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.

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!