Modern Pro Tour Predictions

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


Grixis Death’s Shadow
Grixis Death's Shadow

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


Affinity

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


Green Tron

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


Burn

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


Dredge

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


Humans

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


UW(x) Control

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


Eldrazi Tron

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


Storm

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


Blue/Red Control

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


BG(x) Midrange

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


Mardu Pyromancer

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


Titan Shift


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


Lantern Control

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


Abzan Company

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

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

Beating Legacy #1

November 5th there is a huge Legacy tournament in Copenhagen called “Danish Legacy Masters“. As this is a tournament with great tradition and players coming in from not only all parts of Denmark, but also from Sweden and Germany, I can’t wait to play.

I have four top 8‘s with one win and one finals split in this tournament series over the years, and I’m hoping to add to my resume this time around. But I’m getting way ahead of me because in order to win, you need to prepare! So tag along as I try and break down the most relevant decks to prepare for. Welcome to “Beating Legacy“!

Storm

Storm uses Dark Ritual, Cabal Ritual, Lotus Petal and Lion’s Eye Diamond to accelerate out Ad Nauseam or Past in Flames either natural drawn or found with Infernal Tutor. The tutor makes sure you can end your turn by searching up a lethal Tendrils of Agony. To clear the way of pesky counter magic, a total number of 6 or 7 Cabal Therapy and Duress are included.

Some opening hands allow for quick kills where others need to set up a later kill with the numerous cantrips. Gitaxian Probe provides free information about the opponent’s hand, while Brainstorm and Ponder do their usual job of digging for what you need.

In order to give yourself the best chance of beating Storm, you need to fight them on several axis. In my experience, if you can attack Storm on at least two of the following areas, you are in good shape:

1) Clock. The faster you can get them low on life, the better. The damage also interacts favorably with Ad Nauseam.
2) Counter magic. Counterspells are good, and Flusterstorm is the best of the bunch.
3) Discard spells. Going for their hand is good for obvious reasons and provides information on how to play out your hand.
4) Graveyard hate. Attacking the graveyard means that Ad Nauseam or Empty the Warrens are their only path to victory.
5) Hateful permanents. They will only have a few answers to permaments in their deck, so getting one into play around their discard spells is important.


Grixis Delver

Many color combinations of Delver decks have come and gone through the years, but in 2017 it’s all about Grixis. Deathrite Shaman is too good not to play and needs black mana, and your removal spell of choice – Lightning Bolt – can finish off players and still kill most of the creatures in the format. Furthermore, red offers some great sideboard options while also adding Young Pyromancer to the threat base. Speaking of which, their different threats can’t be dealt with by the same cards, so keep that in mind.

They usually run a full playset of Deathrite Shaman and Delver of Secrets and then a mix of Young Pyromancer, Gurmag Angler and True-Name Nemesis. While Fatal Push and Lightning Bolt take care of the first two, and True-Name and Pyromancer die to various -1/-1 effects, the Angler is very resilient to non-Swords to Plowshares removal. The difficulty of dealing with its creatures is one of the deck’s greatest strengths.

Playing and hopefully winning against Grixis Delver demands that you can navigate around some of their most important disruptive cards. Let’s go through them one by one.

“Can I afford to play around Wasteland?” is the most important question you have to ask your self. I’ve seen my share of players who played around Wasteland and as a result weren’t able to cast all of their spells. Don’t be that guy. Sometimes you need to make them have it and power through it, and sometimes you need to bridge a gap between two turns where you are immune to Wasteland. Storm and Sneak and Show are the most common decks for these situations with turn 1 basic Island and a cantrip.

Daze raises different questions than Wasteland, but they have their similarities. Early in the game you have to take stand to whether you can play around Daze all game or you’re going to run into it eventually. Keep in mind though, that waiting one turn to boost your odds of resolving a spell can backfire against a tempo deck like Grixis Delver. Wasteland, Cabal Therapy and Force of Will from the top of their library can punish you for sandbagging spells in fear of Daze, so I suggest you cast your spells on curve the majority of the time unless it’s a crucial one.

Playing around Cabal Therapy can be a few things. You need a lot of knowledge about what your opponent is most likely to name depending on the situation, which can be very hard. You should make sure not to have two of the same card in hand if you can avoid it. Aside from Brainstorm and Ponder, another way to do this is playing out the card you have two copies of if you have to decide between two spells for the turn. For example, if you have two Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and one Stoneforge Mystic in hand, chances are you should be playing out the Thalia regardless of what the best play would be in respect of the Therapy.

Stifle in combination with Wasteland can really mess up your plans. In some scenarios, fetching out a nonbasic before the opponent has mana for Stifle, even though they run 4 Wasteland, can be the correct play. Sometimes you need to play out fetch lands and cast no spells and make your opponent keep up the mana long enough for the Stifle to be irrelevant or until they decide to make a move. Since they run relatively few lands, chances are that they will not be able to advance the board while keeping up Stifle. Be proactive if you don’t have the ability to keep making land drops or wait it out – your deck will typically be better in the long game.

That will do it for the first installment of Beating Legacy. Next week I will be back with some more tips and tricks for a few relevant Legacy matchups. In the meantime please add your best advice for beating Storm and Grixis Delver in the comments on facebook, twitter, reddit or where ever you are reading this.

Beating Modern #3

Editorial Note: Make sure to check out Beating Modern #1 and Beating Modern #2. They are great. Trust me.

Welcome back to yet another batch of basic guides to beating the usual suspects of Modern. I’m really enjoying writing these overall matchup blueprints, but I enjoy getting your input even more. Maybe you have played the deck for three years and my testing is useless compared to your expertise. Great, then contribute in the comments here, on facebook, reddit or where ever you are reading this. Let us get better together!


BG/x Midrange

Black and Green-based Midrange decks with one mana discard spells, Tarmogoyf and Liliana of the Veil fall under this category. Even though their threatbase and removal suite will differ and depend on their splash color (if any), playing against these different versions of the archetype feels very similar. Ideally, their objective is to grind both players down on resources so their superior card quality can take over the game. They use cheap discard and cheap removal spells to make sure the game doesn’t get out of hand quickly, so turns 1-2 it is very difficult to get an edge there.

Collected Company is a very good example of what BG/x Midrange is weak to. Cards they can’t use Inquisition of Kozilek, Abrupt Decay or other 1-for-1 removal spells to deal with. Four-mana planeswalkers, Reality Smasher and Gurmag Angler are other good examples, while – if you are playing Affinity – your best threat against them is Etched Champion.

They lean hard on Liliana of the Veil to get pairity in cards and keep the board clean, so cards that match up well against her are at a premium. Lingering Souls, Kitchen Finks, Voice of Resurgence and Matter Reshaper come to mind when thinking about main deck cards, and Obstinate Baloth can blow the BG/x player out after sideboard.

This archetype has traditionally been weak to “big mana” decks like Tron and Scapeshift strategies, and that is still true today. Ramp your lands onto the battlefield and trust that your deck with much higher top end will draw better than your BG/x opponent. Any respectable BG/x sideboard will contain Fulminator Mage, sometimes combined with Surgical Extraction or some main deck Ghost Quarters, so they will also come prepared.

Good Sideboard Cards


Abzan Company

Abzan Company is a creature combo deck that tries to assemble either Vizier of Remedies + Devoted Druid + Duskwatch Recruiter and finish the game with Walking Ballista or Rhonas the Indomitable or the old infinite life combo of Viscera Seer, Kitchen Finks and Vizier of Remedies. The only non-creature spells in the deck are Collected Company and Chord of Calling, and combatting those is how you get the upper hand in the matchup.

The deck also plays a couple of Gavony Township, and these serve as a great plan B when they can’t assemble their combo. Keep in mind that if you are playing a fair deck, a long game against Abzan Company will most likely result in Gavony Township taking over the game.

When they lead on Noble Hierarch or Birds of Paradise, you should always kill it with Fatal Push and Lightning Bolt, and the same goes for Devoted Druid on turn two, but later on managing your removal spells can be tricky. Having one ready at instant speed means you can break up their infinite combo and leave them with a 2/1 vanilla creature and Duskwatch Recruiter which ability is somewhat expensive to use. Also note that the Devoted Druid will be summoning sick, so you always have time to remove it from the board before they combo.

Grafdigger’s Cage is fantastic because it stops persist from Kitchen Finks plus all of their eight green search spells. Anger of the Gods is another great card that will deal with most board states and the Kitchen Finks completely.

Good Sideboard Cards


Blue/White Control

(written by U/W Control pilot Anders Gotfredsen)

U/W Control has pretty much always been a major deck in Magic all the way back to Brian Weissman’s ‘The Deck’ from 1996. Back then it was all about staying alive and eventually kill your opponent with whatever slow – but resilient – win condition was available. With Modern having so many different strategies, staying alive indefinitely against everything is an impossible task, but the win conditions have also gotten more powerful, and counterspells and board sweepers are still great against most decks.

The main plan revolves around planeswalkers, mainly Gideon of the Trials, Jace, Architect of Thought and Gideon Jura which they keep alive with Supreme Verdict, Cryptic Command and cheap interaction like Path to Exile, Mana Leak and Snapcaster Mage. The deck is very good at dealing with conventional creature strategies because if you play one creature at a time, Path to Exile or either Gideon buy them a turn, but if you play more than one, Supreme Verdict can get you.

The way to beat U/W is by not just playing creatures and attack with them. This means you want creatures that provide value even if they are killed right away (these often come as a Collected Company which is also great against U/W) or non-creature threats like planeswalkers or Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. U/W Control can also be quite weak to Tron decks, because even though they have Spreading Seas and Tectonic Edge, they don’t close out the game fast enough to stop the big Eldrazi from being cast. Lantern Control also has a great U/W matchup because it sidesteps the whole creature damage plan and have inevitability for the long game they will surely reach.

Generally, U/W isn’t a deck that has it’s own game plan that you should aim to disrupt; they want to stop you from enacting your game plan and so you beat them by having a plan that they’re not prepared for.

Good Sideboard Cards:

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