the case, I’ll be happy, regardless of whether people consider me the best or not. In the end, no one can truly judge skill, so who can tell who the best players are?

Titles such as “best player in the world” have always seemed a bit hollow to me because of that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to be in the conversation, but it’s not my goal to be considered the best because I know it’s just very arbitrary. Right now, I couldn’t tell you who the best player in the world is – I couldn’t even give you three names. I could, maybe, give you a list of 15 players who could all be the best player in a given tournament. I like being in that list, but do not make my goal to be number one.

The one title that still motivates me is World Champion, which is the one I don’t have. I’d really like to be World Champion at some point.

We initially got in contact on Twitter because of a question of mine in the Christian Calcano interview quoting Andrea Mengucci about team tournaments, and you said that the vast majority of professional players love team events. Can you elaborate on that statement?

Pro players like team events for two reasons. First, they’re fun – you are playing with friends, you share their victories and their defeats. Team Sealed is different from normal Sealed, and I believe it’s even more interesting to build. Overall I enjoy myself more if I’m at a team event than at an individual event.

Second, they mitigate the impact of variance and non-games. If you’re in an individual event and you mulligan to five twice, that’s it, you’re done for the round. If it’s a team event, you can mulligan to five twice and still win because your teammates win. If you’re a team of 3 good players, then your edge is bigger in a team event. Couple that with the fact that team sealed is very hard to build properly, and you have some very stacked team sealed top 4’s.

Paulo’s Team: ChannelFireball Ice from last year

In the past I recall you saying that you really dislike Magic Online and that you prefer to test in real life. With more time to draft the newest set before a Pro Tour online than previous, is this still how you prefer to prepare for a Pro Tour or did you adapt to keep up with the young and hungry MTGO grinders?

I still prefer to not play Magic Online, but I’ve had to adapt to the times. We’ve been meeting in person for less time than we did before, and with the set available on modo right after the pre-release, it’s just more convenient to do drafts on MTGO rather than trying to coordinate live ones. I don’t enjoy playing it as much but I feel like I have to do it.

Legacy will be played at the Pro Tour for the first time this year, and Modern is back after a few years break. Share your thoughts on those formats respectively, and could you see your self playing Legacy at professional level?

I love Legacy as a format – I think it’s diverse but the gameplay is also intricate. Every small decision in Legacy matters – what land you play, what land you fetch, what spell you play, how you resolve it. In Standard and Modern, you often just have scripted plays – you’ll play your second land and then your two drop. In Legacy, every tiny variable changes what you’re supposed to do, and I really enjoy that.

I’ve played Legacy at a professional level many times before – I’ve played multiple Legacy Grand Prixs, and I’ve also played it at the World Team event some years ago, so I can definitely see myself playing it at the Pro Tour.

Grand Prix Paris 2014 Quarterfinals: PVDDR is on Miracles


It’ll be interesting to see whether Legacy actually stands the scrutiny of being a Pro Tour format – it being teams will probably help with this a little bit. In a Grand Prix, people just play whatever they want, what they like or what they have access to; in a Pro Tour, everyone will be bringing in the deck they feel is the very best. This could make everyone converge in one dominating deck and actually have a lasting negative impact on the format, but I’m hoping this won’t be the case.

As for Modern, I think it’s by a wide margin the worst competitive format of all. There are about 25 decks you can play, but they are very polarised in matchup and the gameplay is completely random.

Did you draw your sideboard hate? Well, you can’t lose now.

Did you not draw it? Well, you can’t win.

A lot of matchups are just two decks goldfishing against each other or trying to draw their sideboard cards, and it’s not fun being on either side of that exchange. Since there are many many decks, you cannot even sideboard against all of them, and, since every deck is 7%, you’re not actually supposed to.

For example, should I make my deck beat Dredge when I know Dredge is 7% of the field and it’ll hurt me in other matchups?

Likely not, but then I can just get paired vs Dredge twice and my tournament is over.

Now apply this to Storm, Tron, Living End, Ad Nauseam, Infect, Affinity, Goryo’s, Through the Breach… you’ll always get to a point where you have to give up beating something, and then it becomes a pairing roulette.

Editorial Note: Modern is known for linear decks.


You had a very good season last year and went out with a bang winning the Pro Tour in Japan this summer. What are the goals for Paulo this season?

PV’S HOUR OF GLORY: Paulo winning Pro Tour Hours of Devastation

My goal is mostly to do well enough that I can continue doing what I do, which usually means getting to the Platinum level in the Pro Players Club. As far as more precise goals, I’d really like to win Worlds or Team Worlds.

Lastly, feel free to link to your sponsors, leave your Twitter handle or whatever you like.

Thank you so much for taking the time for this interview out of your busy schedule!

No problem 🙂 My twitter handle is @pvddr and you can find my weekly articles on www.channelfireball.com.

A fanboy goes to the Pro Tour Part 1

What a trip I’ve had. I went to the US not only to compete in my first ever Pro Tour, but also to play 3 Grand Prix and hang out with two of my best friends. That sounds great but it turned out to be so much more. I will be name dropping a lot of professional players today, partly because I made friends and hung out with some of them so they are a part of the journey, but also because being a Magic pro is one of my dreams.

So meeting all these people who have the life that I hope to have was awesome and I don’t want to kid me or you by saying that I just met some normal people like myself. Of course they are still people but I don’t think there is anything wrong with having idols, and it was a big part of my trip. There won’t be much strategic magic content, as I wanted to try a different kind of article. I hope you enjoy my story!

Let’s start at the beginning with Oscar Christensen, Christoffer Larsen (who is becoming one of these awe-inspiring pros) and I arriving in Phoenix Thursday evening before the Limited GP. Chris was staying with Team Genesis/Revelation so me and Oscar went to our Travelodge. It is one of many cheap American hotel chains and if you haven’t had the displeasure, don’t worry. Luckily we would not be spending much time there, but I managed to get dropped from one draft because of their “high speed wi-fi”.

I had brought a couple of boxes of Ixalan so I spent Friday trying to get some team drafts going. Oscar introduced me to Luis Salvatto and so I got to team draft with him, Thiago Saporito, Marcos Freitas, Sebastian Pozzo, Dan Ward, Vitor Grassato and Simon Nielsen over two drafts. I did manage to embarrass myself on my way to 0-3 in the first one by Simon killing my Deathless Ancient, saying out loud that I could just get it back, after which I just forgot to take it back and losing the game and match because of it. Oh well, at least Dan said he would let me know if they went to play basketball in Albuquerque. I have played basketball for many years and had heard of these high pro point games so this was a quite high priority goal for the trip already in the bag.

The GP itself went poorly as my RG dino deck splashing Gishath, Sun’s Avatar didn’t manage to get to 6 wins. I did manage to play and attack with Gishath, put Thundering Spineback, Snapping Sailback and Regisaur Alpha into play, draw the second Spineback next turn to attack for 38.

For the Sunday PTQ I played a Temur Black deck with 2 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship and no Glorybringer, with two River’s Rebuke in the sideboard. This led to an awkward situation since someone from team Team Genesis/Revelation saw me play and concluded that Chris had given their tech away. Now I don’t want to make a big deal out of this, but all of these things were available from just looking at MTGO league 5-0 decklists, which I had actually done leading up to the trip.

I wasn’t sure which version of energy to play and I did talk to him about it, but all the information was still available. Funnily, the biggest piece of information I hadn’t gotten from the online decklists was to bring in Rebuke in the mirror, but I knew that from watching Joel Larsson and Paul Dean play the mirror in their hotel lobby; hardly an information bunker.

The PTQ went smoothly until my name wasn’t in the pairings for round 3 or 4. I went to the scorekeepers and was told that I had indeed been dropped. They re-enrolled me but to disrupt as few matches as possible, I was paired down, which I had also been the round before. Now, I am fine with this procedure, the problem was that I’m no information bunker myself so when I sat down for the last round of swiss against the only other undefeated player in our pod, I told him that I had been paired down twice. He was playing tokens and after two long games we had little time left for the decider.

It can be dangerous to speculate about people’s motives but the fact was that he played very slowly in the last game, taking a long time to shuffle for every Attune with Aether and Renegade Map. We drew a game that I’m certain I would have won (I had Planeswalkers and plenty of creatures and drew both of my Rebukes) and I came second on breakers. I was pretty bitter at that point but mostly at myself, because I should have just called a judge to watch for slow play on turn one of game three. It is one of my biggest flaws as a player and one of the things I am focusing on getting better at; when in doubt, call a judge. It’s what they’re there for and it’s hard for it to go worse for you than if you don’t. Anyway, at least Vitor Grassato won the tournament so the invite stayed in the Snapcardster family.

While in Phoenix we got to talking with 3 Swedish guys there, Elias Watsfeldt, Niklas Dahlquist and David Stenberg. They didn’t test with anyone so they sort of joined our group of me, Oscar, Jake Haversat and Piotr “Kanister” Glogowski. It is hard to describe to people who haven’t met him but Niklas is one of the funniest people I have ever met. He is pretty quiet but he makes these ridiculous comments with a brilliant poker face. One night we were in a bar with Chris, Corey Baumeister and a couple of his friends, and we talked about where each of us were from. Out of nowhere Niklas asks “just to be clear, am I the only one from Afghanistan?” More from him later.

Monday morning, Oscar and I headed to the airport for the 45 minute flight to Alberquerque. Tuesday Piotr joins us and we get to the task of figuring out what to play. I was pretty sure I would be playing some form of energy and I think so was Piotr. Oscar was torn between energy and Esper Gift, Niklas and David were on RB aggro and Elias had a UW Approach deck that splashed black for Fatal Push with the help of Field of Ruin to both get a Swamp and turn on revolt. Aside from the mana I think it was actually quite similar to the deck that won GP Atlanta a week later.

Multiple times during the week Elias proclaimed that he was done with the deck but he kept falling victim to the sunken cost fallacy; he had put so much work into it that he didn’t want to go to waste by not playing the deck. In the end, I convinced him to just play Temur Black like us and he was rewarded with an 11-5 finish and invite to the next Pro Tour.

 

Trying to decide which of my friends to root for


He didn’t even do the best out of our group as Piotr just kept winning and winning until he had secured a spot in the FREAKING TOP 8 OF THE PRO TOUR!!! I couldn’t believe it. A guy I tested with and who played the same 75 as me had top 8’ed the Pro Tour. This is also a guy who is 11-1 and playing against a Hall of Famer, crews his Skysovereign and when it eats a Harnessed Lightning, he crews it again with itself, just because it’s a legal play and makes no difference! This guy’s penchant for screwing around is the stuff of legends and I look forward to hanging out with him again. Make no mistake, though, he is great at Magic, just look at the year he is putting together, and I was ecstatic for him. For reference, here is what we ended up playing:

Planeswalkers (2)
Vraska, Relic Seeker

Creatures (21)
Longtusk Cub
Servant of the Conduit
Rogue Refiner
Whirler Virtuoso
Bristling Hydra
The Scarab God

Spells (13)
Attune with Aether
Blossoming Defense
Harnessed Lightning
Abrade
Supreme Will

Artifacts (2)
Skysovereign, Consul Flagship
Lands (22)
Botanical Sanctum
Spirebluff Canal
Blooming Marsh
Aether Hub
Rootbound Crag
Sheltered Thicket
Forest
Mountain
Island
Swamp

Sideboard (15)
River's Rebuke
Nissa, Steward of Elements
Negate
Cartouche of Ambition
Deathgorge Scavenger
Jace's Defeat
Confiscation Coup
Chandra's Defeat
Appetite for the Unnatural

I realise that my story is getting rather long so you’ll see how I did at the Pro Tour and the ensuing Grand Prix in part 2. Hope you enjoyed so far, but I’d like any feedback you have in the comments or on social media. Thanks for reading!