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 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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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!

Make sure to follow Andreas Petersen on his twitch channel and on twitter!

ANT

Martin Nielsen with ANT vs Shardless BUG

ANT is the most robust storm combo deck in Legacy. Sacrificing speed for resilience. It is still very fast and will often be able to find a kill by turns 2 or 3 while turn 1 kills are rare.

While the name draws focus onto the card Ad Nauseam, ANT is perhaps better described as a Past in Flames combo deck.

This list runs two Past in Flames as having the card in your hand on your combo turn is often great as it gives you flexibility on what to tutor for if you also have an Infernal Tutor.

Ad Nauseam Tendrils by Martin Nielsen

Spells (60)
x Infernal Tutor
x Ad Nauseam
x Past in Flames
x Empty the Warrens
x Tendrils of Agony
x Dark Ritual
x Cabal Ritual
x Preordain
x Ponder
x Brainstorm
x Gitaxian Probe
x Cabal Therapy
x Duress
x Lotus Petal
x Lion’s Eye Diamond
x Chrome Mox
x Badlands
x Volcanic Island
x Tropical Island
x Underground Sea
x Island
x Swamp
x Scalding Tarn
x Polluted Delta
Sideboard (15)
x Abrupt Decay
x Xantid Swarm
x Krosan Grip
x Carpet of Flowers
x Tendrils of Agony
x Massacre
x Flusterstorm
x Chain of Vapor
x Sensei’s Divining Top

 

This list also runs Empty the Warrens in the main deck. I have long been a proponent of this setup. Empty the Warrens is faster than Ad Nauseam (costing one mana fewer meaning hands with a Dark Ritual, a Lion’s Eye Diamond and an Infernal Tutor – and a Land) can go off and make at least 8 goblins (make that 10 or 12 if you are able to mix in a Gitaxian Probe or two) where we would not be able to get to Ad Nauseam mana.

In this list though I wanted to also have access to Ad Nauseam. This is questionable I will concede.

Looking at the sideboard you will notice that this list was built back in the miracles era. As such there was a massive dedication toward what was know as the Grinding Station approach – google that and you will find an article by Jonathan Alexander. Extra copies of Tendrils of Agony are excellent against many decks including greedy delver decks that run Gitaxian Probe and Surgical Extractions after board as well as almost any slow blue deck.