Latest Modern Tech, August 2017

© 2017 photo credit: magic.wizards.com/en/events/coverage/

As some of you may be aware, this weekend had a tasty Modern Grand Prix double header with events in Sao Paulo, Brazil and Birmingham, England. That means a double amount of data to look at! Today I’ll be focusing on fresh new technology that may or may not become industry standard moving forward.

For reference, here are the 16 decks in the two top 8’s combined:

3 Grixis Shadow
3 B/G(x) Midrange
2 TitanShift
2 Bant Knightfall
2 Abzan Company
1 Jeskai Control
1 G/X Tron
1 Burn
1 Lantern Control

Full overview of all 16 decklists:

I’ve taken the freedom to put all black-green based Midrange decks in the same category as well as not taken the human subtheme of one of the Bant decks into account. Now let’s dig down to look at some of the sweet new tech these players brought to the tournament.

Danilo Ramos Mopesto‘s Grixis Shadow list has quite a few interesting things going on. He has a total of three(!) copies of Liliana of the Veil in his 75, which is not something we see every day. It has applications against a bunch of decks with the Mirror Match and various combo decks being the most obvious. While she is not the best card you can have against any deck, she will improve the highest amount of matchups. A very important feature in a gigantic format like Modern where you will almost always have dead cards in your main deck.

His sweeper of choice for his sideboard is this little gem. On the surface you’re looking at an instant speed Pyroclasm at the cost of one more mana, but there’s more than meets the eye to it. Kozilek’s Return being colorless means you can deal with pesky Etched Champions. The downside to this card vs. Anger of the Gods or Flaying Tendrils is definitely the uptick in Collected Company decks where exiling the creatures can be super important.

Joao Lelis not only won the Brazilian Grand Prix; he also played a long forgotten card in his sideboard as a three-of. Flashfreeze is a flexible counterspell that can deal with Collected Company, Chord of Calling, Anger of the Gods and Primeval Titan, and countering creatures is something Negate is incapable of.

Flashfreeze competes with Unified Will for this slot, but it looks like he found it more important to have an answer to opposing copies of Collected Company and Chord of Calling in the pseudo mirror – where Unified Will isn’t reliable – than having the more flexible counterspell in other matchups.


The jury is still out on whether Hour of Promise is an upgrade to TitanShift or those precious slots are better used on various interaction depending on the metagame. Vitor Grassato decided it was a good weekend for a super threat dense list and played three copies of Hour of Promise on top of 4 Scapeshift, 4 Primeval Titan and 2 Summoner’s Pact.

This setup is very good at overloading various control and Midrange strategies, but can struggle against fast decks like Death’s Shadow and Burn. His sideboard tries to make up for that with a bunch of different tools to fight aggressive strategies. Also note the three Prismatic Omen in his main deck. I don’t like drawing copy number two, but the first one drawn is obviously very potent in combination with Hour of Promise. I like two copies in a list like this.

While these cards are format staples in other decks for obvious reasons, the inclusion of black in oldfashioned Tron is just what the doctor ordered (or what the metagame forces you do to if you want to be competitive, I suppose). Having a playset of Collective Brutality helps out against bad matchups like Burn and Storm while the Fatal Push are great at buying time vs. Death’s Shadow in particular. Even though the black splash is seen before, I wanted to talk about it since regular Tron has fallen out of favor recently. This great finish by Rafael Costa Zaghi could mount a comeback for Tron in the metagame percentages.

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about how Modern needs better reactive spells, and that actual Counterspell would improve the format quite a bit. Jean Sato took matter into his own hands and played three Logic Knot in his Jeskai Control deck.

While not being actual Counterspell, Logic Knot does a good impression while dealing with everything from Thought-Knot Seer, Primeval Titan and Ad Nauseam to Gifts Ungiven, Karn Liberated and the last lethal Burn spell. The importance of having a catch-all like Logic Knot can’t be overstated, and I’m very curious to explore my options going forward.

I will be looking at Thought Scour to make sure I can play the full playset of Logic Knot. Who would’ve thought that a classic effect like Counterspell would be of so much value in the 2017 Modern landscape.

This is just an improved Viridian Shaman on paper, but I wanted to credit Ivan de Castro Sanchez for finding it. I doubt this card has made a lot of Grand Prix top 8’s before. It fits perfectly in his human-themed Collected Company deck with its creature type and converted manacost and will do the job against Affinity.

While Sin Collector has seen play on and off in Abzan Company all the way back to the days of Birthing Pod, playing more than one is very rare. Oscar Christensen chose to run three copies and zero Thoughtseize in his sideboard to combat pesky instants and sorceries for games two and three. He can hit them off Collected Company, they have a 2/1 body attached for value, and both the stats and not costing life vs. Burn is relevant. If the combo decks become faster in the future, you can always go back to Thoughtseize again.

This card was pretty good back in Standard, but was quickly relegated to only seeing play in Vintage Cube Draft. Loïc Le Briand had different plans for it and replaced his Eidolon of the Great Revel with this smoking hot artifact! My guess is that he found the Eidolon subpar when being on the draw and even on the play in too many matchups and wanted to find a replacement. Mirror Match, fast Affinity draws, delve creatures and Eldrazi Tron are just a few of the bad situations you can encounter with Eidolon in your deck these days. While the Shrine is a bad top deck in the lategame, casting it on turn two can be very backbreaking for a lot of decks – kind of like Eidolon used to be. I imagine resolving this on turn two vs. Death’s Shadow will not end happily for the non-Burn player, as long as you keep an eye out for Kolaghan’s Command.

Simon Nielsen and his testing group went deep in the tank on this one. The TitanShift deck has steadily grown in popularity and the need for an edge in the mirror has also increased. Crumble to Dust used to be the go-to in these metagame situations, also offering some much needed disruption vs. Tron, but when the TitanShift doesn’t draw – or can afford to sandbag his Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle Crumble to Dust can be very lackluster. Witchbane Orb will most like catch your opponent off guard and relegate them to a fair deck trying to win via the attack step only. This a huge advantage in the mirror match, and you can usually win the game with a Scapeshift or a lot of Valakut triggers thanks to Primeval Titan. Furthermore, it also improves the bad Storm matchup and can give valuable percentages vs. Burn.

I chose only to focus on the two top 8’s, but I’m sure much more sweet technology is hidden if you go deep on the 16 or 32 best finishing decklists from these events.

What’s your favorite tech from the weekend? Let me know in the comments!

What can we get banned next?

Welcome back, I hope you enjoyed the Grand Prix Las Vegas either on stream or in person, it was a great celebration of all things Magic, and I hope they do more events like it. While I didn’t get any of the results I was hoping for, it was still an awesome week filled with gambling, drinking, great food and great friends. What more could you ask for?

Now that I’m back, it’s time to head back into standard. The format is a lame duck as far as I know with no more competitive events before Hour of Devastation but the format has already been explored quite a bit after the latest banning. Since I don’t think Hour of Devastation has any cards that will spawn a standard dominating deck, it can be useful look at this metagame and maybe find some new cards that can be part of a deck that can exploit it. The big dog right now seems to be temur energy and it’s not going anywhere, but it is very beatable if you want to. It’s just a bunch of good creatures, some Harnessed Lightnings and some Chandra, Torch of Defiance. Just be careful not to rely on just tons of spot removal, since Rogue Refiner and Tireless Tracker will have you for breakfast. You have to have counterspells if you want to outgrind these cards.

The real glue of both Saheeli and Marvel decks

This would point us in the direction of a control deck but beware, because the scourge of control decks is still lurking out there:

Lands (24)
Aether Hub
Concealed Courtyard
Inspiring Vantage
Irrigated Farmland
Needle Spires
Plains
Spire of Industry
Spirebluff Canal

Spells (16)
Aethersphere Harvester
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
Harnessed Lightning
Heart of Kiran
Metallic Rebuke
Unlicensed Disintegration

Creatures (20)
Scrapheap Scrounger
Spell Queller
Thraben Inspector
Toolcraft Exemplar
Veteran Motorist
Sideboard (15)
Anguished Unmaking
Ceremonious Rejection
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Cut // Ribbons
Fumigate
Metallic Rebuke
Nahiri, the Harbinger
Needle Spires
Release the Gremlins

This list just finished 7-1 in the standard portion of the StarCityGames Invitational in the hands of Corey Guild, and it is a nightmare to be reactive against. 1-drops, resilient 2-drops, a must answer 4-drop and even counterspells?! The only upside is that it isn’t that widely played because it doesn’t match up that favorably against temur and bg energy, and because the manabase causes some inconsistency (I hope. If that manabase doesn’t get you in trouble, then no one would ever play anything but 5 color decks).

Last of our targets we have gb energy and/or delirium. Aggro decks built around Winding Constrictor with the ability to grind with cards like Tireless Tracker, Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Ob Nixilis Reignited. That is actually the theme of all these decks; they are capable of some very aggressive starts but have enough resiliency and raw power that they can win long games as well. At first, I focused too much on the grindy aspects and thought I could go over the top with a gw delirium deck that had Fumigate, Descend upon the Sinful and Ishkanah, Grafwidow to buy time and then Ulvenwald Hydra into Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger to finish. The problem was, as you might have sensed, that I would often be dead before I could cast my sweeper. I still haven’t given up on the idea but I think a third color is needed to shore up the early game.

The reason I mention the gw deck despite it’s lack of success is that there are multiple upgrades coming next week: Hour of Promise and Hour of Revelation. Hour of Promise gives you turn 6 Ulamog by itself since it can fetch 2 Shrine of the Forsaken Gods. If you play either mono green or just one support color, chances are you can play some deserts to not only enable Hour of Promise but also some of the strong colorless cards from Oath of the Gatewatch. Hour of Revelation is a strict upgrade over Planar Cleansing and one of the problems I frequently faced was pressure from creatures, planeswalkers and/or vehicles at the same time.

The downside is that you can’t rely on having permanents in play so stuff like Corrupted Grafstone and Cast Out will probably have to hit the bench. That sounds like it’s worth it to me though and I think Hour of Revelation will be a big player in standard. It may actually prove my initial statement, that the new set won’t push new decks into the top tier, wrong.

 

There has already been some uw control decks popping up here and there including from Gabriel Nassif (https://www.channelfireball.com/articles/control-is-viable-in-standard-and-it-crushes-energy-decks/). He has been playing uw in modern for a while now and seems to be forcing it a bit so we shouldn’t necessarily take his word for it. More importantly, uw is getting another new card that could quietly be the most important card in the set: Supreme Will. Mana Leak and Impulse would both be very playable in Standard and I’m not sure that paying one more mana to get to choose between them is noticeably worse (in an aggro/tempo deck Mana Leak would be much better but in a purely reactive deck Supreme Will could be better). A lot of the shard and wedge charms were very good in standard despite only two of the modes being used the vast majority of the time so having it be mono colored and having only two useable modes is a fine deal, especially when one of the modes is straight up card selection. I’m thinking a list along these lines:

(35)
Supreme Will
Hour of Revelation
Censor
Essence Scatter
Negate
Glimmer of Genius
Torrential Gearhulk
Hieroglyphic Illumination
Disallow
Fumigate
Immolating Glare
Blessed Alliance
Kefnet the Mindful

While I would love for this deck to be great, there is a glaring hole; the early removal. With Supreme Will decreasing the need for double blue on turn 3, maybe we could test the limits of our mana?

(60)
Supreme Will
Hour of Revelation
Harnessed Lightning
Censor
Magma Spray
Glimmer of Genius
Torrential Gearhulk
Fumigate
Kozilek's Return
Hieroglyphic Illumination
Disallow
Kefnet the Mindful
Essence Scatter
Negate
Irrigated Farmland
Inspiring Vantage
Spirebluff Canal
Aether Hub
Mountain
Island
Plains

This manabase is on the surface quite a ways off from Frank Karsten’s recommendations but with so much cycling and card selection I’m willing to give it a try. I’m more worried about how we’re actually going to win the game. You have sweepers that kill your own gearhulks but I imagine that will possible to plan around, it’s more about how reliably Kefnet can win the game; Hour of Glory might see play but probably not too much and you should be able to counter the one copy they might have. It does suck that he is a win condition that does pretty much stone nothing until he starts winning the game, although if you play him turn 3 on the draw, your opponent can’t really play a planeswalker so there is that. I look forward to trying it out.

If a god can’t win the game, then what is even the point of gods?

One last point is the cool things you can do with your sideboard; Spell Queller has been a staple in uw control sideboards for a while but now we also get Nimble Obstructionist allowing us to be really annoying for any slower deck when they have to decide how much removal to keep in. Maybe we even go up to include a couple of Archangel Avacyn. Other than that I have really been impressed with Shielded Aether-Thief in the Marvel sideboard and while we don’t produce near as much energy here, we also have far less ways to spend it. We can round out with some cheap counterspells and maybe a few extra sweepers.

I always hope uw control will be great in the new format and this time is no different. Will Supreme Will and Hour of Revelation be enough to finally get there? Am I insane for not having any Pull from Tomorrow in the lists? Should there be planeswalkers even despite Hour of Revelation? Let me know what you think in the comments.

Standard

Why Standard is not (that) bad at all.

Editorial Note: 13. June 2017. Aetherworks Marvel is out.

Hi folks. My name is Anders and I’m here to talk about standard, and before you close this tab let me tell you that it is not as messed up as the internet mob will have you believe. Let’s take a look at what people say is wrong with standard:

1: Turn 4 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger is unbeatable. This is true, but there are two things to consider; it doesn’t happen that often but it is of course not a good thing for magic when it does; and there are ways to stop it from happening, mainly censor and negate. I have played Marvel since the Pro Tour and it is very rare in the mirror to face a 10/10 library eater on turn 4. And the games without turn 4 Ulamog are great games of magic. It is very similar to the copycat mirror but I think actually more fun because turn 3 Saheeli on the play was much harder to stop and put the opponent in a terrible spot. Now you at least have Censor which does great work in slowing things down and letting both players play magic.

2: Marvel decks are pushing everything else out of the format. That’s just not true. There were 3 GP’s last weekend and 8 of the 24 top 8 decks were Marvel with only one in each non-american GP. The top 8’s featured several different archetypes beyond Marvel with UW flash winning Manila and GB constrictor winning Amsterdam against UR control in the finals.

3: Playing Aetherworks Marvel is a lottery, takes the skill out of playing. In the case of turn 4 Ulamog, yes very little skill is involved, but plenty of decks have nut draws where the deck basically plays itself. Turn 2 Constrictor, turn 3 Rishkar isn’t that hard of a line to see and that has won plenty of games. As soon as we leave nutdraw territory though, Marvel is quite intricate to play, especially the mirror and UR. I played it in Grand Prix Amsterdam myself and lost at least two rounds because I missed a tricky line of play. Stuff like when to leave up and play around Censor, how to manage your energy reserve, and even when to hardcast Ulamog can be difficult. Against UR control for example you should not play Ulamog into a counterspell unless they have 2 threats in play to remove. Against RG Energy aggro I won a game because I Harnessed Lightninged their turn 2 Longtusk Cub and spent 0 energy. I’m not saying these are top pro plays but they are not exactly intuitive either.

This standard is all fine This standard format is all fine

Now, I am not going to tell you that I don’t think Marvel is the best deck but you can easily choose another archetype and be successful. Since I don’t think Marvel will be banned it makes sense to talk about the deck to help you learn how to play it. First, let’s find a list to play and I don’t see a better starting point than Brad Nelson’s winning list from Grand Prix Omaha:

Temur Aetherworks by Brad Nelson

Creatures (8)
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
Rogue Refiner

Spells (52)
Chandra, Flamecaller
Attune with Aether
Censor
Dissenter’s Deliverance
Glimmer of Genius
Harnessed Lightning
Negate
Aetherworks Marvel
Woodweaver’s Puzzleknot
Aether Hub
Botanical Sanctum
Cinder Glade
Forest
Island
Lumbering Falls
Mountain
Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
Spirebluff Canal
Sideboard: (15)
Negate
Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
Aether Meltdown
Confiscation Coup
Dispel
Radiant Flames
Tireless Tracker
Ulvenwald Hydra

What a masterpiece! I love how streamlined the maindeck is for maximizing Marvel. Most other people were fiddling around with Whirler Virtuosos, Gearhulks, maindeck Tireless Tracker and such. I even shaved a Woodweaver’s Puzzleknot. Paul Dean and Brad Nelson realized that game one is about Marvel -> Ulamog against basically everything but UR control. After sideboard, most everyone will have ways to deal with Marvel so they just went straight for hardcasting Ulamog with a third Shrine of the Forsaken Gods and Ulvenwald Hydra. Getting a guaranteed 2 mana towards Ulamog along with the biggest creature on the battlefield is great in the mirror and not getting hit by Negate is great against the way most blue decks are set up against Marvel.

It also seems great against Spell Queller decks. I played a single Oblivion Sower in the main to help hardcast Ulamog and I’m not sure which I like better. Hydra is better if you can count on it resolving, but I like Sower better against UR and if more people play Disallow in the mirror (I had one in the board and a few of my mirror opponents did as well). My choice for next week would be a split with Hydra main and Sower in the board. I would assume that most Marvel lists will contain Hydra for the next few weeks so would like 2 Disallows after board.

I’m not that high on Confiscation Coup and I’m not sure about Dispel vs. Negate. Dispel is almost only for forcing through your own stuff and countering things like Chandra, Torch of Defiance in the mirror can be paramount. I’d go for just one Dispel for now. Tireless Tracker is in a weird spot right now. It’s obviously a great value machine to have in play but Censor means it’s not a guaranteed two for one on turn four and if your opponent untaps and plays Marvel you can be in big trouble. It’s still great against UR, and also on the play against stuff like UW since you can run it out on turn 3 and they have almost no way of removing it.

The last contentious spots for me are Dissenter’s Deliverance, Radiant Flames and Chandra, Flamecaller. We have seen Manglehorn and Sweltering Sun’s take their place in other lists but I like Brad and Paul’s choices more. Deliverance can be played main unlike Manglehorn, freeing up sideboard space without subtracting too much from your game 1 plan. I had cut Deliverance because I wanted to deal with Marvel on the stack but Deliverance is a great card against Vehicles and they did well enough last weekend to expect it for the foreseeable future.

Sweltering Sun’s could also be in the main (although cycling 3 is obviously harder to find time for) and it can be hit off Marvel. On the other hand, with all these Shrine of the Forsaken Gods (and I would like another Island for Disallow) double red is not trivial, and if you need a sweeper, you most likely need it early. More importantly, Zombies have taken massive beatings since the Pro Tour and they are pretty much the reason for running 3 mana sweepers so there’s actually an argument for cutting them. Big Chandra also loses a lot of luster with the decline of zombies. I’ve talked to several players who cited the 0 ability as a great way to turn dead Ulamogs into real cards but hardcasting Ulamog is becoming a larger and larger part of the game plan and in the mirror you often can’t afford to discard copies of him. She is still a powerful card and good at pressuring planeswalkers so I’m looking to play one for now. Here is the list I would play if I was playing this weekend:

Temur Aetherworks by Anders Gotfredsen

Creatures (8)
Rogue Refiner
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger

Spells (52)
Attune with Aether
Censor
Dissenter’s Deliverance
Glimmer of Genius
Harnessed Lightning
Negate
Aetherworks Marvel
Woodweaver’s Puzzleknot
Ulvenwald Hydra
Chandra, Flamecaller
Aether Hub
Botanical Sanctum
Cinder Glade
Forest
Island
Mountain
Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
Spirebluff Canal
Sideboard: (15)
Negate
Disallow
Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
Shielded Aether-Thief
Dispel
Tireless Tracker
Oblivion Sower
Baral’s Expertise
Whirler Virtuoso

Whirler Virtuoso has made it back into the deck, this time in the board. I have replaced Radiant Flames with it because it has more utility against Vehicles and GB, both of which appear to be on the rise. They are joined by Baral’s Expertise which is the best card I could think of against GB and maybe there should be another one somewhere. Their creatures can get out of range of your sweepers pretty easily and Expertise doesn’t care how many counters are on them. Virtuoso also doesn’t care and both are great at buying time which is what the matchup is about to me.

Lastly, I’m playing Shielded Aether-Thief instead of Aether Meltdown. The only situation where Meltdown seems better is against flyers, notably Heart of Kiran, but we are already playing 3 Dissenter’s Deliverance and Aether-Thief has much higher upside. It is a lot better when you also have 3 damage sweepers but I still prefer it to the enchantment.

Today’s article has two main takeaways.

1: Standard isn’t all bad.

It has some bad aspects, but so do all other formats. There is diversity and a lot of great gameplay so no need to ban anything.

2: Be careful assuming that a metagame is solved.

Brad Nelson has done well in established metagames many times before by adding subtle twists to existing tier 1 decks. Maybe your Naya Planeswalker brew doesn’t have what it takes to compete but taking a successful deck and tweaking it to beat the metagame you’re expecting is a recipe for success. If you have a good reason for thinking a certain card of combination of cards are good in a popular matchup, don’t be afraid to pull the trigger just because no one else has done it yet.

Next week is GP’s Vegas which is sure to be completely awesome, wish me luck and good luck to everyone else going. I love to discuss magic so please comment with your opinions on any of the stuff I have talked about.