Modern Pro Tour Predictions

Hello and welcome to a little appetizer for the Modern action coming your way this weekend. The Modern Pro Tour is back, and I decided to look at 15 of the most played decks and talk about their strengths and weaknesses in the metagame. Buckle up!


Grixis Death’s Shadow
Grixis Death's Shadow

It is not that many months ago that the format revolved totally around this deck. Players were packing silly protection from black creatures in their sideboards, and you could expect to face this archetype at least a few times every tournament. While those days are over, it is still the deck to beat going into any high level tournament. At this level of play, I doubt many competitors will sign up with a deck with a bad Death’s Shadow matchup, so the Shadow players will have their hands full and the free wins will be at a low this weekend.


Affinity

Affinity is a deck that has come and gone a lot of times over its’ history of existence. When the metagame becomes too preoccupied with dealing with the graveyard, the stack and demands narrow answers in players’ sideboards because of other decks, Affinity will strike and claim victory. Unfortunately, there are a few other creature decks at the top of the metagame at the moment, so universal sweepers like Engineered Explosives and Anger of the Gods will be present at the event. While I’m not sure that players’ sideboards are completely dry of artifact hate just yet, I predict the Affinity specialists to have a ball this tournament.


Green Tron

Oldschool Tron has been threatening its’ comeback for a while, and looking at the metagame percentages, it looks like turn 3 Karn Liberated is back with a vengeance. Tron will thrive in metagames with many fair Midrange and Control decks, historically how Pro Tour metagames have looked when there is no clear best deck (Eldrazi and Summer Bloom, I’m looking at you), while it has built-in matchup difficulties against spell-based combo and fast creature decks with burn spells to close the deal should you manage to activate your Oblivion Stone before you die. My gut feeling is that not too many professional players will lean towards a simple strategy like Tron, but those who do will reap the rewards.


Burn

With the printing of Fatal Push, Burn moved away from the green splash featuring Wild Nacatl, Atarka’s Command and sideboarded Destructive Revelry for a better manabase and more direct burn spells in the Boros version. The format has become so big that only coincidental lifegain cards are playable main deck and sideboard options, so the success of Burn will depend of the amount of those it faces. I’m talking about Lightning Helix, Collective Brutality and Kitchen Finks mostly, but good manabases with a lot of basic lands and fastlands will also result in headaches for the red mages. The days where players starting lifetotal was effectively 15-17 are gone, and Burn has dropped in popularity as a result.


Dredge

Before the bannings, Dredge was a part of the deadly trio that ruled the metagame. Death’s Shadow moved to other color combinations, Infect is more or less dead, but Dredge just replaced the banned Golgari Grave-Troll and tried to find back to winning form. Now and then Dredge manages to take down big tournaments like SCG Open’s and online Pro Tour Qualifiers, but it’s clear that it’s not the powerhouse it once was. With Storm as a top 5 popular deck, graveyard hate will be very common and Dredge loses valuable percentages against the expected field. I don’t see Dredge bringing home the bacon at the Pro Tour.


Humans

Humans as a deck has undergone serious surgery over the course of its’ life span, but the current version looks like the best yet. Combining blazing speed with a touch of disruption is a great strategy in a “wild west” format like current Modern. I especially like the uptick in Phantasmal Image which can combo with either a disruptive creature like Meddling Mage or Kitesail Freebooter in combo matchups or try to help close the deal with Thalia’s Lieutenant or the new addition, Kessig Malcontents. However, the deck is very soft to sweepers like Anger of the Gods or Supreme Verdict, so the Human players should keep their fingers crossed that opposing players find these too narrow for the current metagame.


UW(x) Control

The only classic control deck in Modern, oldfashioned Blue/White Control, lately got a more proactive alternative in Jeskai. While traditional Blue/White will prey on creature decks and end the game on turn 15, the Jeskai version will use burn spells and Geist of Saint Traft to close out the game. The usual problem with control in Modern still applies – it’s almost impossible to muster good answers to a wide open format, but at the same time good players can really leverage their skill with decks like this. I don’t have very high hopes for the Azorious-based clan this tournament, but I would love to be proved wrong by masterful plays by the game’s greats. Also note that Spreading Seas and Field of Ruin are great “free” ways of beating big mana decks.


Eldrazi Tron

Eldrazi Tron has finally taken a small step back after being a top dog for a long period of time. The deck’s game plan is super solid, and you get a lot of even-to-good matchups with the deck. Playing Chalice of the Void with one counter on turn two will get you free wins, and playing a creature strategy that blanks Lightning Bolt – and to some extend Fatal Push – also leads to game and match wins. Time will tell if having a tough time against the comeback kids of Affinity and Green Tron coupled with the poor Titan Shift matchup will be enough to keep prominent players off the deck.


Storm

Storm is the perfect choice for the good player who isn’t a Modern specialist. You can mostly focus on learning your own deck’s math, sideboard plans against the field and alternative Gifts Ungiven piles and do well without any huge format knowledge. That being said, I expect every good testing team to have a serious plan against Storm and get a lot of practice games in which will ultimately lead to way fewer free wins for the Storm players. I would love to see an innovative sideboard plan from the Storm pilots as a reaction to this, but I’m not holding my breath.


Blue/Red Control

As the picture indicates, this archetype is all about Blood Moon and less about your actual win condition. Whether the Izzet mages choose to finish the game with Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, a horde of Pestermite copies or a protected Platinum Emperion, the cores of their decks are the same and has the same flaws. It has a tough time dealing with creatures that survive Lightning Bolt, and without their combo it is very hard to be a good enough control deck to compete – something they will need to in a world of more copies of Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek than usual. I think time is up for this shell, and the Blue/Red color combination should be used for Storm only.


BG(x) Midrange

Black/Green Midrange is never a bad choice and never a good choice. The players who fancy this archetype likes to influence the game with their targeted discard spells and answer the opponent’s resolved threats with one-for-one removal while beating down with a Tarmogoyf. The nature of the deck makes it good against combo decks, but bad against big mana decks, so the matchup roulette will determine a lot of this deck’s success. I wouldn’t be shocked if we see Reid Duke compete on Sunday in the top 8 against all odds, but overall I predict a quiet weekend for Liliana.


Mardu Pyromancer

The Mardu version is very similar to Abzan and Jund in a lot of ways, but the main differences are Bedlam Reveler instead of Liliana of the Veil, the lack of Tarmogoyf and the ability to play Blood Moon. The Reveler will refill you after killing your opponent’s creatures or pointing burn spells at his life total and provide a good clock, while Blood Moon will give you a fighting chance against previously horrible matchups. The trade-off is losing Tarmogoyf, so your clock will not be as fast and as a result opponents will have more time to draw out of it. The decklists I saw online had very unfocused sideboards, but if high level players figure out the expected metagame and put together 15 strong ones, I have very high expectations for this deck. Mardu is here to stay.


Titan Shift


The Green/Red ramp deck with a combo finish went from fringe Modern deck to the most played Modern deck on Magic Online to something between those two. When this deck was played a lot, players could easily prepare for it with cards like Crumble to Dust and Runed Halo to name a few, but now that it is entering the sub-3% metagame share, devoting sideboard cards to it seems too narrow. Like with Affinity and artifact hate, this is working for TitanShift’s advantage, and we may see another breakout tournament for it this weekend if players have the guts to play it.


Lantern Control

Lantern Control recently got a sweet upgrade in Whir of Invention that made the deck even more consistent in finding its’ key pieces at the right time. With this addition, the games where they don’t find Ensnaring Bridge in time and gets killed by creatures are almost eliminated which is scary to think about. However, this deck is not for everyone. A few dedicated players have kept playing this deck, and this is the weekend to cash in the prize. Couple their dedication and insane amount of practice with people’s hostility and unwillingness to play test against it, and you have a recipe for success. I predict big things for Lantern Control this weekend, and oh boy am I happy that I’m not sitting across from it.


Abzan Company

For players that like creature combo decks with a reasonable aggressive backup plan with solid matchups overall, Abzan Company will be their weapon of choice. With Chord of Calling in your deck, building your main deck and sideboard correctly down to the last slot is super important, and many players find this task intriguing. Both being capable of turn three kills and grinding down removal heavy opponents with Gavony Township makes this deck a more flexible deck in practice than on paper, and if the pilots get their silver bullet slots right for the weekend, a top 8 appearance is within reach.

Thanks a lot for making it this far. In your opinion, which decks will “top” and “flop” this weekend’s Modern Pro Tour?

Beating Modern #4

Welcome back to the fourth and last edition of “Beating Modern“. The decks are becoming more and more fringe, which is why I’m rounding off the series today. It sure has been a pleasure with a project like this, and I will gladly take suggestions for a similar one in the future!


Black/White Eldrazi Taxes

Aether Vial

This deck is trying to borrow the blueprint from Death and Taxes in Legacy, using resource denial and respectable beats to win the game. In a deck with only 4 Aether Vial and 4 Path to Exile as non-creature spells, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is a great hatebear, and Leonin Arbiter lets the deck abuse Ghost Quarter while also disrupting opposing fetch lands and various tutors. With an active Aether Vial on three, Flickerwisp can do a lot of tricks which I will tough on later. Wasteland Stranger synergizes with Tidehollow Sculler, Flickerwisp and Path to Exile and can do nasty things to you if you are creature-based. The double team of Tidehollow Sculler and Thought-Knot Seer combined with Thalia makes sure that piloting a spell-based combo deck against Eldrazi Taxes can be bad news. In the later turns, Eldrazi Taxes wants to abuse Eldrazi Displacer for either recycling all of their enter the battlefield triggers or clearing opposing blockers.

When playing against this deck and your opponent plays his Tidehollow Sculler and takes your best card, it is very important that you don’t think to your self “no worries, I will just get my card back in a few turns when I draw a removal spell” because Wasteland Strangler can return the exiled card to your graveyard for good.

Another key to getting an edge in the matchup is understanding Flickerwisp. You should pay attention to your opponents body language to try and get information. Furthermore, if you plan on pointing a removal spell on your one of your opponent’s creatures with the fear of Flickerwisp lurking, play it on his upkeep to minimize his chances of having it (compared to the attack step), so the Flickerwisp and the targeted creature at least can not attack you that turn. In some scenarios you want your opponent to commit a big attack, and thus you should wait to set up the trap. Consider all of these options when facing Vial on three.

Maybe the most important thing I can tell you is to use your fetch lands early and often. Get them out of the way, so Leonin Arbiter does not disrupt you more than necessary. This can also mean that shocking your self without having a play is often correct, so you have two open mana in case Leonin Arbiter + Ghost Quarter happen.

The deck is super resilient, and there aren’t really any good sideboard cards in particular except various mass removal spells.

Good Sideboard Cards


Ad Nauseam

Ad Nauseam

This is a non-interactive combo deck that tried to win the game with either Angel’s Grace or Phyrexian Unlife combined with Ad Nauseam to draw their whole deck and finish off the opponent with Lightning Storm or Laboratory Maniac. It utilizes Lotus Bloom and Pentad Prism as acceleration and a smattering of cantrips to find its’ combo pieces. Throw in a free counterspell in Pact of Negation, and you have a deck that forces the opponent to have very specific cards at a certain time or just lose the game. Let’s see how we can exploit some of the deck’s weaknesses.

Ad Nauseam once was a very bad choice when Infect was a top dog in Modern because of Angel’s Grace and Phyrexian Unlife‘s inability to combat poison-based damage. Now, their enemy number one is Grixis Death’s Shadow because of their fast clock and big pile of disruption. The nature of the deck dictates that timely discard spells and cheap counter magic are great ways to beat it. However, you also need to establish a relevant clock unless you want the Ad Nauseam player to claw back into the game. This also means that Black/Green Midrange is a great strategy for beating Ad Nauseam thanks to discard spells and Tarmogoyf.

Consistency issues are also a real concern, so expect to win a game here and there where they just don’t find their copy of Ad Nauseam. This problem should improve with Opt available to them as cantrips 9-12.

Most versions will play Leyline of Sanctity in the sideboard, so make sure that all your eggs in the basket are not discard spells, or you could find your self in a lot of trouble before the game even begins.

Speaking of Leyline of Sanctity, because of Laboratory Maniac, that card does little to nothing against Ad Nauseam. Neither does getting infinite life or dropping a Pithing Needle or Phyrexian Revoker naming “Lightning Storm“. Note that the Laboratory Maniac kill is a bit more mana intensive, since they need to filter red mana from Simian Spirit Guide into colored mana for their Pentad Prisms, and then play Laboratory Maniac and Serum Visions to win the game. In this scenario, cards like Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile on the Maniac do nothing because they have drawn their whole deck and will have Pact of Negation available.

Good Sideboard Cards

Dispel

Rule of Law


Green/X Tron

Karn Liberated

The old version of Tron has fallen a bit out of favour lately, but it’s still a relevant deck to prepare for when entering a huge Modern event like Danish Modern Masters. Modern is a beautiful format with a lot of appeal to players who don’t necessarily play Magic every week, because they can pull out their trusty pet deck from the closet and still be competitive. Tron is a perfect example of this and should not be underestimated.

Tron is a simple deck that aims to have one of each Urza land in play to get a mana advantage over its’ opponent and keep playing big threats until the game is over. The industry standard these days are a playset of Karn Liberated and a split of Wurmcoil Engine, World Breaker; Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. The split of threats offers flexibility and covers the most angles for the deck. Karn is your best play from turn three Tron, Wurmcoil Engine provides lifegain and laughs in the face of non-Path to Exile removal, while Ugin will sweep the board and Ulamog will end the game a majority of the time. Instead of focusing on dealing with the threats of the deck, I suggest we attack the manabase.

Some decks have Ghost Quarter or Spreading Seas in their deck already and that adds valuable percentages to your game ones vs. Tron. Note that a good Tron player can play around Tectonic Edge by only sitting on the three Urza lands, and that a Ghost Quarter on the battlefield can “counter” your Crumble to Dust. There is nothing you can do about these things – this is just a friendly reminder of situations that will come up.

Aside from attacking the lands themselves, Tron can be beaten if your deck is resilient to their threats. Take Splinter Twin back in the day as an example. Splinter Twin didn’t care too much about neither Karn Liberated nor Wurmcoil Engine and thus was heavily favoured against Tron. Decks with Path to Exile and a lot of creatures, like Humans, can somewhat ignore the same two, but will lose the game to Ugin and Oblivion Stone when the opponent hits eight mana. The best strategy against Tron is presenting a fast kill, ideally disrupting them in the process. Grixis Death’s Shadow is very good at establishing a clock with Thoughtseize or Stubborn Denial backup, and that should do the trick most of the time. Affinity and Burn also have great Tron matchups because of their speed and tools like creature lands and anti-lifegain cards.

Keep in mind that almost 1/3 of their deck are artifacts with activated abilities, so Stony Silence is a great addition to your anti-Tron arsenal.

Good Sideboard Cards

Stony SilenceFulminator MageCrumble to Dust


That does it for my Beating Modern series unless I come up with three more relevant decks one of the following days. I will make sure that next week’s article will also be relevant for Modern!