Grand Prix Madrid

Casting Primeval Titan in Madrid *2nd*

Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s article, which is a special one for me. As most of you probably know, and the title partially gives away, my team managed to place second at the Team Trios Grand Prix in Madrid. That not only means that we won a whole lot of matches of Magic under the Spanish sun, that also means that I will be going back to the Pro Tour in a format I’m actually interested in and reasonably good at. I can’t wait to go to Minneapolis this summer and play some more high level Modern!

The Legacy Portion

In seat C, which is the Legacy slot, I had the privilege of having Thomas Enevoldsen. Thomas is known for his escapades with Death & Taxes in Legacy and have been toying around with different builds of the deck since his breakout back in 2013. I recently went back and read this excellent article from Caleb Durward where he talks about Grand Prix Strasbourg in 2013, which coincidentally was the same tournament I had my breakthrough. You should definitely check it out if you like history and Legacy combined.

Long story short, Thomas didn’t like the deck in today’s metagame of Kolaghan’s Command  and way more sweepers like Marsh Casualties  and Toxic Deluge  compared to back in the day, so he was looking for an alternative for Madrid. Luckily for him, I had been playing a lot of 4-Color Leovold and pitched him the idea that it was finally time to play with good cards and turn one protection against broken things instead of playing with a handicap (basic Plains). It didn’t take him long to adopt some of my ideas and develop his own through testing on Magic Online. We did some sparring mostly about sideboard plans and the last flex slot in the main deck, but I could see even after just a few leagues, he had already exceeded my abilities with the deck, and I felt super confident going into the tournament with him as the pilot and me to his right with input when needed. Thomas Leovoldsen was born.

Thomas Leovoldsen

The Standard Portion

The Scarab God

For Standard we put our trust in Michael Bonde to choose a good deck to smash the opposition. Michael doesn’t excel in deckbuilding, but he is very versatile in picking up a deck and playing it well after some dedicated testing. He ended up playing Blue/Black Midrange – a deck that has a lot of play to it and actually has many similarities to 4-Color Leovold from Legacy. He had many complex boardstates during the weekend, and each and every time he was able to solve them to give our team the best chance of winning our match. I know nothing about Standard, but I know a few things about Magic in general. I felt confident from round 1 all the way to the finals that Michael would do the right things in-game. Trust like that can’t be understated in team tournaments. My best advice is don’t team with someone you feel the need to supervise too much during matches.

The Modern Portion


Magic Online Championship Series 2015 (2nd)
World Magic Cup Qualifier 2016 (2nd)

Now let’s focus on the tournament through the lens of yours truly. I hadn’t played Modern in a while when Wizards of the Coast dropped the bomb on us – Bloodbraid Elf  and Jace, the Mind Sculptor  was unbanned in Modern. My first thought was to play Jace in a blue Scapeshift deck to ramp it out on turn three and hopefully get a few activations out of it which should be enough to win games. I wanted to play Search for Azcanta and flip it for ramping or card advantage purposes. In practice the deck dealt too much damage to it self, Jace got killed right away and I got out-controlled against decks like Grixis and Blue/White Control. I made the mature decision and discarded the deck and started researching the web for inspiration, and I came across another favorite of mine. TitanShift with Bloodbraid Elf!

Inspirational deck list (5-0)


I liked the Bloodbraids a lot in theory, but I needed to get some games in to verify that it’s a good enough card on average in the deck. I basically inserted the elf in my old list from last summer where I won a PPTQ with TitanShift. Read about that here.

Bloodbraid Elf will most of the time hit a ramp spell and let you develop your lands and help you win the game with Primeval Titan or Scapeshift. The 3/2 haste part of the card is great when you’re trying to deal with planeswalkers (I easily won a game on the draw vs. turn three Karn Liberated this weekend) or pressure opponent’s lifetotal to make Valakut triggers lethal earlier, but just having a blocker can save you the turn you need to top deck a Titan or Scapeshift. It especially excels after sideboard where you’ve cut potentially dead cards like Lightning Bolt and only have good hits. It also supplements the midrange plan with Tireless Tracker, Obstinate Baloth and Thragtusk perfectly in matchups where Blood Moon, Leyline of Sanctity, Negate, Runed Halo and other hate is expected.

In the last article I talked a lot about the card choices, so today I will focus on the reasoning behind choosing this deck for the weekend and provide sideboard guides for the most common matchups.

The above archetypes were not only my expected metagame, but also share the description of “even-good” matchup for TitanShift. Blue/Red Storm and Death’s Shadow, which are bad matchups for my deck, are on a huge downswing, and I wanted to exploit that this weekend. I felt very confident about Jund being the most played deck, and conveniently TitanShift is also great against decks that are good against Jund. I had the pleasure to play against five copies of Jund and five Tron decks this weekend, so I guess you can say my prediction was spot on. The point I’m getting to is that you can’t leverage that much skill at the table with TitanShift, but picking it for just the right weekend is the real skill here. I went 13-3 individually losing to Tron and Hollow One in the swiss and Grixis Shadow in the finals, and here is the 75 I chose for the event.
Top4 Grand Prix Madrid TitanShift Andreas Petersen

Sideboarding

Jund

Out:

In:


Tron

Out:

In:


Burn

Out:

In:


Affinity

Out:

In:


Humans

Out:

In:


Hollow One

Out:

In:


Bogles

Out:

In:


Jace Control

Out:

In:

I’m still high on adrenaline from the weekend and didn’t get nearly enough sleep yet, so I’m sure I’ve forgotten a bunch of stuff that is really important. Don’t hesitate to ask me about the deck or the trip in general. Thank you all for the awesome support before, during and after the tournament. I will try my hardest to make you proud when it’s time to battle at the Pro Tour this August. I love you guys!

Standard is open for business again

A new set and a big round of bannings means we have a brewer’s paradise in Standard right? Well, unfortunately the brewing opportunities mostly involve doing a gatherer search for a creature type and then putting all the best results together along with lands and a little interaction. Other than the tribal cards, Rivals of Ixalan doesn’t seem very powerful so I don’t see what should compete with the preexisting decks that survived the bans. God-Pharaoh’s Gift exists in two different decks and both do more powerful things than anything from Rivals appear to enable.

We also already have multiple control variants in UB Control and UW or Esper Approach, and since Rivals contains no great sweepers, counterspells or card draw, I don’t see why the existing decks wouldn’t remain the top choices for that archetype. There might be some space to brew up a good midrange deck but Grixis appears to have already staked its claim as Temur’s successor.

Luckily, a lack of brewing potential doesn’t mean the format isn’t interesting; even though a lot of the decks are established, we still have to figure out which to play and how to build them. True to my heart, I started with control. I was originally more inclined towards UB because it has The Scarab God and because it operates more at instant speed. Sweepers are great against tribal decks generally but Merfolk is the tribe gathering the most hype and their access to cheap countermagic makes it a risky proposition to base your game plan on resolving Fumigate or Settle the Wreckage. In that case, 1-for-1’ing them beginning from turn 1 with Fatal Push is likely a safer route to victory.

On the other hand, UB has two major issues as I see it. The lack of sweepers might be preferable against Merfolk, but it really hurts against all the other creature decks. Fumigate is just fantastic in the current Standard and even against Merfolk it can save you if your early plays didn’t line up. You can’t count on resolving it every time but it’s not like they always have Spell Pierce or Negate. Second, as has always been the case, UB can’t remove artifacts or enchantments. Tokens is still a deck and turn 2 Hidden Stockpile is close to unbeatable. If the Vampire deck picks up, Oketra’s Monument spells trouble as well and the list goes on.

So I looked to Approach of the Second Sun for help. You get sweepers, Cast Out and a win condition that doesn’t just die to the removal that has been stuck in your opponent’s hand. Yes, you can sometimes jam The Scarab God turn 5 and it wins the game by itself while Approach usually requires you to establish control of the game first. I don’t know the definitive answer to this question but for now I’m leaning towards Approach. I have already had a few games against UB where I was able to remove all of their Scarab Gods and Torrential Gearhulk, and it is especially reasonable to have happen in game 1.

As I was putting together a UW list, I got increasingly concerned about Merfolk. Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca was 20 tickets on MTGO and the deck seemed quite hyped. I didn’t want to rely on just sweepers and I still am in love with The Scarab God so I tried if I could have my cake and eat it too.

Creatures (2)
Torrential Gearhulk

Spells (32)
Fatal Push
Censor
Search for Azcanta
Disallow
Supreme Will
Cast Out
Glimmer of Genius
Settle the Wreckage
Fumigate
Approach of the Second Sun
Lands (26)
Fetid Pools
Irrigated Farmland
Glacial Fortress
Drowned Catacomb
Concealed Courtyard
Aether Hub
Plains
Island

Sideboard (15)
Regal Caracal
The Scarab God
Fragmentize
Baffling End
Duress
Negate
Arguel's Blood Fast
Fatal Push

This didn’t work out. The mana is too stretched and there are far too many tapped lands. You need 14 black sources for Fatal Push turn 1 (and turn 1 is sort of the point of playing push, 18 white for Settle turn 4, and 20 for Disallow turn 3 (this one you don’t have to have turn 3 so a little less could be fine). Aether Hub is the closest we have to a tri-land and it leaves quite a bit to be desired in a deck like this. Without a tri-land would need almost all your lands to produce two colors in order to satisfy these requirements and then the amount of tapped lands kills you.

Not to be discouraged, I cut push and just splashed for the black sideboard cards. I also cut a Cast Out and added 2 Essence Scatter 2 Opt. I could then rework the mana:

Lands (25)
Irrigated Farmland
Glacial Fortress
Fetid Pools
Drowned Catacomb
Aether Hub
Field of Ruin
Swamp
Plains
Island

I’m not sure how much of a colored source you should count Field of Ruin, but I wanted to try out the lighter splash and killing Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin in the mirror would be a nice possibility.

After several more leagues, I realized a big problem: the sweepers weren’t getting it done. Settle was too easy to play around because I’m not applying pressure and there are too many creatures that are resilient to Fumigate, Rekindling Phoenix in particular is seeing a lot of play at the moment. I lost so many games because my sweepers were not able to kill more than one creature.

In that case, UB might just be the better choice but I couldn’t let the sweepers go so I looked for a deck where they might be more effective and remembered Abzan Tokens:

Creatures (4)
Anointer Priest

Spells (34)
Renegade Map
Legion's Landing
Fatal Push
Hidden Stockpile
Treasure Map
Start//Finish
Cast Out
Anointed Procession
Settle the Wreckage
Vraska, Relic Seeker
Lands (22)
Concealed Courtyard
Evolving Wilds
Shefet Dunes
Arch of Orazca
Plains
Swamp
Forest

Sideboard (15)
Profane Procession
Lost Legacy
Duress
Sunscourge Champion
Treasure Map
Ixalan's Binding
Arguel's Blood Fast
Regal Caracal

Usually, this deck has played Fumigate as it’s sweeper but I think the time to switch to Settle is now. The plan is to grind towards an insurmountable board presence so the opponent has to try to kill you. They will rarely have the luxury of being able to play around Settle and it will get rid of whatever creatures they have.

This is where I am at the moment, and I do recommend this deck for now. Try it out and let me know what you think. Would you build it differently? Any sick tech I am missing? Let me know, and thanks for reading.

Beating Modern #4

Welcome back to the fourth and last edition of “Beating Modern“. The decks are becoming more and more fringe, which is why I’m rounding off the series today. It sure has been a pleasure with a project like this, and I will gladly take suggestions for a similar one in the future!


Black/White Eldrazi Taxes

Aether Vial

This deck is trying to borrow the blueprint from Death and Taxes in Legacy, using resource denial and respectable beats to win the game. In a deck with only 4 Aether Vial and 4 Path to Exile as non-creature spells, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is a great hatebear, and Leonin Arbiter lets the deck abuse Ghost Quarter while also disrupting opposing fetch lands and various tutors. With an active Aether Vial on three, Flickerwisp can do a lot of tricks which I will tough on later. Wasteland Stranger synergizes with Tidehollow Sculler, Flickerwisp and Path to Exile and can do nasty things to you if you are creature-based. The double team of Tidehollow Sculler and Thought-Knot Seer combined with Thalia makes sure that piloting a spell-based combo deck against Eldrazi Taxes can be bad news. In the later turns, Eldrazi Taxes wants to abuse Eldrazi Displacer for either recycling all of their enter the battlefield triggers or clearing opposing blockers.

When playing against this deck and your opponent plays his Tidehollow Sculler and takes your best card, it is very important that you don’t think to your self “no worries, I will just get my card back in a few turns when I draw a removal spell” because Wasteland Strangler can return the exiled card to your graveyard for good.

Another key to getting an edge in the matchup is understanding Flickerwisp. You should pay attention to your opponents body language to try and get information. Furthermore, if you plan on pointing a removal spell on your one of your opponent’s creatures with the fear of Flickerwisp lurking, play it on his upkeep to minimize his chances of having it (compared to the attack step), so the Flickerwisp and the targeted creature at least can not attack you that turn. In some scenarios you want your opponent to commit a big attack, and thus you should wait to set up the trap. Consider all of these options when facing Vial on three.

Maybe the most important thing I can tell you is to use your fetch lands early and often. Get them out of the way, so Leonin Arbiter does not disrupt you more than necessary. This can also mean that shocking your self without having a play is often correct, so you have two open mana in case Leonin Arbiter + Ghost Quarter happen.

The deck is super resilient, and there aren’t really any good sideboard cards in particular except various mass removal spells.

Good Sideboard Cards


Ad Nauseam

Ad Nauseam

This is a non-interactive combo deck that tried to win the game with either Angel’s Grace or Phyrexian Unlife combined with Ad Nauseam to draw their whole deck and finish off the opponent with Lightning Storm or Laboratory Maniac. It utilizes Lotus Bloom and Pentad Prism as acceleration and a smattering of cantrips to find its’ combo pieces. Throw in a free counterspell in Pact of Negation, and you have a deck that forces the opponent to have very specific cards at a certain time or just lose the game. Let’s see how we can exploit some of the deck’s weaknesses.

Ad Nauseam once was a very bad choice when Infect was a top dog in Modern because of Angel’s Grace and Phyrexian Unlife‘s inability to combat poison-based damage. Now, their enemy number one is Grixis Death’s Shadow because of their fast clock and big pile of disruption. The nature of the deck dictates that timely discard spells and cheap counter magic are great ways to beat it. However, you also need to establish a relevant clock unless you want the Ad Nauseam player to claw back into the game. This also means that Black/Green Midrange is a great strategy for beating Ad Nauseam thanks to discard spells and Tarmogoyf.

Consistency issues are also a real concern, so expect to win a game here and there where they just don’t find their copy of Ad Nauseam. This problem should improve with Opt available to them as cantrips 9-12.

Most versions will play Leyline of Sanctity in the sideboard, so make sure that all your eggs in the basket are not discard spells, or you could find your self in a lot of trouble before the game even begins.

Speaking of Leyline of Sanctity, because of Laboratory Maniac, that card does little to nothing against Ad Nauseam. Neither does getting infinite life or dropping a Pithing Needle or Phyrexian Revoker naming “Lightning Storm“. Note that the Laboratory Maniac kill is a bit more mana intensive, since they need to filter red mana from Simian Spirit Guide into colored mana for their Pentad Prisms, and then play Laboratory Maniac and Serum Visions to win the game. In this scenario, cards like Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile on the Maniac do nothing because they have drawn their whole deck and will have Pact of Negation available.

Good Sideboard Cards

Dispel

Rule of Law


Green/X Tron

Karn Liberated

The old version of Tron has fallen a bit out of favour lately, but it’s still a relevant deck to prepare for when entering a huge Modern event like Danish Modern Masters. Modern is a beautiful format with a lot of appeal to players who don’t necessarily play Magic every week, because they can pull out their trusty pet deck from the closet and still be competitive. Tron is a perfect example of this and should not be underestimated.

Tron is a simple deck that aims to have one of each Urza land in play to get a mana advantage over its’ opponent and keep playing big threats until the game is over. The industry standard these days are a playset of Karn Liberated and a split of Wurmcoil Engine, World Breaker; Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. The split of threats offers flexibility and covers the most angles for the deck. Karn is your best play from turn three Tron, Wurmcoil Engine provides lifegain and laughs in the face of non-Path to Exile removal, while Ugin will sweep the board and Ulamog will end the game a majority of the time. Instead of focusing on dealing with the threats of the deck, I suggest we attack the manabase.

Some decks have Ghost Quarter or Spreading Seas in their deck already and that adds valuable percentages to your game ones vs. Tron. Note that a good Tron player can play around Tectonic Edge by only sitting on the three Urza lands, and that a Ghost Quarter on the battlefield can “counter” your Crumble to Dust. There is nothing you can do about these things – this is just a friendly reminder of situations that will come up.

Aside from attacking the lands themselves, Tron can be beaten if your deck is resilient to their threats. Take Splinter Twin back in the day as an example. Splinter Twin didn’t care too much about neither Karn Liberated nor Wurmcoil Engine and thus was heavily favoured against Tron. Decks with Path to Exile and a lot of creatures, like Humans, can somewhat ignore the same two, but will lose the game to Ugin and Oblivion Stone when the opponent hits eight mana. The best strategy against Tron is presenting a fast kill, ideally disrupting them in the process. Grixis Death’s Shadow is very good at establishing a clock with Thoughtseize or Stubborn Denial backup, and that should do the trick most of the time. Affinity and Burn also have great Tron matchups because of their speed and tools like creature lands and anti-lifegain cards.

Keep in mind that almost 1/3 of their deck are artifacts with activated abilities, so Stony Silence is a great addition to your anti-Tron arsenal.

Good Sideboard Cards

Stony SilenceFulminator MageCrumble to Dust


That does it for my Beating Modern series unless I come up with three more relevant decks one of the following days. I will make sure that next week’s article will also be relevant for Modern!