Latest Modern Tech, August 2017

© 2017 photo credit: magic.wizards.com/en/events/coverage/

As some of you may be aware, this weekend had a tasty Modern Grand Prix double header with events in Sao Paulo, Brazil and Birmingham, England. That means a double amount of data to look at! Today I’ll be focusing on fresh new technology that may or may not become industry standard moving forward.

For reference, here are the 16 decks in the two top 8’s combined:

3 Grixis Shadow
3 B/G(x) Midrange
2 TitanShift
2 Bant Knightfall
2 Abzan Company
1 Jeskai Control
1 G/X Tron
1 Burn
1 Lantern Control

Full overview of all 16 decklists:

I’ve taken the freedom to put all black-green based Midrange decks in the same category as well as not taken the human subtheme of one of the Bant decks into account. Now let’s dig down to look at some of the sweet new tech these players brought to the tournament.

Danilo Ramos Mopesto‘s Grixis Shadow list has quite a few interesting things going on. He has a total of three(!) copies of Liliana of the Veil in his 75, which is not something we see every day. It has applications against a bunch of decks with the Mirror Match and various combo decks being the most obvious. While she is not the best card you can have against any deck, she will improve the highest amount of matchups. A very important feature in a gigantic format like Modern where you will almost always have dead cards in your main deck.

His sweeper of choice for his sideboard is this little gem. On the surface you’re looking at an instant speed Pyroclasm at the cost of one more mana, but there’s more than meets the eye to it. Kozilek’s Return being colorless means you can deal with pesky Etched Champions. The downside to this card vs. Anger of the Gods or Flaying Tendrils is definitely the uptick in Collected Company decks where exiling the creatures can be super important.

Joao Lelis not only won the Brazilian Grand Prix; he also played a long forgotten card in his sideboard as a three-of. Flashfreeze is a flexible counterspell that can deal with Collected Company, Chord of Calling, Anger of the Gods and Primeval Titan, and countering creatures is something Negate is incapable of.

Flashfreeze competes with Unified Will for this slot, but it looks like he found it more important to have an answer to opposing copies of Collected Company and Chord of Calling in the pseudo mirror – where Unified Will isn’t reliable – than having the more flexible counterspell in other matchups.


The jury is still out on whether Hour of Promise is an upgrade to TitanShift or those precious slots are better used on various interaction depending on the metagame. Vitor Grassato decided it was a good weekend for a super threat dense list and played three copies of Hour of Promise on top of 4 Scapeshift, 4 Primeval Titan and 2 Summoner’s Pact.

This setup is very good at overloading various control and Midrange strategies, but can struggle against fast decks like Death’s Shadow and Burn. His sideboard tries to make up for that with a bunch of different tools to fight aggressive strategies. Also note the three Prismatic Omen in his main deck. I don’t like drawing copy number two, but the first one drawn is obviously very potent in combination with Hour of Promise. I like two copies in a list like this.

While these cards are format staples in other decks for obvious reasons, the inclusion of black in oldfashioned Tron is just what the doctor ordered (or what the metagame forces you do to if you want to be competitive, I suppose). Having a playset of Collective Brutality helps out against bad matchups like Burn and Storm while the Fatal Push are great at buying time vs. Death’s Shadow in particular. Even though the black splash is seen before, I wanted to talk about it since regular Tron has fallen out of favor recently. This great finish by Rafael Costa Zaghi could mount a comeback for Tron in the metagame percentages.

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about how Modern needs better reactive spells, and that actual Counterspell would improve the format quite a bit. Jean Sato took matter into his own hands and played three Logic Knot in his Jeskai Control deck.

While not being actual Counterspell, Logic Knot does a good impression while dealing with everything from Thought-Knot Seer, Primeval Titan and Ad Nauseam to Gifts Ungiven, Karn Liberated and the last lethal Burn spell. The importance of having a catch-all like Logic Knot can’t be overstated, and I’m very curious to explore my options going forward.

I will be looking at Thought Scour to make sure I can play the full playset of Logic Knot. Who would’ve thought that a classic effect like Counterspell would be of so much value in the 2017 Modern landscape.

This is just an improved Viridian Shaman on paper, but I wanted to credit Ivan de Castro Sanchez for finding it. I doubt this card has made a lot of Grand Prix top 8’s before. It fits perfectly in his human-themed Collected Company deck with its creature type and converted manacost and will do the job against Affinity.

While Sin Collector has seen play on and off in Abzan Company all the way back to the days of Birthing Pod, playing more than one is very rare. Oscar Christensen chose to run three copies and zero Thoughtseize in his sideboard to combat pesky instants and sorceries for games two and three. He can hit them off Collected Company, they have a 2/1 body attached for value, and both the stats and not costing life vs. Burn is relevant. If the combo decks become faster in the future, you can always go back to Thoughtseize again.

This card was pretty good back in Standard, but was quickly relegated to only seeing play in Vintage Cube Draft. Loïc Le Briand had different plans for it and replaced his Eidolon of the Great Revel with this smoking hot artifact! My guess is that he found the Eidolon subpar when being on the draw and even on the play in too many matchups and wanted to find a replacement. Mirror Match, fast Affinity draws, delve creatures and Eldrazi Tron are just a few of the bad situations you can encounter with Eidolon in your deck these days. While the Shrine is a bad top deck in the lategame, casting it on turn two can be very backbreaking for a lot of decks – kind of like Eidolon used to be. I imagine resolving this on turn two vs. Death’s Shadow will not end happily for the non-Burn player, as long as you keep an eye out for Kolaghan’s Command.

Simon Nielsen and his testing group went deep in the tank on this one. The TitanShift deck has steadily grown in popularity and the need for an edge in the mirror has also increased. Crumble to Dust used to be the go-to in these metagame situations, also offering some much needed disruption vs. Tron, but when the TitanShift doesn’t draw – or can afford to sandbag his Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle Crumble to Dust can be very lackluster. Witchbane Orb will most like catch your opponent off guard and relegate them to a fair deck trying to win via the attack step only. This a huge advantage in the mirror match, and you can usually win the game with a Scapeshift or a lot of Valakut triggers thanks to Primeval Titan. Furthermore, it also improves the bad Storm matchup and can give valuable percentages vs. Burn.

I chose only to focus on the two top 8’s, but I’m sure much more sweet technology is hidden if you go deep on the 16 or 32 best finishing decklists from these events.

What’s your favorite tech from the weekend? Let me know in the comments!

Hidden Gems in Modern

Today I want to talk about some cards that see too little play in my opinion. Sometimes people are very rigid in their deckbuilding and are too afraid to innovate. Or maybe they need to see a certain card make four or five top 8’s before they try it out them selves. Tons of things factor in when it comes to deckbuilding, and Magic players are usually on the safe side of things. So losen up the tight belt, ride along and live a little – at least with me in this article!

Can be played in: Blue/White Control, Blue Moon, Ad Nauseam

I played Standard back when Force Spike was legal and enjoy the threat of Daze in Legacy. Do you play your best threat every turn to optimize your potential or do you respect the Force Spike effect? A lot of interesting gameplay comes up with a card like this in the format.

It’s a normal strategy to sideboard out Daze on the draw in Legacy, but the opponent will always have to respect it to some degree. In Legacy you can pitch Daze to Force of Will or Brainstorm it back with a fetchland, while the Force Spike sometimes didn’t have a use besides being cast in early 2000’s Standard.

The point I’m getting at is that Censor has cycling for the cheap cost of one blue mana, so if you can’t counter your opponents threat on curve, you can easily cash it in for another card. Countering opposing turn two plays on the play and turn 3 plays on the draw is likely the most frequent use of Censor. Liliana of the Veil, Thought-Knot Seer and Karn Liberated come to mind, but even something like four-mana planeswalkers, Primeval Titan and Gifts Ungiven are realistic targets. And if they have mana to spare, just draw your card and move on.

It would likely replace Mana Leak – a card that is useful to cast in more scenarios, but also lose value in long games or against weary opponents. In Ad Nauseam Censor will act as a cantrip that maybe 20% of the time is able to counter something from the opponent. Liliana of the Veil and Thought-Knot Seer are your best targets, but Collected Company and Chord of Calling are pretty nice to prevent from happening in that matchup. It also gives you the ability to beat Abrupt Decay with your Laboratory Maniac kill, as you can cycle in response.

Can be played in: Bant Eldrazi, Eldrazi Tron, Blue Tron

The die roll is really important in Modern and Magic in general, and a bunch of games will be determined by it throughout any given tournament. Did I get to suspend my Ancestral Vision before my opponent snatched it with an Inquisition of Kozilek?

Did I get to play my Anger of the Gods before my opponent untapped with Steel Overseer?

Did I play first and won the TitanShift mirror because I was one turn faster? I’m sure you get the picture. With Gemstone Caverns in your deck (you should play 1-2 copies if you play it), you’re basically trying to flip the script whenever you’re on the draw. With you drawing an extra card for the turn opposed to your opponent who actually won the die roll, you have more resources to work with and the exile clause is less damaging. From here you can go turn one Chalice of the Void, turn two Thought-Knot Seer if you have an Eldrazi Temple or hold up Remand turn before depending on which of the decks you’re playing.

The reason why I only included decks with a lot of colorless cards in them is that the flipside of Gemstone Caverns is if you actually win the dieroll (or draw into it on a later turn), then the land must be acceptable to draw. I’m always excited when I win the die roll vs. these decks, but if they all of a sudden have a Gemstone Caverns, I’m back to being nervous again.

Can be played in: Blue/White Control

This card has definitely seen the most play out of the three, but I feel it should be seeing way more play right now. The double white cost limits it to only a few decks with Blue/White Control being the only true tier 1 deck, so I’ll focus on that today. In a deck also playing Cryptic Command, it’s very important that your manabase can support both double white and triple blue.

The easy fix is Mystic Gate which lets you filter both ways. Mystic Gate is not very good with a lot of combined copies of Tectonic Edge and Ghost Quarter, however, so you shouldn’t play more than four colorless lands if you include two Mystic Gate. Now that we established the means to play Runed Halo, let’s dive into its utility in the format. I like Runed Halo out of the sideboard, but depending on your number of available slots between the main deck and sideboard, I could also see my self playing a copy or two in my starting 60.

It’s particularly good against decks with a low number of threats on the table like Death’s Shadow, Bogles and Eldrazi variants. Ironically, these are also the decks that have a difficult time getting rid of the enchantment. Eidolon of the Great Revel vs. Burn, Walking Ballista vs. Eldrazi Tron, Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle vs. TitanShift and Conflagrate vs. Dredge are other strong cards to name.

Remember, the default mode on this card is naming a creature on your opponents side of the board, and not only do you shut down that creature, but you also shut down all future copies of that card that your opponent draws. Of course it will be lackluster vs. various Collected Company decks, Affinity and Control matchups, but its overall utility warrants at least a few sideboard slots in my book.

I actually like this topic a lot, so I would be interested in hearing your candidates for “hidden gems” in Modern! Let me know in the comments 🙂

Grand Prix Las Vegas Modern Analysis

Three Grand Prix were held this weekend in Las Vegas, and today I will talk about what happened in the Modern portion.

With 3,264 (!!!) participants and Modern in a balanced place compared to the eras of Eldrazis, blue delve cards, Grave-Trolls and Probes, the stage was set for an epic tournament. Keeping in mind that you needed a record of 13-2 or even better because of the size of this tournament, here are the top 8 decks that survied the swiss portion:

3 Affinity
1 Mono White Hatebears
1 Green/White Hatebears
1 Burn
1 Blue/Black Turns
1 Eldrazi Tron

If you showed me this list prior to the tournament, I would simply have laughed at you and told you how bad positioned Affinity is, how great Death’s Shadow is and how underpowered Leonin Arbiter decks are in a world of combo decks.


Good as usual or good again?

Let’s start by addressing the three copies of Affinity in the top 8. Every time a single deck puts three copies into any top 8 in Modern specifically, it’s bound to draw attention. I’ve heard a bunch of chatter from good players about how all the focus would be on Death’s Shadow variants this weekend, and that people would prioritize other cards than Stony Silence and artifact removal spells for their sideboards, and it makes a lot of sense that Affinity was able to capitalize on that. In the end of today’s article, I talk to the champion, Mani Davoudi, about how he experienced his triumph and weekend in general.


The hero we deserve?

Hatebear strategies have always been tier 2 in Modern unless played by Craig Wescoe, but maybe this has changed without me noticing it. Flooding the board with resilient and disruptive creatures certainly is a great strategy vs. Death’s Shadow. Packing a card like Mirran Crusader really underlines that fact that Lighting Bolt is seeing next to no play at the moment. Back in the day, you could never play with three drops that died to Lightning Bolt, so this is a very metagame specific choice.


Lucky or good?

Going forward, this is not something I would recommend to anyone. Daniel Wong did a great job piloting this deck all the way to the quarter finals, even tuning his deck to have a chance vs. Death’s Shadow with the black splash and Chalice of the Void in the sideboard, but the strategy is too clunky and fragile in a world of fast clocks backed up by discard spells. Hats off to him – his pet deck got him a Pro Tour invite and some dollars on top of it!

Top 8 decklists: http://magic.wizards.com/en/events/coverage/gplv17-modern/top-8-decklists-2017-06-18
In the top 32 we see a lot of familiar faces that you can usually expect to do well at any Modern tournament, but I want to talk about a few of the more unorthodox decks among the top finishers.

In 12th place, also going 13-2 and qualifying to the Pro Tour, Warren Woodward piloted a very interesting Black/White midrange deck focused around planeswalkers and powerful synergies with Smallpox. Smallpox is symmetric on the surface, but is a devastating card when it takes a land, creature and card in hand from the opposition while you sacrifice a Bloodghast and Flagstones of Trokair while discarding a Lingering Souls or another Bloodghast from your hand. Liliana of the Veil is also very lopsided in this deck for the same reasons. Combine the fact that Lingering Souls was very well positioned this weekend this the black skeleton of pointed discard spells and cheap removal, and he made a recipe for success that paid off.

Since Faeries added both Bitterblossom and Ancestral Vision to their arsenal, it has been lurking around the bush and preparing its attack on the metagame. Faeries has a good game plan vs. combo decks, control decks and is also decent against Death’s Shadow variants, partly thanks to Spellstutter Sprite. The setup with Liliana of the Veil combined with counterspells is rarely seen, but I imagine the powerlevel and versatility of Liliana was hard to turn down for Yuta Takahashi. Somewhat recent printings of 4 Collective Brutality and 3 Ceremonious Rejection in his sideboard are there to shore up Burn, Tron and Affinity – three matchups Faeries has struggled with traditionally – which makes a lot of sense to me.

Lastly, a copy of Big Zoo made it into the top 32 in the hands of Robert Maes. Robert plays the expected manadorks, beef and a few silverbullets and 4 Collected Company and some removal spells in a pretty straight forward list. With the three copies of Seal of Fire, a Shock-type card used to boost up his own Tarmogoyf and kill opposing small creatures, he is rather spell heavy compared to other Company decks, which makes room for 26 creatures. In the sideboard he tries to solve some unfair matchups that his deck naturally struggles against with cards like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Stony Silence, Tormod’s Crypt, Eidolon of Retoric and Blood Moon. What I dislike about this archetype is that it feels too fair and puts too much pressure on finding your sideboard cards in games 2 and 3, and mulliganning away perfectly servicable hands in search of those will probably happen a bit too often to my taste.

Check all decklists from 9-32th here: http://magic.wizards.com/en/events/coverage/gplv17/9-32-decklists-2017-06-18

As promised, here is an interview with the Grand Prix Las Vegas Champion 2017, Mani Davoudi!

Hello Mani and huge congratulations on your accomplishment this weekend, and thank you very much for taking time to sit down with me.
Hey Andreas, thank you very much and no problem!

When I met you back in Vancouver in 2015 for Pro Tour Origins, you seemed like a Limited specialist at heart. Did I completely misjudge you, and you’re actually just a Modern Master waiting for the perfect moment to strike?
No, your read was right. After GP Vegas 2015 where I had a 9-0 start before crashing in day 2, I decided it was time for a break from competitive magic and devoting all my efforts to qualifying for the pro tour. A natural part of playing less magic was when I did play, it would usually be limited as it was easier to play on magic online without keeping up with the format. I certainly wouldn’t consider myself a modern master by any means, but I have played a fair bit of affinity over the years and consider myself proficient with the deck.

With Death’s Shadow being the number one deck in Modern right now, even though by a very small margin, did this matter when you picked your deck for the event? Talk a little about the Affinity vs. Grixis Death’s Shadow matchup.
Regarding Death’s Shadow and whether it affected my deck choice, I would say it did indirectly. When the week started, I was not intending in playing this Grand Prix. After 0-3 and dropping from the Limited Grand Prix, I was feeling a little disappointed about my quick exit. I joined Gerry Thompson and Sam Black in the middle of a conversation they were having about Death’s Shadow and what the right deck choice for the weekend was. Sam mentioned he thought Affinity was well positioned, and Gerry agreed. This caught my interest, seeing as it was the only deck I had any experience with, and after a little consideration and effort put into tracking down a copy of the deck to borrow, I was registered for the GP.
As for the matchup, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. In theory and from speaking to others, the matchup seems to be in affinitys favour but I had not played it heading into the GP, and I did not face it a single time in the tournament itself.

You took a fairly stock version of Affinity all the way to the 1st place in this 3500 people tournament. Rank these three factors for you winning the whole tournament and explain why: Affinity was under the radar this weekend. You played great. Variance.
1. Variance. Over the course of the weekend, I played very few decks packing great hate for affinity/bad matchups, I played no “professional” players, and I drew quite well. The fact that I won the finals on a mulligan to 4 speaks for itself.
2. Affinity was under the radar. I felt like overall people were not quite ready for affinity, and had shifted their sideboard priorities to deal with other matchups.
3. I played great. While I do think I managed to keep it together and avoid making egregious mistakes, I’m not sure if I played great. I would say I played better than my opponents in most of my matches.

You only had one loss the whole weekend. Tell us a few words about that match if you remember.
In round 13 of the tournament, I finally played against the only other undefeated player, Theau Mery on mono white hatebears. It was not a very interesting match, as I had a great affinity draw game 1 that resulted in a turn 2 or 3 concession, and then he played turn 2 Stony Silence in both post board games. Unfortunately that’s the nature of the matchup, and I’m glad I got the better end of it when I got my rematch in the finals.

For the readers who didn’t hear your winning interview, walk us through that mulligan to four(!!!) in the deciding game.
In game 2 of the finals, Theau immediately kept his 7 card hand on the play. This made me believe that the chances of him having a Stony Silence were very high. On my end, both my 7 and 6 card hands had no mana sources and were unkeepable. My 5 card hand was Mox Opal, Ornithopter, Spring Leaf Drum, Cranial Plating, and Steel Overseer. I briefly considered keeping the hand as it had explosive potential with a lucky scry, but ultimately I decided that if my read of Stony Silence was correct, I could not win with that hand and was better off trying to find my wear/tear on a mulligan to 4. As it turned out, he DID have the Stony Silence, but had kept a one lander and missed his second land for a few turns, allowing me to get a Cranial Plating on an Etched Champion steal the game.

Thank you so much for stopping by and best of luck at the Pro Tour. You did it, buddy!
Thanks for having me! People can follow me on twitter or twitch @Zapgaze. I’d also like to thank Sam Black for (inadvertently) inspiring me to play, Stephen Barnett for getting the deck together for me at 5 in the morning, and all of my friends for their amazing support.