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?

Keepin’ it Old School

So, I believe most of you are now familiar with the old kid on the block: the elusive, intriguing and vastly expensive format of 93/94 or simply Old School magic.

The format had its humble beginnings in Sweden, but these days it seems more and more people are (triple-?)sleeving up those Savannah Lions, them Icy Manipulators and all of the moxen they can get their hands on. The format is – as far as I can tell – thriving in most parts of Europe.

For those of you who are not familiar with the format, the basics are these:

You can only play cards printed in the following sets: Alpha, Beta, Unlimited, Summer/Edgar, Arabian Nights, Legends, Antiquities and The Dark. Yep. Only those! Do you know these sets? Where you even born, when they were released?! Oh! Also Chaos Orb is legal. Go look it up. One of the greatest, most iconic pictures in all of Magic‘s history. Unfortunately also a dexterity-based card (you have to throw it), which makes it banned in all formats. That is, of course, all formats besides Old School (which, for the time being, ensures that Old School can never become a sanctioned format).

The main intention with the Old School format is to relive the feeling from back when our beloved card-game was brand new: Back in the 90’s when Spice Girls was a thing. When Clinton had no sexual relations with that woman and when Christian conservative groups were dumbfounded and outright outraged by the fact, that the original printing of Unholy Strength had a pentagram in the background – surely the youth would now be beyond salvation and the end was, by all means, near!

Back on track. It was also a time – believe it or not – when there was basically no thing called internet. Which mean there was no thing called net-decking. Also no thing called Grand Prix’s or Pro Tours and therefore practically no professional play- and test-groups. This meant that there was a lot of brewing and kitchen-table testing and playing – the original way to build decks and play games. You would play the cards you had access to, and there were no giant internet-shops with every card ever printed on display, so you had to hide your collection from the bullies in the schoolyard, and stay inside to trade and be lucky to find that extra Goblin Balloon Brigade to finish your crazy, blistering fast, friend-removing, mono-red goblin deck (complete with Ball Lightning and Blood Lust)…

It is this format that is now beginning to thrive. But how is that even possible? you ask. And you are right. Make no mistake. Even though it is possible to make a somewhat budget mono-colored deck. It is not that possible. These cards are expensive, and they are on the rise! Remember only the original printings are allowed, which makes it impossible for Wizards – even if they wanted to – to make the format cheaper and more accessible by, for example, printing new versions of the cards. This is a format, where you will have to shell out around 30€ for the cheapest possible Savannah Lions – the unlimited one. Counterspell is around 20€ and Shivan Dragon is closing in on 100€. And I’m not even starting to mention some of the all-stars: the Power Nine, the dual lands, Library of Alexandria, the aforementioned Chaos Orb and Juzam Djinn, Erhnam Djinn and Serendib Efreet. Oh, and beta and alpha versions of the cards! It is a format for the very rich, the very lucky or the very foresighted who bought the cards years ago and held on to them.

But the format is thriving and expanding and it actually makes sense. It is thriving because of several things:

  1. Nostalgia! Even though it is impossible to recreate the feeling from the early 90’s – especially in regards to no net-decking – for a lot of players, there is a lot of nostalgic feeling in playing with these cards.
  2. Players from the 90’s have grown up, cut their hair, shaved their necks, crawled out of their basements and even landed paid jobs, so they are able to actually buy all the Nightmares and Serra Angels they’ve always dreamed of! (and let’s be honest, we have all dreamed of that particular Angel…)
  3. People want to play with and show off their crazy expensive, beautiful cards and decks.
  4. Less restrictive local (or national) rules are emerging all over the world. Which means the price of entering the format is drastically reduced. When revised or even 4th edition becomes legal, you can actually make playable or even competitive decks for a couple of hundred euros. And they won’t rotate out…

Enough of this introduction to a format I am sure most of you have already heard of. What I actually wanted to write about today was an experience I had playing the format at a tournament recently, which led me to think, or at least ponder. It has to do with the differences between playing kitchen-table magic with your friends and tournament-magic against unknown, less-casual players. And indeed about the possible near future of the Old School format (at least in Denmark).

It was no big tournament – 13 players arrived – but it was highly enjoyable and very much fun.

For me at least. People who know me, knows that I am no grinder, I am not a very competitive person or player and, indeed, not a very good player at all. But when I take the time to play at a tournament, for the most time, I am there to try and win. And have fun, of course. Besides being a mediocre to bad player, I also enjoy playing combo and/or prison strategies, and my weapon of choice this day was to play a 5 color PowerMonolith-monstrosity filled with most of the restricted cards of the format. Yep, a combo deck featuring cards like Balance, Strip Mine and Recall. And 4 power sink. I think I’m in love…

Emil’s Deck

It is a very capable deck and without a doubt one of the most powerful of the format. It ends games playing an arbitrarily large fireball to the opponents face or firing a Rocket Launcher (no, actually the card Rocket Launcher – look it up!) for 50 billion damage at the opponents baffled crotch. This is done via the age-old unlimited mana combo of Basalt Monolith and Power Artifact. Much fun is had. At least I think it is much fun. And that may be a problem.

During the 5 rounds of the tournament I had several surprising reactions to my deck and the games we played. My opponents didn’t seem to have much fun. Let me just pause a minute to make something clear – I am not advocating that one has to be happy about being killed by a combo deck, but if playing against combo ruins your day or gives you a feeling of being unfairly treated, is tournament-magic really your thing? My deck is in no way unbeatable. A well-timed Shatter ruins me day! A Blood Moon makes me cry and a turn one Argothian Pixies followed by a turn two Serendib Efreet can be very tough for me to beat! But of course, to beat it, you have to come prepared. It is not a casual deck – you have to bring counterspells, removal or your own combo.

I know that a deck like mine won’t make me many friends at kitchen tables. I admit that it is based on decklists I’ve seen online and I know that there is a lot more nostalgia in attacking with a Sengir Vampire or landing an impressive 2/3 Kird Ape off a taiga in the first round (Kird Ape was actually banned for being too powerful back in the day…). But I will still hold that in tournament-magic it is not unsportmanlike conduct to play combo or prison. It is not being a bad friend to play to win. And especially in Old School it is not very cool to be mad about losing to a bizarre interaction between three old cards. These bizarre interactions is – I would argue – what the format is all about.

Also: many of the games in question were very interesting and not decided before the resolving of the infinite ball of fire. I had to keep my opponent off black mana, so he couldn’t play his mind twist; I had to find a Mox Sapphire AND a Blue Elemental Blast to kill an opposing Blood Moon; I had to play and replay my Demonic Tutor (via Regrowth) to find both mana and a removal to a horrible Energy Flux and the list goes on. This format – for me – is all about enjoying the interactions between cards – often relatively unknown cards – as the game were originally thought. It is quite a simple game of magic but it stills requires you to think. It is about having fun doing that – and even if you should sometimes lose, don’t despair!

In the next round you will face another strange, spicy brew consisting of Triskelions, Titania’s Song, Hypnotic Spector, Sol’kanar the Swamp King or even freaking Copper Tablet. So if all else fails, play your deck, lose or win and just enjoy the immensely powerful, expensive and beautiful decks that are roaming the format. Again: I would consider entering an Old School tournament with a brew of only Mountains and a single Fireball – hell a brew of only Mountains! – just to look at all the incredibly, iconic, sexy pieces of cardboard. They don’t come any hotter than here! But anyway, this is – for now at least – a very open format where many strategies are viable.

And that leads me to the next of my worries. Even though the format is expanding, it is – still – a somewhat obscure, fringe format with a relatively small dedicated group of players. Many of whom have a very casual mindset when playing, some of whom are not very skilled players – or at least not very used to play at tournaments. My fear is that at some point some maybe not-so-nice but great players will take advantage of these facts and begin to roam the Old School tournaments flinging the “Best deck of the format” and simply be almost certain to win. This will be a heavy blow to some of the vibe and feel of the format, and it will probably enhance the notion, that it is impossible to win a game of Old School, without playing the legendary power nine. Which really is not true.

I am aware that many Old School groups and indeed several of the larger tournaments, don’t really play with prices and oftentimes don’t play top4/8. This means that the tournaments have a heavy emphasis on playing games, rather than win. This also helps ensure, that the incentive to grind these tournaments become a lot less appealing. Since you won’t win anything worth anything, and you won’t even gather those sought after Planeswalker points.

BUT as a former tournament organizer, with around a hundred tournaments in the sack, I discovered that, at least in Denmark, one of the best/only ways to make people actually show up at tournaments is to hand out good to ridiculously great prices based on a reasonable entry-fee. And so we have a classic dilemma: No prices means more dedicated, casual players, that ensure the right “Old School vibe”, but also less players overall. Prices means more “outsiders” – players who can’t remember trading their Serra Angel for a Black Lotus – but also, probably a lot more players overall. What to do?

I honestly don’t know. A friend of mine is trying to harness a competitive Old School scene in Copenhagen. That means entry-fees, prices, play-offs and a general feeling of playing competitive magic (which means: if you want to win, you have to play an optimized deck). But he also tries to make sure that the cozy element of just playing whatever crappy combo you wish that specific day, is there. I am excited to see where it ends, as of now some of the more casually oriented Old Schoolers are not too keen on the idea. But let’s see. I think the most important part is to enjoy a unique and highly challenging format.

Modern Pro Tour Recap

Hello there and welcome back. Today we have some fresh Modern data from the Pro Tour to look at, so let’s dive in! First of all, let’s have look at the metagame percentages recorded on Wizards‘ homepage.

Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan metagame

The Archetype Breakdown – click to see full graph

 

Yeah, that’s an insane amount of diversity ranging from 1% to just below 10%. Going in, a lot of people were afraid that we would see a top heavy metagame with too many Tron lands and too many one mana 9/9’s, but those people sure got a pleasant surprise. The strength of Modern in a casual FNM and a competitive Grand Prix has always been the diversity, but at the professional level we have a tad more unstable track record until this Pro Tour. I think everyone from the players and spectators to Wizards them selves are beyond content with the outcome. My gut feeling is that Modern on the Pro Tour is here to stay this time.

The players who managed to win half of their matches or more on day one got to play 10 rounds of Modern total. Up next are the decks that managed to win eight or more matches, and there are a few sweet pieces of tech I would like to highlight.

2 Tron
2 Lantern Control
2 Grixis Shadow
Abzan Midrange
Blue/White Control
Bogles
Traverse Shadow
Grixis Control
Storm
Eldrazi Tron
Affinity
Burn
White/Black Eldrazi
Humans
Black/Red Hollow One

8-2 or better decklists

Unsurprisingly, Corey Burkhart sleeved up Grixis Control this event and managed to best eight of his ten opponents. Winning with controlling decks in Modern is no easy task, but he clearly got something right for this weekend. Looking at his decklist, you will notice he plays no less than 25 lands and a full playset of Field of Ruin. Traditionally, three-color control decks have had a horrible Tron matchup and no good way to fix this. Tectonic Edge was too much of a setback for their own gameplan, and no matter how many copies of Fulminator Mage you packed in your sideboard, the bad guys would always win.

Field of Ruin lets you disrupt Tron lands and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle while not setting you back manawise in your mana hungry control deck deck. In a recorded deck tech from the Pro Tour, Corey said that cutting the Serum Visions was a great change because playing it looking for lands felt too clunky in a blazing fast format like Modern. For me, control is suddenly much more interesting because I can now almost freeroll a playable big mana matchup that used to be a huge concern.

Yet another Grixis deck, whose pilot decided that Serum Visions and Opt are too slow, is Ben Friedman with his Grixis Shadow deck. He added a playset of Mishra’s Bauble to make sure he hits his land drops, builds a graveyard for Gurmag Angler and gets a little free information along the way. This version of Death’s Shadow wants blue because of Stubborn Denial, Snapcaster Mage and the blue Dark Ritual (Corey’s reference to the synergy with delve spells) Thought Scour. Red adds Temur Battle Rage to close out combo decks or boardstate decks like Devoted Company and Affinity, but also some flexible sideboard cards in Kolaghan’s Command and Rakdos Charm. I really like this build instead of the traditional Grixis lists and the four color Traverse versions.

Looking at the top 8, we were blessed with seven different decks and a truck load of interesting matchups. When the dust settled, Luis Salvatto was standing tall with the trophy in one hand and his Lantern of Insight in the other. Huge congratulations to him! Here are the eight decks that battled on Sunday:

2 Humans
1 Lantern Control
1 Mardu Midrange
1 Blue/Red Control
1 Black/Red Hollow One
1 Abzan Midrange
1 Traverse Shadow

Top 8 decklists

In my preview before the tournament, I talked about how Izzet Control decks were not controlling enough to win without a combo and how all the combo options were bad. I even said that Izzet equals Blood Moon, but Pascal Vieren wouldn’t listen to that kind of nonsense. He ran the tables with his deadly duo of Young Pyromancer and Thing in the Ice all the way to the semi finals with a combination of Izzet cards we have not seen before.

Blue/Red Control by Pascal Vieren

Creatures (10)
Snapcaster Mage
Young Pyromancer
Thing in the Ice

Spells (28)
Serum Visions
Ancestral Vision
Roast
Opt
Lightning Bolt
Spell Snare
Abrade
Remand
Mana Leak
Electrolyze
Cryptic Command
Logic Knot
Lands (22)
Scalding Tarn
Flooded Strand
Misty Rainforest
Polluted Delta
Steam Vents
Spirebluff Canal
Sulfur Falls
Snow-Covered Island
Snow-Covered Mountain
Island
Field of Ruin

Sideboard (15)
Spell Snare
Abrade
Electrolyze
Anger of the Gods
Dispel
Negate
Ceremonious Rejection
Vendilion Clique
Relic of Progenitus
Disdainful Stroke
Molten Rain
Crumble to Dust

Note that he also incorporated Field of Ruin in his mana base and decided to diversify his win conditions, all of which synergize with his eight cantrips. For card advantage, Pascal hopes to suspend Ancestral Vision on turn one and use his many reactive cards to buy time until the last time counter is removed. Snapcaster Mage and Cryptic Command ensures that he has a superior lategame than most Modern decks, and from there closing out the game should be simple. I like the two copies of Roast to make sure he doesn’t die to the first Gurmag Angler or Tarmogoyf that hits the battlefield.

Bonus

We have the banned and restricted announcement coming up, and I just wanted to add my two cents on the matter. Bloodbraid Elf would be a welcome addition to Jund Midrange that has recently fallen out of favor and would incentivize some Big Zoo brewing and would possibly have players look into the Temur color combination trying to get lucky with a cascade into Ancestral Visions. Just make sure you don’t put too many counterspells in your deck in the case of Temur.

What was your favorite tech, play, moment or deck from the Pro Tour?