Defense Mechanisms in Magic

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

1) “I lost even though I played perfectly”


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

2) “My opponent got extremely lucky”


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

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


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

4) “This format is horrible”


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

5) “My Opponent’s deck is unplayable”


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

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

Farfetched: Ramping with Titan Shift

After I finished my last article, a friend of mine messaged me on Facebook and asked me about the land patterns for the deck, as he wanted to play the deck at Grand Prix Phoenix. I realized that this topic is very important if you’re picking up the deck, so I decided to do a little bonus article about it. Welcome to Farfetched!

For reference, here is the decklist that I top’2 Grand Prix Madrid with going 13-3 individually.

I used to run a slightly different split of fetches with the nod to Bloodstained Mire over Windswept Heath. Bloodstained Mire lets you fetch basic Mountain on turn two, and Windswept Heath is better against Blood Moon when you want a Forest out of your deck as soon as possible. When you’re in the market of building your Mountain count, you will have to shock your self with Windswept Heath on turn two.

Stomping Ground is your early game Taiga that will cost you some lifepoints. On the play against an aggressive deck, it’s not rare that you shock your self and pass the turn with Lightning Bolt up anticipating a one drop from the opponent to make sure you can curve out your Farseek or Sakura-Tribe Elder next turn. Also fetching out Stomping Ground over Forest on turn one to suspend Search for Tomorrow is almost always right in the dark. The exception is against aggressive strategies or when you’re already holding a Scapeshift, because Scapeshift kills the opponent either way and only Primeval Titan cares about your Mountain count. You often fetch out Stomping Ground on your opponent’s end step for obvious reasons.

Cinder Glade is your late game Taiga that you sometimes have to work  a little for. Most games will leave you with two basic lands in play no matter what you do, but some games you will have to fetch out basic Mountain with your fetchland or Farseek in order to make the Cinder Glade in your hand an untapped land for Primeval Titan on time. You fetch out Cinder Glade with Farseek when you only have non basics in play and would rather draw Stomping Ground from the top of your deck than Cinder Glade.

During a long tournament like a Grand Prix, I expect you to cycle this card once or twice, and most of the time search it out with Farseek or fetchlands with hands that don’t want to draw a ETB tapped land off the top.

You will fetch out this land turn one against Burn when you have the Search for Tomorrow or later in the game when you already have five Mountains and no Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle on the battlefield, because you want as many Mountains in your deck as possible. The other reason is Blood Moon. I’ve encountered situations more than once where I resolve Summoner’s Pact and Primeval Titan against a deck that potentially has Blood Moon. In these situations, I will search up two Forests (or the last one if I already have one) to make sure I don’t lose to the pact trigger. Overall Forest is the most unexciting land in your deck, but rather a necessary evil thanks to red mages.

The good old basic Mountain will give you painfree Mountain development. When you’re going for a late game Scapeshift, make sure to beat Ghost Quarter and Field of Ruin by leaving at least one Mountain in your deck. They will also come in handy for super grindy games against Control and Jund where you’re trying to natural Valakut them out. A few times I’ve run out of actual basic Mountains in my deck to make Sakura and Search useless as Lighting Bolt impersonaters. Don’t put your self in that situation, so manage your total number of Mountains just as carefully as your basic and non basic number.

I think I got it all, but feel free to ask if I missed anything or something is unclear.

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?

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.

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?

Blue Bears in Modern

There’s no in between. You either love or hate Modern and all for the same reason. The format is beyond diverse and depending on taste players either enjoy it or despise it. It seems like every new set that comes out brings something for the Modern table, and I see new decks or new takes on old decks pop up all the time. You also see old fan favorites come and go as the metagame evolves, and it is truly fascinating to witness.

This time around I have been doing some research in the Modern landscape and came up with an interesting new take on an old archetype to share with you.

Prologue

The white-based shell of Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Leonin Arbiter + Ghost Quarter, Aether Vial, Flickerwisp and creatures with enter the battlefield effects is no stranger to Modern fans. We have seen a Mono White version with a painless manabase, we have seen the green splash for utility creatures like Qasali Pridemage and Voice of Resurgence, and we have seen the black version with Tidehollow Sculler and Wasteland Strangler. Enter the blue splash version!

ruckus-mh – 5-8th in Modern Challenge

W/U Hatebears

Creatures (30)
Eldrazi Displacer
Leonin Arbiter
Mausoleum Wanderer
Reflector Mage
Selfless Spirit
Spell Queller
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Thought-Knot Seer

Spells (8)
Path to Exile
Aether Vial
Lands (22)
Adarkar Wastes
Eldrazi Temple
Ghost Quarter
Hallowed Fountain
Horizon Canopy
Island
Plains
Seachrome Coast

Sideboard (15)
Burrenton Forge-Tender
Eidolon of Rhetoric
Engineered Explosives
Grafdigger’s Cage
Kataki, War’s Wage
Mirran Crusader
Rest in Peace
Stony Silence

Because of Aether Vial and the fact that it is a two color deck without heavy mana commitments, the deck can still play Eldrazi Temple and Thought-Knot Seer to add a much needed disruptive beater that doesn’t get swept by cards like Anger of the Gods.

Ruckus-mh added a small spirit subtheme to the deck to get some mileage out of his one-drop of choice – Mausoleum Wanderer. Selfless Spirit will help out against sweepers, a natural predator of a deck like this, while Spell Queller is where things really get interesting. You will counter almost anything and get your evasive damage output going, but its’ ability to counter gamebreaking cards like Oblivion Stone, Scapeshift and Gifts Ungiven is the reason this card is amazing right now.

Reflector Mage will do a solid job in any creature matchup and truly shine against Death’s Shadows, Gurmag Anglers and Tarmogoyfs.

I feel like he is missing out on a lot upside in the sideboard, as he doesn’t take advantage of the blue splash except for the two Engineered Explosives. I would have loved to see a couple of Unified Will and some Ceremonious Rejection to help out against TitanShift, Affinity, Eldrazi Tron, Green Tron and Lantern which combined are a huge chunk of the metagame.

Leisester – 5-8th in Modern Challenge

W/U Hatebears

Creatures (28)
Eldrazi Displacer
Flickerwisp
Leonin Arbiter
Reflector Mage
Restoration Angel
Spell Queller
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

Spells (8)
Path to Exile
Aether Vial
Lands (24)
Adarkar Wastes
Ghost Quarter
Hallowed Fountain
Island
Moorland Haunt
Mystic Gate
Plains
Seachrome Coast

Sideboard (15)
Ceremonious Rejection
Kataki, War’s Wage
Kor Firewalker
Rest in Peace
Settle the Wreckage

I was blown away to see that two copies of a sub 1% deck made it into the top 8 of this huge weekly Magic Online event. Leisester went with Restoration Angel instead of Thought-Knot Seer in the four slot and decided that the one drops available were too weak and cut them completely. He went back to Flickerwisp to save his creatures from removal, exile your opponent’s land for a turn and its’ ability to remove a crucial blocker or attacker from the combat step.

His manabase looks like a mess with the full playset of Mystic Gate, but I like the singleton Moorland Haunt for grindy games. I also like Settle the Wreckage in his sideboard to blowout any opposing creature deck from Affinity, Merfolk, various Collected Company decks to the mirror match. Settle the Wreckage is definitely a card I would advise thinking about when your Hatebears opponent passes the turn with four mana up!

I like the first version better solely because Thought-Knot Seer on turn three is very powerful, so if you add Moorland Haunt to the manabase over Horizon Canopy, I’m suggesting the following sideboard:

Beats Affinity and helps vs. Tron and Lantern.

Helps against Affinity, all Tron variants and Lantern.

Great against big mana decks like TitanShift and for swapping when Path to Exile is bad.

Huge blowout potential in creature mirrors that could come down to racing.

Great against Storm, Dredge and Delirium Shadow variants and will help you with odd pairings like Living End and Goryo’s Vengeance. I would bring in a single copy against Lingering Souls decks like Abzan and Esper.

Depending on your metagame, these slots can be used to improve against Burn, Collected Company, Death’s Shadow variants or Control. I don’t mind adding a Grafdigger’s Cage to double as graveyard hate and Collected Company stopper, and Mirran Crusader seems fine to boost your Shadow matchup while also just being a solid beater if you have dead cards in your deck in a given matchup. Kor Firewalker is only for Burn, but in some metagames it is the right call. Burrenton Forge-Tender is a fine option, but I feel like Selfless Spirit will be enough sweeper protection in most cases.

I really like how this deck has evolved over the years from being just “a creature deck” to adding creatures with powerful and disruptive abilities and actually be competitive. I’m not 100% sure that this version is a strict upgrade to the White-Black Eldrazi Taxes versions, but I really enjoy the Quellers and sideboarded counterspells for interaction against an open field.

What’s your favorite version of Modern Death & Taxes?

Modern’s new wunderkind

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

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

Mardu Pyromancer

Creatures (10)
Monastery Swiftspear
Young Pyromancer
Bedlam Reveler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

After these considerations my list currently looks like this:

Mardu Pyromancer by Anders Gotfredsen

Creatures (10)
Monastery Swiftspear
Young Pyromancer
Bedlam Reveler

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

Winning Eternal Clash with Four Color

Hello and welcome back to another Legacy article with a fresh tournament experience to talk about.

A facebook post popped up about a Legacy tournament a four hour drive away from my house, in the German city of Flensburg, and I started to search for travel companions a week in advance. I still had my trusty Four Color Control deck in my bagpack after my top 4 finish at Danish Legacy Masters and decided to run the same 75 back. Never change a winning team, right?

I’ll not go into too much detail about my particular list, because I’ve talked about it a lot in previous articles, but instead I want to focus on what I learned playing against this super diverse field of Legacy decks. For reference, here are the top 8 lists from the event.

Czech Pile by Andreas Petersen

Creatures (13)
Leovold, Emissary of Trest
Snapcaster Mage
Baleful Strix
Deathrite Shaman

Spells (27)
Lightning Bolt
Murderous Cut
Fatal Push
Kolaghan's Command
Brainstorm
Force of Will
Hymn to Tourach
Preordain
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Lands (20)
Badlands
Bayou
Island
Swamp
Tropical Island
Bloodstained Mire
Volcanic Island
Underground Sea
Polluted Delta
Scalding Tarn

Sideboard (15)
Pyroblast
Hydroblast
Red Elemental Blast
Blue Elemental Blast
Surgical Extraction
Grafdigger's Cage
Flusterstorm
Marsh Casualties
Toxic Deluge
Thoughtseize

Burn

I have played this matchup several times online, but never at a premier event in real life. Playing against a deck with aggressive one drops, Eidolon of the Great Revel and a full playset of Price of Progress might sound like a nightmare, but I’m actually really comfortable being paired vs. Burn.

First of all you need to kill their first creature fast to avoid taking a lot of damage and being finished off by burn spells. Aside from the obvious reasons, you also need fodder in the graveyard for Deathrite Shaman. You want to either gain life or force them to kill it – effectively the same thing.

Obviously, cards like Hymn to Tourach and Force of Will are good at denying them resolved burn spells, but even Kolaghan’s Command can help out by minimising their resources. Against a hellbent opponent, you can disrupt their drawstep if they draw a creature or sorcery, and that will be relevant in close games.

Playing against Price of Progress can be tricky, so make sure to fetch out basic lands when you can afford to. Deathrite Shaman fixes a lot of color issues, so prioritise your lifetotal over perfect mana.

Establishing a clock is also important, because they will reduce your lifetotal to 0 given enough time. The best way to do this is Leovold, Emissary of Trest which conveniently will draw you cards when targeted.

With cheap interaction (2 blasts and 2 Flusterstorm), sideboarded games will be easier. Also note that Murderous Cut kills Eidolon free of charge.


BUG Control

I had a great semi final match against BUG Control, which was basically my list without the Kolaghan’s Command and the Pyroblast in the sideboard. The fact that he couldn’t run any of these cards means a few things.

Command lets me grind very well in combination with either Snapcaster Mage and Baleful Strix, so I will be favored in a long game. It even turned out he played Umezawa’s Jitte which was just icy on my cake.

Pyroblast lets me answer haymakers like Leovold and Jace, the Mind Sculptor cleanly on the stack before my opponents gets any value from them. This means that a resolved Jace, unless I’m horribly behind, is often game over for the BUG deck. It also means that Leovold will always grant me card advantage.

The morale of the story is that Deathrite Shaman lets you play four colors without problems and that the red cards are very important in grindy matchups.


Grixis Delver

In my quarter final match I’m paired against Grixis Delver. I love this matchup because of the close games is provides and the numerous small yet important decisions you have to make during each turn cycle. But I wanted to include this, because a few interesting situations occurred that stuck with me.

My opponent is clocking me with a flipped Delver of Secrets backed up by Wasteland and soft counters. He has seen my hand containing Lightning Bolt and Kolaghan’s Command when I try to kill his creature with the Bolt. He counters it with a Force of Will and proceeds to Wasteland my only red source. The point is that you never want to Force of Will a Lightning Bolt, but out of respect for my superior lategame and card advantage he saw it as his most likely route to victory; trying to get lucky that I didn’t find another red source in time. I love playing a deck that incentivizes opponents to make these high risk plays, because when they don’t work out, I’m heavily favored to win the game.


Weakness and Cheap Interaction

The weakness of Four Color Control is when you’re being overwhelmed early by combo decks where your expensive cards sit in hand doing nothing. I haven’t really thought about that for a while, but my matchup in the finals of Omni Sneak was kind enough to remind me. I sideboarded in the following against him:

   


Yeah, that’s a whole lot of CHEAP disruption. My philosophy against combo is that I feel like I’m winning games where I don’t die on the first few turns. Therefore, playing one-mana cards out of the sideboard to accompany Force of Will and Hymn to Tourach is crucial. In game two I even waited to play my Deathrite Shaman until turn two, because I wanted to keep up Flusterstorm plus Force of Will at all times. This is not to say it was a super clever play on my part, but only to emphasize the importance of getting to play a longer game with this deck and making plays that allow you do to so.

Until next time, may all your games end in double digit turns.