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?

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

Grand Prix Las Vegas Modern Analysis

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

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

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

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


Good as usual or good again?

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


The hero we deserve?

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


Lucky or good?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Make sure to follow Andreas Petersen on twitter and tune in to his twitch channel to get more great Magic content!

GP Vegas Modern with Esper Shadow

Taking Esper Death’s Shadow to GP Vegas

Welcome back everyone. Today we’re going to talk about Modern, specifically the deck I’ll be bringing to Grand Prix Las Vegas this weekend – Esper Shadow. Even though you will be experiencing today’s content through the lens of a Shadow, I’m 100% positive that you will either learn something or maybe even help me out with some tricks in some of the matchups. Sound off in the comments!

Why play Death’s Shadow?

Esper Shadows crucial cardsEsper Shadows crucial cards

This bundle of black cards make up the core of the best shell in Modern. Ideally, you want to start every game with a discard spell to pick off your opponent’s most important card and gain some vital information, so you can plan out your turns correctly. Not until now that Gitaxian Probe is gone, people truly value the information alongside the disruption they get from Inquisition of Kozilek and Thoughtseize. With the ability to shred your opponent’s hand, kill their creatures for one black mana, play undercosted fatties and have one mana Negate in Stubborn Denial at your disposal, we have ourselves a monster.

Why Esper?

Spirits. Shadows best friends

The answer is this little gem. When you have a shell as powerful as Black/Blue Death’s Shadow, I like to think about my bad matchups and try improving them. In this case, the bad matchups are what I call “shard decks” – three color either Midrange or Control decks. Examples of this could be Jund with Terminate, Fatal Push, Abrupt Decay and Liliana of the Veil or Jeskai Control with Path to Exile, Snapcaster Mage and Nahiri, the Harbinger. While you can still catch these decks off guard because your gameplan is so proactive and fast, I decided to focus on these matchups when chosing my splash color. Lingering Souls lets me beat opposing draws with a lot of spot removal while also providing value when milled with Thought Scour. White is also conveniently a great sideboard color which is just icing on the cake.

I guess this is where I have to admit that nostalgia also has a little to do with it. Back in 2015 when Twin dominated Modern, I helped develop an Esper tempo deck that yielded me great results both in paper and online. If only we had figured out to put Street Wraith and Death’s Shadow in this deck, I think world domination wouldn’t be too much to ask for. Check out this piece on me and the deck if you’re interested.
http://series.magiccardmarket.eu/2015/12/20/deck-feature-andreas-petersens-esper-delve/

This is my decklist for Grand Prix Las Vegas:
Esper Shadow Decklist on MTGO

I will now walk you through 10 of the most popular matchups in Modern. I don’t like putting percentages on any matchups, since so much can change between builds, players and sideboard cards, so you have to settle for general strategy tips.

Matchups

Grixis Shadow
This is a mirror match except you have Lingering Souls and Path to Exile vs. their Lightning Bolt, Kolaghan’s Command and Terminate. Remember you only have 2 Path to Exile (with 3 Snapcaster Mage) as removal for opposing delve creatures, so Thoughtseize‘ing them away can be a priority. Stranding a Lightning Bolt in your opponent’s hand can be key, as well as stabilizing the board – and later win with – flying spirits.

Affinity
In this matchup you need to either kill everything or be fast. Discard/kill their payoff cards and beat them down with a black fatty while keeping their Signal Pest, Vault Skirge and creature lands back with Lingering Souls is your main goal. After sideboard you get Stony Silence, Ceremonious Rejection and Flaying Tendrils to help you achieve victory.

Burn
Burn can be very tricky to play against. You will need to decide quickly whether you will fetch basics and preserve your life total or play into his strategy and win with a quick Shadow or two. On the flipside, your opponent might help your clock by pointing burn spells at you too early. This takes a lot of practice on both sides. Remember Searing Blaze can never kill a Death’s Shadow. Collective Brutality, Stubborn Denial and the basic Plains join the party in the place of Street Wraith post-sideboard.

Dredge
Winning the die roll is super important vs. Dredge, because snatching his Faithless Looting or Insolent Neonate can be the difference between life and death. Even though Stubborn Denial is at its best when you’re on the play, it can even counter Cathartic Reunion on the draw and swing the game in your favor. After sideboard, graveyard hate and Flaying Tendrils helps out.

Counters/Abzan Company
Your deck is well set up to never lose to their combo, but them going wide and activating Gavony Township is the real threat. Try your best to make sure to kill their mana creature early and never let Collected Company resolve while you keep attacking. Flaying Tendrils is great out of the sideboard because it keeps Kitchen Finks and Voice of Resurgence from coming back and disables flexibility from Eternal Witness.

R/G Titan Shift
This a classic racing matchup where you have better tools than the opposition. Your life total doesn’t really matter until they resolve a Primeval Titan or Scapeshift anyway, so the plan is to kill them before this happens. With a good clock, Stubborn Denial, Thoughtseize and Snapcaster Mage for extra copies, we are in good shape. Because they will be looking to buy some time by blocking with Sakura-Tribe Elder, Fatal Push is acceptable even after sideboard. They might also have Tireless Tracker as a target.

BG/x Midrange
Having talked a little about this matchup further up, it’s all about how to beat their large amount of removal. You can either try and pick their removal with discard spells and/or counter them with Stubborn Denial or try and grind them out with Lingering Souls and Snapcaster Mage. Both plans are doable, but it’s all about the context. With your diverse threats, you hope that your opponent draws Fatal Push when you have a Gurmag Angler and Liliana of the Veil when you have Lingering Souls.

Ad Nauseam
Similar to the Titan Shift matchup, Ad Nauseam will not be interacting with you a whole lot. Furthermore, they’re weak to a fast clock backed up by discard spells and cheap counter magic. They will try and buy time with Phyrexian Unlife, and sometimes you will find it hard to evaluate whether you should counter that or not. Waiting let’s them use Pact of Negation as backup to Ad Nauseam, but they could also easily use the enchantment as bait and have another white combo piece in their hand. Hopefully you know about their hand and can make the right decision. Stony Silence shuts off Pentad Prism and Lotus Bloom for games two and three.

Bant Eldrazi
You will not win a long game vs. Bant Eldrazi, so you want to be aggressive with your lifetotal and get down to business, as Drowner of Hope and Eldrazi Displacer will spell doom for you in the lategame. Thoughtseize, Fatal Push and Path to Exile away their threats while beating down.

UW/x Control
This version can either be the Felidar Guardian/Saheeli Rai version or the straight Blue/White with Supreme Verdict. These decks will need to draw at least one copy of Path to Exile to be able to kill a big Shadow or delve creature in the early turns, so take advantage of that if you can. Supreme Verdict can be a beating, but with Lingering Souls we can realistically rebuild after one. Playing vs. the combo is pretty frustrating because you need to have a few removal spells in your deck after sideboard, and they don’t really advance your own game plan unless you get him off guard trying to combo.

Thank you for stopping by this week. Wish me luck on my magical trip in the desert! In the meantime, tune in to my twitch channel and follow me on twitter. See you there 😉