Top 8 at GP Madrid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Storm

Creatures (7)
Baral, Chief of Compliance
Goblin Electromancer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GP Birmingham *3rd*

Last weekend was GP Birmingham and if you know me or followed coverage, you’ll know that I didn’t get 3rd. 56th doesn’t sound very cool though and I did travel with Oscar Christensen who got 3rd so I think this is on the acceptable side of clickbait.

If you came to read about his deck and card choices, I am sorry that I’m not him, but it didn’t seem like there was a lot to it: He considered swapping black for blue to replace some cards that you can get with Collected Company and Chord of Calling for some counterspells that you can’t. Then he correctly stopped considering that and voila. I already knew this, so a long time ago I chucked out the Companys and the Chords, the creatures and the mana and focused more on the counterspells aspect of the deck. Here is what I registered:

UW Control by Anders Gotfredsen

Creatures (3)
Snapcaster Mage
Jace, Architect of Thought

Spells (36)
Serum Visions
Path to Exile
Negate
Spreading Seas
Wall of Omens
Blessed Alliance
Shadow of Doubt
Runed Halo
Gideon of the Trials
Detention Sphere
Cryptic Command
Supreme Verdict
Gideon Jura
Sphinx's Revelation
Celestial Colonnade
Lands (21)
Flooded Strand
Ghost Quarter
Tectonic Edge
Hallowed Fountain
Mystic Gate
Plains
Island

Sideboard (15)
Surgical Extraction
Rest in Peace
Grafdigger's Cage
Timely Reinforcements
Dispel
Negate
Supreme Verdict
Blessed Alliance
Leyline of Sanctity
Jace, Architect of Thought
Celestial Purge
Stony Silence
Vendilion Clique

Since last time, one Wall of Omens became a Shadow of Doubt because I didn’t do that much blocking with the Wall and I just love the off chance of destroying someones first or second land drop. It is very rare but it’s so worth it when it finally happens. I’m not sure it’s correct to play it but the cost is so low compared to a Wall that doesn’t block in a lot of matchups and has to be played at sorcery speed.

The main deck Leyline of Sanctity became a Runed Halo after discussing it with my friend Usama, but I am starting to lean back towards Leyline. His point was that Halo isn’t dead against decks that don’t target you but there are some decks that target you with different cards, mostly discard spells and Liliana of the Veil, and Thought-Knot Seer and Walking Ballista.

Yes, you can name Death’s Shadow in that match up but the rest of the deck is pretty much all cards that kill Death’s Shadow and you kind of have to keep it in hand until they play something so you don’t name a creature they might not draw for the whole game. I would rather have my hand be safe from interference.

For Eldrazi Tron, I’m more concerned with the abilities of these two creatures than their body and playing Halo on turn 2 naming TKS might be a waste of time and here you cannot wait until they have played it so you have to guess. The bigger draw for me is to have one of each for the purpose of beating Echoing Truth.

I think both Ad Nauseam and Storm have picked up a bit in popularity and positioning and a lot of post board games come down to Echoing Truth. I would try having Halo in the board and Leyline main. Then a Supreme Verdict turned into a Gideon of the Trials.

Little Gids has been very impressive and is pretty much great in all matchups. Against creature decks, he forces them to overextend into verdict and against combo he ranges from a quick clock to changing how the matchup plays out (Ad Nauseam). I was very happy with two and recommend it going forward.

In the sideboard, I cut Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and the Spell Quellers to make room for the fourth verdict, a Negate, and a Surgical Extraction. The quellers have been fine but they have become so stock now that some people will leave in removal for them and the game is so much harder to plan out when there is a chance of them playing whatever spell is under it at any time. Negate might not come with a clock but I prefer the guarantee that their spell is gone.

I was sad to cut Elspeth but the fact is that she doesn’t feel needed anymore. She is best against grindy decks but I liked her against Death’s Shadow because it was game over if you got to play her. That was Jund Shadow, and Stubborn Denial is bad news for a 6 mana non-creature spell. I haven’t faced a lot of BGx decks lately and the only match up left then is Eldrazi Tron. If I feel like I need more help there, I’ll probably play a Ceremonious Rejection instead.

The tournament itself was the first time it has seemed like people agreed Death’s Shadow is the best deck in Modern; I played it 3 times on day one losing once. Gideon of the Trials was an absolute beast here, keeping their big threat under wraps, pressuring Liliana and killing them in two turns usually. I also beat Storm, Valakut and Ad Nauseam on day one before losing the last round to Abzan Midrange. I had a tricky decision in game 3 that might have cost me the game and I feel is worth discussing in depth:

It’s my turn and I have a Jace on 3 loyalty, 2 Plains, 3 Island, a Ghost Quarter and 2 Spreading Seas on his lands. I draw a Celestial Colonnade, my only card in hand. He has 4 Lingering Souls tokens, a Liliana of the Veil on 6, 2 Tectonic Edge, 2 Swamp and an Overgrown Tomb, though due to my Spreading Seas he only has one Swamp for colored mana. Only his Tectonic Edges are untapped.

I minus Jace and get a Detention Sphere. Now I reason that if I use the Sphere to remove the tokens, a Liliana ultimate doesn’t really do that much; he has to put Jace with one or two lands and I’ll still be able to cast spells. If I take out the Liliana, I have to find verdict or another sphere in the next 4 turns before I die to the spirits. I decide that the tokens are a more pressing threat but he has Dismember for the complete blowout. I think he makes a bad split with Liliana as I’m allowed to keep both Plains, Ghost Quarter and both Spreading Seas, but I don’t draw anything for his tokens before I die.

When I tell the story to Oscar, he asks if it wasn’t better to just plus Jace, something I hadn’t even considered. If I do that, what can he really to with Liliana? I think the best split he can make will be Jace, Island and the two Spreading Seas in one pile, in which case I can keep them and play a Colonnade next turn. I think I’m favored from here and his best play is to tick up Liliana again. This means I should consider playing the Colonnade instead of just discarding it and if I do it only makes a Liliana split tougher for him.

So I still assume he will plus Liliana and I have effectively bought myself an extra turn. It is a very complicated exercise guessing how your opponent will use his Liliana but I am still a bit disappointed that I didn’t even consider ticking up Jace. I don’t mind not playing around Dismember and my opponent said that he wouldn’t have either. 8-1 would have been a lot more fun than 7-2 though.

On day 2, I beat a couple more Death’s Shadow players but lost round 12 to Dredge, putting me out of contention. I didn’t really have expectations of top 8 beforehand so it didn’t bother me that much. I was more upset that people keep playing Dredge. It is not fun magic but I still played it at the World Magic Cup because it was the best deck. With Golgari Grave-Troll gone, the deck is not tier 1 anymore and then I just see no reason to waste your day playing it. I beat Valakut again in round 13 and something I don’t remember in round 14 setting up a barn burner for an extra pro point and 250$ against my WMC teammate Asger Lundblad on Living End.

I lost game 1 on the draw because I played turn 2 Spreading Seas instead of keeping Negate up. He then brought back 2 6/4’s a 3/4 and a 4/4 and I died before I could verdict. It was just an autopilot play, especially since I had a second Seas in hand. You almost always just run out the Seas to slow your opponent down but of course, I should have recognized that eot cycle two creatures into third land and cascade spell was highly likely. Game 2 he mulliganed to 5 and I drew all 4 Spreading Seas to keep him from doing basically anything. Game 3 I had all basics to turn his Fulminator Mage into a Gray Ogre but a well timed Beast Within into cascade spell with Refraction Trap backup got him a bunch of creatures in play and I didn’t have verdict.

I felt pretty bummed out losing because of that first game but the sting immediately disappeared when I heard a familiar voice from behind me and learned that Oscar had faced an Ad Nauseam player who just did nothing for 2 games, putting Oscar in the top 8. Of course, he won a lot of money and qualified for the pro tour, but more importantly, it meant free dinner for me and our third travel buddy, Christoforos Lampadarios!!! My other WMC teammate Simon Nielsen making top 8 as well was icing on an already delicious cake, although as I’m sure he will understand, it’s hard to be as excited when it didn’t result in a free meal for me.

The day continued to please as we had dinner and team drafted against Team Sur (angry in Danish) consisting of Christoffer Larsen, Michael Bonde and Thomas Enevoldsen. I got to do one of the most satisfying things you can experience in magic which is to nut draw Christoffer in limited with some ridiculous rare (or rares). In my case it was turn 4 Crypt of the Eternals, Crested Sunmare game 1 and turn 5 Crypt of the Eternals, Crested Sunmare in game 3 to clinch the draft. Stuff like that is what keeps us coming back to this great game.

Now the pressure is on me and Christoforos to own the RPTQ this weekend so we can join Oscar in Albuquerque, so I am already back to full on Standard mode. I’ll be back soon with an article on it and hopefully some videos. Until then, don’t play Dredge in Modern and don’t play Mono Red in Standard, thank you, and thanks for reading.