Preparing for Grand Prix Lyon

Wow, that was a great Pro Tour to watch. Any concerns about Modern not being able to hold up to the scrutiny of the pro teams were pretty much rendered mute. The top 8 had 7 different archetypes, and the diversity continued throughout the posted decklists. The most popular deck was 5-color Humans but because it’s just a bunch of creatures it is very beatable if you just try a little.

Lantern winning the whole thing seems to have garnered the most talk about banning but I’m not sure it’s warranted. I have very little experience playing against Lantern so I don’t have a good idea of how beatable it actually is. It seems like Burn and Tron have decent matchups but I for one do not want those decks to see more play. Anyway, as long as there are so few people actually capable of piloting Lantern, the problem might be too small to warrant bannings. Then again, it’s a pretty weak argument that it’s only a small number of people ruining things for the rest of us. I’ll stay out of the debate for now and be content whether something is banned or not.

Instead I’ll try to figure out what I should play at Grand Prix Lyon next week. When deciding on a deck in Modern I think you should always choose between decks you have extensive experience with. There are so many different matchups and weird interactions that you will be very hard pressed picking up a new deck the day before a tournament and do well. Of course, if you have a long time to prepare and build up a mastery of a new deck, by all means go for it, but a week which includes working full time is not enough.

That actually brings me to an important announcement if you haven’t heard: I have decided to quit my day job and spend all my time on Magic. For this blog it means that I will be devoting more time to writing and I will try to do more writing while I’m playing. This way I write down my thoughts as they occur so I don’t have to remember a couple of days back when I sit down to write an article. So if you feel like my posts are of low quality (yet are somehow still reading?) you should see an improvement soon. If you don’t, then I hope you will still see an improvement. I will also be trying my hand at streaming and a good friend and I have started working on a Youtube project so keep an eye out for that. I’m very excited for all of this and of course a bit nervous but I hope the excitement will win out and shine through.

Back to Modern, I have 3 options: Storm, UW Control and Mardu Pyromancer. I have played both Storm and UW at Grand Prixs before and I played a lot with Mardu during December and January. Given ample practice time I think I would play Tron since it’s good against Mardu, Lantern (I think) and Humans, all of which I could see being popular in Lyon. Then again, it’s Modern so week to week metagame changes are pretty negligible, another reason why I favor just playing something you know well.

Of the three, I have the least experience with Mardu so there would have to be some big tendencies in the metagame for me to choose it over one of the others. If I knew the metagame would be the same as the Pro Tour I would snap it off but the trifecta of Burn, Tron and Scapeshift will likely be more popular at the Grand Prix so I don’t think I have the guts to bring it.

I had actually thought UW Control to be kind of dead but the printing of Search for Azcanta and maybe more importantly Field of Ruin has given new life to the deck. I definitely enjoy playing it more than Storm but not enough to want to play it unless it is as good or better, so I’ll have to figure out if that’s the case.

Looking over the Pro Tour lists, they are actually quite similar to what I used to play, and I have tried both with and without Ancestral Vision. Last I played it, around Grand Prix Birmingham, I had abandoned Ancestral but when people like Raphael Levy, Lee Shi Tian and Tomoharu Saito include it, I consider the discussion reopened at least.

There were two main reasons why I cut it. First, the most important thing for the deck was to play its fourth land on time to unlock Supreme Verdict and Cryptic Command. Cards like Wall of Omens were more help there. Second, the top dogs were Grixis Shadow and Eldrazi Tron who had Stubborn Denial and Chalice of the Void respectively, which made it too uncertain that Ancestral would resolve.

I set to testing with a non-ancestral list and found myself struggling to get to just 3 wins in a league. I don’t think I played the same deck more than twice during 5 leagues, so it’s not like I just faced a bad matchup all the time. It’s just that UW is a deck that really requires you to be focused almost all the time. The games are often close until well after turn 5 and even in the late game you can lose by spending the wrong counterspell/answer on their threat. Since it was so long since I had played UW I often made these small missteps in the first two leagues and then I got frustrated and made even more in the next. For me at least, if I am going to play this deck I need to be calm and comfortable which I wasn’t. Since I don’t know if I can get there before the Grand Prix I turned back to trusty old Storm.

I started out with a chat with Snapcardster buddy Michael Bonde who had just played it at the Pro Tour to a 6-3-1 record. He still like the deck so I questioned him about his list:

Creatures (6)
Baral, Chief of Compliance
Goblin Electromancer

Spells (37)
Serum Visions
Opt
Sleight of Hand
Pyretic Ritual
Desperate Ritual
Manamorphose
Remand
Unsubstantiate
Gifts Ungiven
Noxious Revival
Past in Flames
Grapeshot
Empty the Warrens
Lands (17)
Spirebluff Canal
Steam Vents
Shivan Reef
Mountain
Island
Snow-covered Island

Sideboard (15)
Pieces of the Puzzle
Empty the Warrens
Wipe Away
Echoing Truth
Gigadrowse
Shattering Spree
Lightning Bolt
Dismember

There are a couple of new things here, compared to my last list. First off is the full amount of one mana cantrips which I don’t have any argument against; you want to churn through your deck so let’s play all the cards that help do it. Then there is one Unsubstantiate instead of the third Remand. I think this is brilliant because while you lose out on a card, being able to bounce something like Meddling Mage or Eidolon of the Great Revel can give you a chance in a lot of games where you otherwise wouldn’t have any. Next, it seems Noxious Revival has claimed another victim. I even gave it a second chance after talking to Michael and I never cast it. Either I was winning without it or I needed it to be a card in my hand and not on top of my library to be able to win. I am sticking to Simian Spirit Guide and I will spend a lot of thought over the next weeks to come up with a proper argument rather than just “one has been great for me, the other hasn’t.”

Finally, the manabase is completely free of fetches. The advantage is that when you scry something to the bottom of your library, you get to keep it there until you play Gifts Ungiven. The downsides are that you are slightly weaker to Blood Moon and I think you take slightly more damage from your lands (calling Frank Karsten to do the math here). I think both downsides are pretty negligible; since playing without fetches, I have faced Blood Moon twice and won even with no Islands in play. The cost is just one mana for playing a Manamorphose before you play a guy. No matter how the actual math shakes out, I’m sure there is a less than one life per game difference. I remember one game in Madrid that I won because my turn 1 Scalding Tarn made my opponent play his turn two a bit differently in case I was playing a deck with Lightning Bolt or Spell Snare, but I think that’s extremely rare and doesn’t move the needle noticeably. I like going fetchless.

The sideboard is where things get really interesting. Michael had gotten it from Caleb Scherer’s blog  and I recommend you read the 5 or so posts he has written about Storm. I played some leagues with his list and followed his sideboard guide. The essence is that when you expect graveyard hate (which is close to always), you cut the Gifts package for Pieces of the Puzzle and look to play a long game where you either play multiple smaller Empty the Warrens or just stock up your hand and kill with Grapeshot plus Remand. I had just been playing Pieces as an extra grindy card and rarely shaved even a single Gifts, but I tried it out nonetheless.

My opinion after 10 leagues or so is that Caleb goes overboard with the Pieces plan, at least in some of the matchups. Against Tron, for example, I don’t think there’s a need to take them in, I would rather just keep my game plan intact, force them to draw hate and when they do, you still have bounce and/or artifact removal to power through it. I like to have some number of Pieces, but I see them more as a way to help dig for a bounce spell. Against all the blue decks, Gifts is often better, even for grinding, because it’s an instant, and you still get card advantage.

The only matchup where I agree with making the full Gifts-Pieces switch is against Shadow decks where can be quite sure that you won’t be able to combo off the normal way, and where even small Empty’s are likely to win the game. Otherwise, the main plan is just so strong that by switching you have already given up considerable percentage points, whether they draw hate cards or not. Of course, I am not 100% on this and I’m not sure how it is possible to have a rational discussion about this since it basically come down to numbers which none of us are able to calculate properly (I would think even Dr. Karsten would be hard pressed). Nevertheless, I am very interested in any points you might have, no matter which side of the argument they favor.

I am not quite sure what list I’ll play but if you swap Noxious Revival for Spirit Guide in Michael’s list above, you’ll be pretty close. If you have a list, I’d love to see it and hear your reasoning. Wish me luck in Lyon, and good luck to you wherever your next tournament might be. If you’d like to see some of the video content I’m going to do, follow me on social media, I’ll post whenever something goes up.

Modern Pro Tour Recap

Hello there and welcome back. Today we have some fresh Modern data from the Pro Tour to look at, so let’s dive in! First of all, let’s have look at the metagame percentages recorded on Wizards‘ homepage.

Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan metagame

The Archetype Breakdown – click to see full graph

 

Yeah, that’s an insane amount of diversity ranging from 1% to just below 10%. Going in, a lot of people were afraid that we would see a top heavy metagame with too many Tron lands and too many one mana 9/9’s, but those people sure got a pleasant surprise. The strength of Modern in a casual FNM and a competitive Grand Prix has always been the diversity, but at the professional level we have a tad more unstable track record until this Pro Tour. I think everyone from the players and spectators to Wizards them selves are beyond content with the outcome. My gut feeling is that Modern on the Pro Tour is here to stay this time.

The players who managed to win half of their matches or more on day one got to play 10 rounds of Modern total. Up next are the decks that managed to win eight or more matches, and there are a few sweet pieces of tech I would like to highlight.

2 Tron
2 Lantern Control
2 Grixis Shadow
Abzan Midrange
Blue/White Control
Bogles
Traverse Shadow
Grixis Control
Storm
Eldrazi Tron
Affinity
Burn
White/Black Eldrazi
Humans
Black/Red Hollow One

8-2 or better decklists

Unsurprisingly, Corey Burkhart sleeved up Grixis Control this event and managed to best eight of his ten opponents. Winning with controlling decks in Modern is no easy task, but he clearly got something right for this weekend. Looking at his decklist, you will notice he plays no less than 25 lands and a full playset of Field of Ruin. Traditionally, three-color control decks have had a horrible Tron matchup and no good way to fix this. Tectonic Edge was too much of a setback for their own gameplan, and no matter how many copies of Fulminator Mage you packed in your sideboard, the bad guys would always win.

Field of Ruin lets you disrupt Tron lands and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle while not setting you back manawise in your mana hungry control deck deck. In a recorded deck tech from the Pro Tour, Corey said that cutting the Serum Visions was a great change because playing it looking for lands felt too clunky in a blazing fast format like Modern. For me, control is suddenly much more interesting because I can now almost freeroll a playable big mana matchup that used to be a huge concern.

Yet another Grixis deck, whose pilot decided that Serum Visions and Opt are too slow, is Ben Friedman with his Grixis Shadow deck. He added a playset of Mishra’s Bauble to make sure he hits his land drops, builds a graveyard for Gurmag Angler and gets a little free information along the way. This version of Death’s Shadow wants blue because of Stubborn Denial, Snapcaster Mage and the blue Dark Ritual (Corey’s reference to the synergy with delve spells) Thought Scour. Red adds Temur Battle Rage to close out combo decks or boardstate decks like Devoted Company and Affinity, but also some flexible sideboard cards in Kolaghan’s Command and Rakdos Charm. I really like this build instead of the traditional Grixis lists and the four color Traverse versions.

Looking at the top 8, we were blessed with seven different decks and a truck load of interesting matchups. When the dust settled, Luis Salvatto was standing tall with the trophy in one hand and his Lantern of Insight in the other. Huge congratulations to him! Here are the eight decks that battled on Sunday:

2 Humans
1 Lantern Control
1 Mardu Midrange
1 Blue/Red Control
1 Black/Red Hollow One
1 Abzan Midrange
1 Traverse Shadow

Top 8 decklists

In my preview before the tournament, I talked about how Izzet Control decks were not controlling enough to win without a combo and how all the combo options were bad. I even said that Izzet equals Blood Moon, but Pascal Vieren wouldn’t listen to that kind of nonsense. He ran the tables with his deadly duo of Young Pyromancer and Thing in the Ice all the way to the semi finals with a combination of Izzet cards we have not seen before.

Blue/Red Control by Pascal Vieren

Creatures (10)
Snapcaster Mage
Young Pyromancer
Thing in the Ice

Spells (28)
Serum Visions
Ancestral Vision
Roast
Opt
Lightning Bolt
Spell Snare
Abrade
Remand
Mana Leak
Electrolyze
Cryptic Command
Logic Knot
Lands (22)
Scalding Tarn
Flooded Strand
Misty Rainforest
Polluted Delta
Steam Vents
Spirebluff Canal
Sulfur Falls
Snow-Covered Island
Snow-Covered Mountain
Island
Field of Ruin

Sideboard (15)
Spell Snare
Abrade
Electrolyze
Anger of the Gods
Dispel
Negate
Ceremonious Rejection
Vendilion Clique
Relic of Progenitus
Disdainful Stroke
Molten Rain
Crumble to Dust

Note that he also incorporated Field of Ruin in his mana base and decided to diversify his win conditions, all of which synergize with his eight cantrips. For card advantage, Pascal hopes to suspend Ancestral Vision on turn one and use his many reactive cards to buy time until the last time counter is removed. Snapcaster Mage and Cryptic Command ensures that he has a superior lategame than most Modern decks, and from there closing out the game should be simple. I like the two copies of Roast to make sure he doesn’t die to the first Gurmag Angler or Tarmogoyf that hits the battlefield.

Bonus

We have the banned and restricted announcement coming up, and I just wanted to add my two cents on the matter. Bloodbraid Elf would be a welcome addition to Jund Midrange that has recently fallen out of favor and would incentivize some Big Zoo brewing and would possibly have players look into the Temur color combination trying to get lucky with a cascade into Ancestral Visions. Just make sure you don’t put too many counterspells in your deck in the case of Temur.

What was your favorite tech, play, moment or deck from the Pro Tour?

The Quest continues

When I last discussed Standard, I had arrived at Abzan Tokens as the best way to leverage sweepers. As I continued grinding at the leagues and failing to escape mediocrity, I realized the problem; sweepers just aren’t good right now. As I alluded to last time, the combination of diverse and resilient threats and sideboard countermagic just makes it too risky to rely on resolving sweepers.

I wouldn’t accept the demise of Control so easily, so I looked for a way to 1-for-1 the opponent with good removal and then either outdraw them or play a big threat that they can’t deal with. UB is the natural place to look here but I was hesitant to be confined in those two colors since you have no way to deal with artifacts or enchantments, and very aggressive decks can be tough since they overload your Fatal Pushes.

This is what I came up with:

Creatures (10)
Whirler Virtuoso
The Scarab God
Torrential Gearhulk

Spells (24)
Fatal Push
Essence Scatter
Search for Azcanta
Abrade
Harnessed Lightning
Supreme Will
Glimmer of Genius
Vraska's Contempt
Lands (26)
Aether Hub
Spirebluff Canal
Fetid Pools
Drowned Catacomb
Dragonskull Summit
Canyon Slough
Island
Swamp

Sideboard (15)
Negate
Duress
Arguel's Blood Fast//Temple of Aclazotz
Disallow
Moment of Craving
Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh
Chandra's Defeat
Crook of Condemnation

One of the big reasons why I like Standard is that even if there are many distinct decks, they pretty much all fall under the umbrella of aggro, midrange or control. Furthermore, all decks in each archetype more or less does the same thing, which means the same sideboard cards are good against all of them. Cheap removal and incidental lifegain is great against both Mono Red and Mardu Vehicles, and Negate is great against both UW Approach and UB Control. Of course I am oversimplifying but the important point remains that you can put rather narrow cards in your sideboard and still have them be useful against many decks. In Modern, for example, the cards that hose Affinity are not much use against Burn.

This makes you more likely to be rewarded for predicting tendencies in the metagame, so if you correctly predict there will be a lot of aggro, you can build your deck to crush all types of aggro quite handily and you will likely face a lot of them in the tournament. You just don’t get metagaming like that in Modern.

All that being said, I think this Grixis deck has a good shot against both aggro, midrange and control. You have removal, The Scarab God and Torrential Gearhulk so midrange is very easy. All the removal alongside the full set of Whirler Virtuoso manages aggro decks quite well. More hardcore control decks are tough and close to unbeatable in game 1. So I added a bunch of Negates and Duress to the board and hoped it would fix things. As is often the case when you just shoot and pray like that, it didn’t. The problem was that Negate and Duress just didn’t create a coherent plan. When all my threats cost 5 or 6 mana they’re just too hard to force through, even with the extra disruption, it simply requires too much mana in one turn.

Luckily there is a cheap threat that fits brilliantly with the rest of the deck; Glint-Sleeve Siphoner. It comes down before they can keep countermagic up and they probably won’t have left very much removal in for it. It then keeps drawing cards and eventually forces them to act lest they just die. And the first one to act in a control mirror midgame usually loses.

I also realized that it would be nice to have a few answers to stuff like Carnage Tyrant so I added two Doomfall as well. This is where my list is now:

Creatures (10)
Whirler Virtuoso
The Scarab God
Torrential Gearhulk

Spells (24)
Fatal Push
Essence Scatter
Search for Azcanta
Abrade
Harnessed Lightning
Disallow
Supreme Will
Glimmer of Genius
Vraska's Contempt
Lands (26)
Aether Hub
Spirebluff Canal
Fetid Pools
Drowned Catacomb
Dragonskull Summit
Canyon Slough
Island
Swamp

Sideboard (15)
Negate
Duress
Disallow
Moment of Craving
Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh
Chandra's Defeat
Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
Doomfall

The deck feels great and I think I would have top 8’ed the MTGO PTQ last Saturday if not for my own mistakes. I will keep sporting this at the PTQ’s but for now it’s time to head back to Modern. The Pro Tour just added a ton of new data and my next Grand Prix is Modern in Lyon in a little over a week so I better get to it. By just skimming over the Pro Tour decklists UW Control could be a good choice, dare I hope that turns out to be true? Stay tuned to find out.

An exercise in RIX Sealed

I took a brief break from Standard to get at least some Sealed practice in before Grand Prix London this weekend. My first pool wasn’t very interesting as BG with Vraska, Relic Seeker and Ravenous Chupacabra was quite the obvious choice. Today I will go over my second pool which was quite a bit trickier. Here is what I opened.

I always start with sorting by rarity to get see what my most powerful cards are. Curve and average card quality certainly matters but if you have a Tetzimoc, Primal Death in your pool and choose to play a RW deck, you are almost certainly making a mistake.

In this case the rarity sort reveals two rare equipments, 3 white cards and a black card. Vampires are my favorite tribe in Ixalan so we’re off to a good start. That is, until we sort by color and find that neither black nor white has that much to offer apart from the rares, which aren’t even that great. Nevertheless I started off looking at a BW deck and this is what I came up with.

This won’t do. I couldn’t find a 23rd card I would consider and there are already plenty of stinkers in the deck. The curve is low but the cards aren’t that aggressive so you’re both unlikely to run the opponent over and have too many low impact cards to expect to win a long game.

Instead let’s look at combinations that just contains either black or white since the Forsaken Sanctuary and Traveler’s Amulet will at least let us splash a rare or two. First up is GW.

We have cut all the bad black cards (and the few good ones) and the worst of the white cards. What we gain is a decent removal spell and some beefier creatures. With both Captain’s Hook and Jadecraft Artisan we should be able to attack into most board positions so we might be able to actually finish opponents off. I think this deck looks fine although I’m not quite sure of all the card choices. Maybe the third artisan should be in, and you could even consider playing New Horizons and maybe Blossom Dryad to include Vraska’s Contempt.

Next is what looks like a pretty classic UW Fliers deck. This archetype has been good at least as long as I have played Magic and this could work as well. The fliers are well equipped to wear hooks and there is both bounce spells and a counterspell, what’s not to like. Even if this isn’t the actual best possible build it looks like a blast to play, it is exactly what I enjoy in a limited deck (aside from bombs of course, bombs are the most fun you can have in limited).

This is just a worse UW deck to me. You get Vraska’s Contempt but your creatures get worse and I don’t see what this deck’s plan is. You have fewer fliers to win with and so it looks more like this deck is trying to grind at which point you’re just asking to get beaten by more powerful decks (which is pretty much all the decks you will be facing). At this point I’m ruling out black; there are just too few playables.

I don’t like the red in this pool but with the two Marauding Looter I figured I should at least give UR a chance. Ultimately I think this also ends up being a worse version of UW. The removal is worse and while Unfriendly Fire can go to the face there a fewer fliers so you don’t actually get more reach. Starting with a 2/2 on turn one can end up dealing a lot of damage but I think it happens to seldomly to make up for the lower card quality.

The UW build was the most appealing to me so I played a few matches with it and quickly learned that I had overvalued Elenda, the Dusk Rose. She joins a long list of powerful rares that lose out because they require too many things to go right. She takes a long time to get going, and if you’re behind, the opponent can just not offer up trades and then you need removal to trigger her. Even if you do get some creatures to die, you had better hope they aren’t playing blue, because then she might just get bounced and all your work will be undone. Add to that the fact that she is pretty easy to kill right away in which case she’s a 4 mana Martyr of Dusk.

I also played two matches with the GW deck and still felt unimpressed, so I decided to let go of white and tried the UR deck. Unfortunately I mulliganed both games and didn’t really get a good sense of how good the deck was.

That concluded my league and my overall impression is that the pool was quite bad. There weren’t any bombs and none of the colors were deep nor especially powerful. I have a feeling that the UR deck might be the best option but I am in no way certain. I would really love to hear your thoughts on this. Did I miss a good color combination? Which colors would you play, and would you build it differently than me (in particular in the case of a green deck)? Let me know and thanks for reading.

Blue Bears in Modern

There’s no in between. You either love or hate Modern and all for the same reason. The format is beyond diverse and depending on taste players either enjoy it or despise it. It seems like every new set that comes out brings something for the Modern table, and I see new decks or new takes on old decks pop up all the time. You also see old fan favorites come and go as the metagame evolves, and it is truly fascinating to witness.

This time around I have been doing some research in the Modern landscape and came up with an interesting new take on an old archetype to share with you.

Prologue

The white-based shell of Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Leonin Arbiter + Ghost Quarter, Aether Vial, Flickerwisp and creatures with enter the battlefield effects is no stranger to Modern fans. We have seen a Mono White version with a painless manabase, we have seen the green splash for utility creatures like Qasali Pridemage and Voice of Resurgence, and we have seen the black version with Tidehollow Sculler and Wasteland Strangler. Enter the blue splash version!

ruckus-mh – 5-8th in Modern Challenge

W/U Hatebears

Creatures (30)
Eldrazi Displacer
Leonin Arbiter
Mausoleum Wanderer
Reflector Mage
Selfless Spirit
Spell Queller
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Thought-Knot Seer

Spells (8)
Path to Exile
Aether Vial
Lands (22)
Adarkar Wastes
Eldrazi Temple
Ghost Quarter
Hallowed Fountain
Horizon Canopy
Island
Plains
Seachrome Coast

Sideboard (15)
Burrenton Forge-Tender
Eidolon of Rhetoric
Engineered Explosives
Grafdigger’s Cage
Kataki, War’s Wage
Mirran Crusader
Rest in Peace
Stony Silence

Because of Aether Vial and the fact that it is a two color deck without heavy mana commitments, the deck can still play Eldrazi Temple and Thought-Knot Seer to add a much needed disruptive beater that doesn’t get swept by cards like Anger of the Gods.

Ruckus-mh added a small spirit subtheme to the deck to get some mileage out of his one-drop of choice – Mausoleum Wanderer. Selfless Spirit will help out against sweepers, a natural predator of a deck like this, while Spell Queller is where things really get interesting. You will counter almost anything and get your evasive damage output going, but its’ ability to counter gamebreaking cards like Oblivion Stone, Scapeshift and Gifts Ungiven is the reason this card is amazing right now.

Reflector Mage will do a solid job in any creature matchup and truly shine against Death’s Shadows, Gurmag Anglers and Tarmogoyfs.

I feel like he is missing out on a lot upside in the sideboard, as he doesn’t take advantage of the blue splash except for the two Engineered Explosives. I would have loved to see a couple of Unified Will and some Ceremonious Rejection to help out against TitanShift, Affinity, Eldrazi Tron, Green Tron and Lantern which combined are a huge chunk of the metagame.

Leisester – 5-8th in Modern Challenge

W/U Hatebears

Creatures (28)
Eldrazi Displacer
Flickerwisp
Leonin Arbiter
Reflector Mage
Restoration Angel
Spell Queller
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

Spells (8)
Path to Exile
Aether Vial
Lands (24)
Adarkar Wastes
Ghost Quarter
Hallowed Fountain
Island
Moorland Haunt
Mystic Gate
Plains
Seachrome Coast

Sideboard (15)
Ceremonious Rejection
Kataki, War’s Wage
Kor Firewalker
Rest in Peace
Settle the Wreckage

I was blown away to see that two copies of a sub 1% deck made it into the top 8 of this huge weekly Magic Online event. Leisester went with Restoration Angel instead of Thought-Knot Seer in the four slot and decided that the one drops available were too weak and cut them completely. He went back to Flickerwisp to save his creatures from removal, exile your opponent’s land for a turn and its’ ability to remove a crucial blocker or attacker from the combat step.

His manabase looks like a mess with the full playset of Mystic Gate, but I like the singleton Moorland Haunt for grindy games. I also like Settle the Wreckage in his sideboard to blowout any opposing creature deck from Affinity, Merfolk, various Collected Company decks to the mirror match. Settle the Wreckage is definitely a card I would advise thinking about when your Hatebears opponent passes the turn with four mana up!

I like the first version better solely because Thought-Knot Seer on turn three is very powerful, so if you add Moorland Haunt to the manabase over Horizon Canopy, I’m suggesting the following sideboard:

Beats Affinity and helps vs. Tron and Lantern.

Helps against Affinity, all Tron variants and Lantern.

Great against big mana decks like TitanShift and for swapping when Path to Exile is bad.

Huge blowout potential in creature mirrors that could come down to racing.

Great against Storm, Dredge and Delirium Shadow variants and will help you with odd pairings like Living End and Goryo’s Vengeance. I would bring in a single copy against Lingering Souls decks like Abzan and Esper.

Depending on your metagame, these slots can be used to improve against Burn, Collected Company, Death’s Shadow variants or Control. I don’t mind adding a Grafdigger’s Cage to double as graveyard hate and Collected Company stopper, and Mirran Crusader seems fine to boost your Shadow matchup while also just being a solid beater if you have dead cards in your deck in a given matchup. Kor Firewalker is only for Burn, but in some metagames it is the right call. Burrenton Forge-Tender is a fine option, but I feel like Selfless Spirit will be enough sweeper protection in most cases.

I really like how this deck has evolved over the years from being just “a creature deck” to adding creatures with powerful and disruptive abilities and actually be competitive. I’m not 100% sure that this version is a strict upgrade to the White-Black Eldrazi Taxes versions, but I really enjoy the Quellers and sideboarded counterspells for interaction against an open field.

What’s your favorite version of Modern Death & Taxes?

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.

Modern’s new wunderkind

I came home from GP Madrid excited to play a lot of Storm online. The deck felt great and I already knew some ways to improve the list as I mentioned last time. The following week was an online PTQ and I was going to Grapeshot my way to the top of it. Then reality slapped me in the face as it is wont to do. I rarely got above 3 wins in the leagues I played and by Saturday morning I wasn’t feeling confident at all. I was in sort of the same spot leading up to Madrid, but then I decided that it was just variance and the deck was still good.

This time I had a harder time convincing myself. Then I happened to look at the league leaderboard and noticed that the leader, Selfeisek, had more than twice as many trophies as number two. That big of a gap couldn’t be just variance and hours played, so I went through the published decklists and found several entries from this guy. Some were recent, some were from as far back as October, but all of them were the same deck and almost identical lists; Mardu Pyromancer.

Mardu Pyromancer

Creatures (10)
Monastery Swiftspear
Young Pyromancer
Bedlam Reveler

Spells (31)
Lightning Bolt
Burst Lightning
Forked Bolt
Inquisition of Kozilek
Thoughtseize
Faithless Looting
Lightning Helix
Dreadbore
Terminate
Lingering Souls
Kolaghan's Command
Blood Moon
Lands (19)
Bloodstained Mire
Wooded Foothills
Marsh Flats
Sacred Foundry
Blood Crypt
Mountain
Swamp
Blackcleave Cliffs

Sideboard (15)
Blood Moon
Kambal, Consul of Allocation
Dragon's Claw
Wear//Tear
Leyline of the Void
Fatal Push
Shattering Spree
Pithing Needle

I tried it out and immediately went 5-0. I guess this would be my deck for the PTQ then. My confidence and hopes for the tournament were back up and they went up further when I beat THE sandydogmtg in round one. Then I faced burn twice more, got killed and was brought back down to earth. I still really liked the deck and decided to keep working on it. The matchups are roughly as follows:

Creature decks (devoted druid decks, humans, affinity etc.): These are great as you might have assumed from the roughly one million removal spells we play.

Spell combo (Ad Nauseam, Storm): Also great as you have lots of discard and can combine it with a reasonable clock.

Burn: Pretty bad. You have few ways to gain life or negate their spells and it’s often hard to not take damage from your lands. Games are usually close, though.

Death’s Shadow: Very close. Lingering Souls is obviously great but you have very few ways to kill their guys.

Eldrazi Tron: Bad. They go over the top eventually but your aggressive draws have a decent chance of getting there.

Control: Good. You have value creatures and discard. You do have to keep pressure on them, which not all your draws are capable of.

Tron: Horrible. You need discard and Blood Moon and a fast clock and the mana to play all of them.

Boggles: I was about to call this unwinnable but then I beat a guy who play a total of one aura in two of the three games. If you value your time more than your record, just concede the match.

 

The first thing I changed was a Sacred Foundry to a Godless Shrine. I sometimes found myself wanting both black and white from one fetch and the second foundry is unnecessary. Next, I had a chat with Peter Ward after we played the mirror and he suggested changing Lightning Helix to Collective Brutality. Helix might be great against Burn but it often forces you to fetch and shock to cast it which means it effectively only gains you one life. Brutality fits perfectly in the deck and I am actually surprised that Selfeisek isn’t playing it. Both the discard and -2/-2 modes fit with the rest of your deck and you have cards that you can discard either for profit or minimal cost. These are the only things I feel made the deck straight up better and I don’t see anything I would want to change regardless of the metagame.

So the time came to try and fix the bad matchups. I got really tired of losing to Tron and Burn. Burn was easily fixed by having the full 4 Dragon’s Claw in the board and now I actually look forward to facing people with so much disregard for interactive games of magic that they would sleeve up Lava Spike and friends. Unfortunately, some people have even more disregard for the intricacies of ‘good’ games of magic and decide to play tron lands and Karn Liberated. Even more unfortunately, I haven’t figured out how to punish them for this disregard. I realized that Blood Moon is just not enough, especially against Eldrazi Tron, so I tried Fulminator Mage. Blood Moon wasn’t cutting it against Eldrazi Tron because it means you spend turn 3 not doing anything so making their Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher a turn or two later to the party isn’t enough. It’s also worth noting that even though we are playing red, Blood Moon can still be quite a nuisance.

The Fulminators didn’t make enough of an impact though. I figured that you could also get them back with Kolaghan’s Command but even the ‘ideal’ case of turn 3 mage, turn 4 get it back, turn 5 replay it isn’t necessarily going to win the game against either tron variant, and you spend almost all your mana for 3 turns on it. If the best case scenario for a plan doesn’t destroy a plan as linear as Tron, we should be able to do better. So I took Brian Demar’s idea of Molten Rain and Surgical Extraction. It doesn’t hurt you mana like Blood Moon or take up too much mana like Fulminator, and if you kill a tron piece turn 3 and the extract it, regular Tron will have a very rough time. Eldrazi Tron will still be able to play a game most likely but here it matters that you deal 2 damage and trigger prowess or make an extra 1/1 token. I’m not sure it’s the best way to deal with the big mana decks and I’m sure it’s not enough to turn it into a positive matchup, but it’s the best I’ve got for now.

After these considerations my list currently looks like this:

Mardu Pyromancer by Anders Gotfredsen

Creatures (10)
Monastery Swiftspear
Young Pyromancer
Bedlam Reveler

Spells (31)
Lightning Bolt
Burst Lightning
Forked Bolt
Fatal Push
Inquisition of Kozilek
Thoughtseize
Faithless Looting
Collective Brutality
Dreadbore
Terminate
Lingering Souls
Kolaghan's Command
Lands (19)
Bloodstained Mire
Wooded Foothills
Marsh Flats
Sacred Foundry
Blood Crypt
Godless Shrine
Mountain
Swamp
Blackcleave Cliffs

Sideboard (15)
Molten Rain
Dragon's Claw
Wear//Tear
Leyline of the Void
Fatal Push
Surgical Extraction

Keep in mind that this list, the sideboard in particular, is quite skewed towards Burn and Tron since I seem to face them in every single league I join. For a bigger tournament like a Grand Prix, I probably wouldn’t play 3 claws and 4 molten rains.

Since a lot of the deck is discard and burn, I don’t think it’s the hardest deck to play so I don’t have that much profound insight, but here are a few things I’ve learned so far:

 

  • Obviously Lingering Souls is a good discard to Faithless Looting but so are excess lands. This means that you usually want to keep one land in hand in case you draw looting. Keeping more than one can bite you if you draw a Bedlam Reveler though.

 

  • If you have more than one reveler in hand, all but one are ‘free’ discards to looting. Against some decks like BGx midrange, you can keep two to protect against Thoughtseize because reveler is your best card against them. Kolaghan’s Command can count as revelers too in this regard; if you have one of each, you can discard the reveler and get it back later with the command. If you are in a hurry to get reveler into play, you can discard the command instead.

 

  • It is tricky to decide what to play turn 1. I tend to order it Monastery Swiftspear > discard spell > looting on the play. On the draw, if they played a one drop, killing that can easily be top priority, and if they don’t but you are low on removal for an important two drop, discard can jump swiftspear as well.

 

  • Your land sequencing and fetching also requires some thought. You only need white for Lingering Souls so black and red are obviously more important. If you have neither Swamp nor Blackcleave Cliffs, you will often want to fetch Blood Crypt. At some point you then want to get one of the white shocks. If your life total is under pressure and you have ways to discard souls if you draw it, you can get away with fetching a mountain instead of having to shock Sacred Foundry.

 

I encourage you to try out this deck, it seems great for the format and it has a lot of play to it. Also, casting Bedlam Reveler empty handed is just a great feeling. Enjoy, and thanks for reading.

Top 8 at GP Madrid

A few weeks ago I attended Grand Prix Madrid with my awesome and frequent travel buddies Oscar Christensen and Christoforos Lampadarios. It was Team Modern so the first task was to find a good lineup of decks. We agreed early on that the optimal strategy was for each of us to play a deck that person had a lot of experience with, and to value experience over metagame considerations. This presented a problem immediately as Oscar was on Abzan Company (and top 8’ed a GP with it) while Chris was on Abzan Midrange. Obviously these are not compatible for a team Grand Prix so something had to give.

At first my thought process was that Oscar is the better player (no shade on Chris, we just have to admit that Oscar is pretty damn good) so he should play something else and let Chris play what he knew. But as we got closer to the tournament, Oscar became more and more convinced that it was a mistake to not play the Company deck; it was too good to leave out, especially with an experienced pilot. He managed to convince me but I decided to stay out of it and let the two of them settle on a solution since it was their decks.

Whoever didn’t play Abzan would probably play Eldrazi Tron, so Oscar got Chris to play some games with Eldrazi Tron and he reported back after a few days that the deck was insane and he wouldn’t mind playing it. I had been set on Storm for a long time and since it didn’t have any overlap with the other decks, there was never any reason to deviate.

With our Company, Eldrazi, Storm lineup set, I really liked our chances. There are very varied opinions on Eldrazi Tron and I have heard pros call it anything from unplayable to insanely good, but the fact is that it has some unbeatable nut draws and a lot of late game power, so there is at least potential. To be honest, I didn’t really influence our choice that much. I just said I would play Storm and let the other two decide what to play, so I don’t have an informed opinion on their decks. They both really liked Tron, though and Chris ended up going 12-2 at the Grand Prix for what it’s worth, small sample size and all.

This brings me to the thing that disappointed me most about this Grand Prix; we didn’t actually prepare as a team that much. I think it’s pretty common in a format like Modern since you have all these linear decks that probably only has one expert on your team, so everyone just figures out their own list. The only teamwork is figuring out what decks you’re playing and making sure you have no overlap. After that, I can’t imagine a Lantern player needing much input from his team.

The only exceptions I’ve seen is from Joel Larsson’s latest article on ChannelFireball where his team had to figure out their manabases together since they had overlap in colors and the fetches and shocks they wanted. And of course the great moment we had in the airport Friday night when Oscar and Chris where playing some games and someone noticed that they both had Walking Ballista in their deck… At least it was better than another Danish team who didn’t realize the same mistake until during the actual tournament. Their Company player had to continue with a basic land instead of ballista. We at least got to play Rhonas the Indomitable which makes little to no difference.

Anyways, we arrived in Madrid late Friday and I set about figuring out what list to play. I had tested on MTGO for about two weeks but had mostly focused on game play since I hadn’t played the Gifts Ungiven version of the deck before. As such, I hadn’t tried out all the potential configurations and sideboard cards so it was all theorycrafting. This is where I would really have liked to discuss it with two teammates with similar amounts of experience with the deck. Again, it’s not their fault, it’s just a natural consequence of the Team Modern format. If you haven’t played Storm (or UWx Control against Storm), how would you have an informed opinion on whether to play Gigadrowse or Dispel for that matchup? How would you know whether to play Empty the Warrens main or not, or Blood Moon in the board or not? Despite my displeasure with the process, I think I arrived at a good list:

Storm

Creatures (7)
Baral, Chief of Compliance
Goblin Electromancer

Spells (35)
Grapeshot
Empty the Warrens
Apostle's Blessing
Remand
Past in Flames
Desperate Ritual
Pyretic Ritual
Manamorphose
Gifts Ungiven
Serum Visions
Opt
Sleight of Hand
Lands (18)
Scalding Tarn
Flooded Strand
Polluted Delta
Steam Vents
Island
Mountain
Spirebluff Canal

Sideboard (15)
Empty the Warrens
Wipe Away
Gigadrowse
Blood Moon
Abrade
Lightning Bolt
Pieces of the Puzzle
Shatterstorm
Engineered Explosives

There is a surprising amount of variation in the Storm lists so I think it’s useful to go over why I made the choices I did. Let’s start with the main deck. I have seen anywhere from 2 to 4 electromancers and I went with 3 after having played 2 during testing. I can’t tell you for sure which is correct but I can tell you that I have rarely lacked one for going off (this is factoring in opponent’s removal), and I boarded one out against decks without removal. I also played one Apostle’s Blessing instead of the third Remand. This counts as an extra guy if you have already drawn one and it means you can play your guy on turn 2 and still protect it. I think it is a mistake, however Remand is just too good. It is obviously great with Baral, but as Oscar pointed out (and I hadn’t thought about for some weird reason) you can Remand your own Grapeshot to essentially double your storm count. I remember playing up to 4 Grapeshot before Baral and Gifts were a thing because you could often kill easier if you drew two. Remand does that and so much more and I’m beginning to agree with the people who play the full 4.

Next is my omission of Noxious Revival. I am pretty convinced that this card is bad. There are some obscure scenarios where you need it to put a card on top to be able to go off or you can counter something like Surgical Extraction but in all the common scenarios, it’s just a useless card and as soon as your hand size is pressured by discard or counterspells it absolutely sucks. Finally is the main deck Empty the Warrens. It is great against stuff like Grixis Shadow because you can go off early and make 8 goblins or something and they often can’t beat it. Also some crazy people play stuff like Leyline of Sanctity or Witchbane Orb in their main decks.

Lastly, Martin Müller played a Simian Spirit Guide, which I agree with and recommend going forward. The main point is that if you draw Past in Flames, you only need 5 mana to go off with Gifts (and a guy in play) instead of 6 because you can Gifts for 4 spells that make mana. Even if they give you Manamorphose and spirit guide, you can go up to 4 mana, cast Past in Flames and have one mana left to cast everything again. The crucial thing in favor of the ape is that unlike Noxious Revival, it doesn’t suck outside of this corner case scenario, it just makes an extra mana. I have even won several games where I had to kill turn 2 because I could play a guy, exile ape and the go off.

Then there is the sideboard, which I was really pleased with. My friend Magnus Christensen was kind enough to borrow me a bunch of cards and also suggested Abrade as both [/mtg_card]Lightning Bolt[/mtg_card] and artifact removal. It is great and effectively freed up two sideboard slots. Sometimes you want to bolt something turn 1 but I found that often I could spend two mana and work around it. Usually you kill something end of their turn and then untap and kill them. As artifact removal you often need it against decks where your guy lives and then it only costs 1 anyway.

The Shatterstorm should have been a Shattering Spree no doubt. One of the Wipe Away should have been Echoing Truth. I was very pleased when by Grishoalbrand opponent brought back a Griselbrand and asked to go to combat before drawing cards. Since that gave me priority I could bounce it and he couldn’t draw any cards in response. Being able to bounce Relic of Progenitus without them cracking it is also quite valuable. Still, being able to bounce two [/mtg_card]Rest in Peace[/mtg_card] or leylines with one card can be just as important so a 1-1 split makes sense to me.

Blood Moon is great in this deck and has won me so many games. It’s even better here than in other decks since you can play it turn 2. Shadow decks, all the new Search for Azcanta control decks and of course the big mana decks are all vulnerable to it. Pieces of the Puzzle and empty are pretty standard by now and I like the role they play. I was actually going to play a third pieces but I couldn’t immediately find one so I took the opportunity to throw in the miser’s Engineered Explosives. I like it a lot in Modern as there are a lot of troublesome permanents with converted mana cost 2 and once you’re lucky enough to draw it in a deciding game against Boggles, you’ll never want to get rid of it. Seriously, I don’t know if it’s correct to play and aside from the obvious cases I was always on the fence about bringing it in or not so I can’t recommend it wholeheartedly.

Day 1 of the Grand Prix was pretty unexciting for me. I only finished 5 matches before my teammates had decided the outcome, losing to a Company player who had turn 3 kill all 3 games, including turn 0 white leyline in game 3, and to Luis Salvatto’s Elves where I couldn’t overcome his Rest in Peace and Eidolon of Rhetoric in game 3. That’s what you sign up for with a deck like this; you can often beat a hate piece because it has made their draw slow enough to give you time to bounce it but if they still kill quickly or have multiple hate pieces, things get rough. There wasn’t anything super exciting happening in my games, even all my Gifts piles were pretty normal. What I want most with this deck is to win games because I play Gifts and my opponent gives me the wrong cards, but it didn’t happen all weekend.

Even on day 2 nothing special happened in my games, I think the highlight was the aforementioned bouncing of Griselbrand. On top of this, I was in seat C and was usually the last one to finish so I didn’t see that much of my teammate’s play either. It got a bit better on day 2 and I’m happy I got to sit next to Chris for the deciding game of the last round. I looked at the standings before the round and figured that if we won, we would get 8th and if we lost, we would get something like 21st, so it was a game for several hundred dollars and 2 pro points each.

The matchup was Chris’ Eldrazis against Dredge and he was on the play game 3 (he should have lost game 1 but the opponent attacked into his Wurmcoil Engine when he shouldn’t have, and that allowed him to race). His opener was a one lander with Ghost Quarter, Relic of Progenitus, Grafdigger’s Cage, 2 Matter Reshaper, a Walking Ballista and a Chalice of the Void. Against a deck as linear as Dredge, I think it’s a good hand and none of us disagreed. Several turns in, Chris had only drawn an Eldrazi Temple for land but luckily the opponent couldn’t do anything about the cage in play. Chris had to decide whether to play out the Matter Reshapers or play a second relic (the first had been popped to find land). Both Oscar and I were leaning towards playing more hate pieces but Chris was very keen on getting some pressure applied. It was his game, so we let him decide, but it did put a knot in my stomach. What if the opponent drew an Ancient Grudge?

Chris played reshapers and ballista the next turns and that made the second ballista for 1 exactly lethal through the opponent’s hardcast Narcomoeba and Prized Amalgam blockers. I’m not sure if he would have lost by playing relic instead of the first reshaper, but I also don’t care. Chris took a line that Oscar and I were doubtful of, followed through with it, and won with it; beautiful Magic. And it got us 700$ and 3 pro points each as we did indeed get 8th, putting Oscar only 5 points away from Silver(!) and me close to reclaiming Bronze (not ‘!’).

We have already agreed to team up for the next Grand Prix Madrid which is Team Trios, meaning one will play Standard, one Modern and one Legacy. As I said earlier, I was a bit disappointed by the strategic aspect of Team Modern and I can only imagine it being worse in Trios since you’re now playing completely different formats. Nevertheless, I look forward to it because, leaving aside the strategy, I had such a blast with these two guys and being able to share your wins and losses is a much, much richer emotional experience than what you get in an individual tournament, and it has really strengthened our friendship. If you haven’t played a team event yet, find two friends and try it out! Let me know what you think about both the Storm deck and team tournaments in general.

Harambe is evolving Modern

Editorial Note: This is the third guest article on Snapcardster. We’re always looking for innovative and interesting techs and people from the magic community. If you want to contribute, feel free to email us at blog@snapcardster.com

Hello all – in case you don’t know me (and why should you), my name is Hans Christian Ljungqvist – Beast_with_2_backs on Magic Online, and I previously popularized the budget Mono-Green Stompy deck piloting it to a top 8 at the 2014 Bazaar of Moxen tournament. If you are familiar with that deck you will probably notice some similarities in the creature package of my newest creation.

I’ve recently had a lot of success with a RUG version of the traditional budget U/G Evolve deck – managing a couple of competitive League 5-0’s. I wanted to share this deck with you all since WotC recently published a decklist of mine.

I’ve been working on and off on an U/G Evolve list for the last year or so, but it was only after the addition of red to the deck that my win rate went above 50% consistently. Below is my latest list – it is still in the early stages of tuning, so the numbers may appear a bit rough. I’ve chosen to name the deck “Harambe“, as it really is, at it’s core, a monkey deck. Basically what we’re trying to do is turn a random assortment of 10 cent commons and uncommons into powerful apes. And as you all know, the most noble and best known ape in recent times has to be Harambe. Also, the Zoo name was already taken.


Harambe Tempo by Hans Christian Ljungqvist

Creatures (23)
Young Wolf
Experiment One
Narnam Renegade
Cloudfin Raptor
Strangleroot Geist
Avatar of the Resolute

Spells (18)
Pongify
Rapid Hybridization
Lightning Bolt
Spell Pierce
Vapor Snag
Chart a Course
Lands (19)
Wooded Foothills
Windswept Heath
Misty Rainforest
Botanical Sanctum
Breeding Pool
Stomping Ground
Forest
Dryad Arbor

Sideboard (15)
Ceremonious Rejection
Ancient Grudge
Life Goes On
Dispel
Unified Will
Abrade
Magma Spray

3 reasons why you should play Harambe:

It’s fast! It’s cheap! And it’s a LOT of fun to play – blowing your opponent out with a random collection of draft unplayables appeals to a certain kind of people (not the Lantern kind of people – those are bad people). If you are one of those people – keep reading!

The difference between my list and the more general budget Evolve lists is that I am not trying to build an all-in Evolve deck. This is not the second coming of Hardened Scales or Winding Constrictor. Rather it is my attempt at building a tempo/aggro deck in Modern and in my opinion the Evolve/Undying creatures serve that role better than Delver of Secrets. Given that there are no free permission spells like Daze or Force of Will in Modern, playing protect the queen is often a losing proposition, and even a dedicated deck like Grixis Shadow has trouble protecting it’s threats. Harambe has a multitude of threats and Pongify/Hybridization serve as pseudo-threats.

First off – as anyone who has played with the Undying/Evolve creatures are aware, the combination of an Evolve creature + Pongify effect + Young Wolf = 8 power on the board on turn 2. That is one of the main draws to playing the deck – a lot of decks simply can’t keep up with that kind of opener. If you are unfamiliar with the math, I suggest you check out the Evolve primer part about stacking your triggers from Undying + Pongify. In short, you can stack the triggers so that the Evolve trigger from the token goes on the stack first and then the evolve trigger from undying goes on top allowing both to resolve.

The approach to playing the deck is “get ahead – stay ahead”. This approach requires you to be able to get on the board early and interact at relevant levels with your opponent at a mana discount. The playstyle resembles a mix between Zoo and Legacy R/U/G Delver. While it is possible to play Harambe like an aggro deck, I strongly discourage you from doing so – instead try to establish a dominant board presence and force your opponent to respond to it rather than just piling on. Knowing when to smash your own creatures with a Pongify effect and when to smash the opponent’s creatures is the most complex part of playing the deck.
So far so good – now off to the individual card-choices:


These cards all serve as the core Evolve package and I strongly suggest you start off with 4 of each when building the deck. While 8 Pongify effects seem like a lot, experience tells me that you usually won’t be sad to draw one off the top.


These two cards serve as the filler-threats of the deck while still synergizing with the main theme of +1/+1 counters. Narnam Renegade is by itself a decent threat and in my opinion the only viable 4th 1-drop available to the deck. Also with the conspicuous absence of Kird Ape, Narnam Renegade has to play the role of honorary ape. In this deck, Avatar of the Resolute is a powerhouse for only 2 green mana and will frequently enter the battlefield as a 5/4 or bigger, easily trumping what other fair decks have access to for 2 mana. The Avatar’s synergy with the rest of the deck is one of the main reasons to not play Tarmogoyf in the 2-drop slot. The Trample is also quite relevant as Pongify effects allow for instant speed removal of blockers on the Avatar.


These cards serve as your relevant game 1 interaction and are chosen for their flexibility – the sideboard includes more specific answers for different matchups. Vapor Snag, while seemingly a bit underpowered, works well in the situations where you have to smash an opposing creature – bouncing the token allows for a free attack. While spending 2 cards to remove 1 card is not optimal, being a tempo deck with a very fast clock, we can sometimes allow ourselves a 2-for-1 and still maintain a superior board presence. Lightning Bolt also serves the dual role of killing roadblocks and allowing the deck to have a bit of reach to close games out.

This recent addition from Ixalan serves as the most mana-efficient refueling card available in the R/U/G colors. While traditional cantrips aren’t effective enough in this type of deck, Chart a Course‘s rate of 2 cards for 2 mana is a good rate for a tempo deck.


The manabase is currently built to support 3 things.

First of, every single mana source provides green mana. This is a necessity, as 12 of our 1-drops cost green mana. Only 4 of the lands do not produce blue mana, which means that we will almost always have access to Cloudfin Raptor turn 1 if we want it.
Secondly, the deck has 10 fetches – currently tied with Burn for the second highest number of fetches in a Modern deck (Death’s Shadow decks tops that list with 12!). This allows us the luxury of only playing 2 Stomping Ground and means we usually always have a way of triggering Revolt on Narnam Renegade.

The third point is the Dryad Arbor. While traditionally Dryad Arbor serves as Liliana of the Veil protection for creature combo decks like Infect and Bogles, the Dryad Arbor in Harambe serves as a low-cost way to get the engine rolling. It serves as free fodder for Pongify/Hybridization and is able to trigger Cloudfin Raptor on it’s own. While the deck only plays 19 lands, the lack of cantrips means that you will occasionally flood out a bit. Having access to an extra attacker or a surprise blocker is very valuable.

As for the sideboard cards, the deck is generally quite flexible, so you have a lot of options to choose from. While many of the cards that I have included are meant for fairly good matchups, my approach to sideboarding is often to make decent/even matchups even better postboard rather than try to fix some of the abysmal matchups (Bogles is virtually unwinnable). The only card I would strongly advise against tinkering with is Ancient Grudge, as it is the pillar of postboard strategies against the artifact based tier 1 decks.

Some of you may notice that I include no graveyard hate in the sideboard. This is mostly since the relevant cards either hurt us too much (Grafdigger’s Cage) or just don’t do enough in Modern (Surgical Extraction). Apart from that, the graveyard based decks are usually fine matchups – Dredge for instance is easily on of the best matchups, since it turns out that dead creatures block very poorly.


The case against 3-drops

I’m going to spend a few lines explaining why the deck doesn’t play any 3-drops despite a prevalence of powerful cards available in the R/U/G colors. The most obvious choices would probably be Kitchen Finks and Nissa, Voice of Zendikar in the sideboard for the grindier matchups and honorary 3-drops like Snapcaster Mage and Hooting Mandrills in the maindeck.

The reasons for not playing the more mana-intensive cards are two-fold. First of all, my core philosophy for the deck is that it should be able to operate off of 2 lands, similar to the Burn deck’s ability to function on only 2 lands. Having only 19 lands with no filtering means that you will often have games where you never see the third land or choose to prioritize a Dryad Arbor over a third shock. Second of all, the deck is a tempo deck that usually doesn’t tap out past turn 2 or 3.

Tapping out for a 3-drop is very dangerous in Modern, as a lot of decks will be able to punish you for it by either winning on the spot or by deploying their more impactful cards. That being said, both Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Kitchen Finks are very decent choices for the sideboard, I just firmly believe that cheaper, more targeted cards, can serve the same role. Disclaimer: If your meta includes a lot of B/G/X and Eldrazi Tron it is probably correct to include some number of Dismembers in the maindeck to deal with their threats.

Off to the matchups – I’ve chosen to go through the matchups you’re most likely to run into at your local FNM.


Affinity

This one can be a bit rough – Affinity has a fast clock and a number of hard-to-deal-with threats. The games are very play/draw dependent, but the key to winning is to continuously apply pressure while trying to deal with their haymakers. Prioritize getting Steel Overseer off the table, as he can really ruin your day. Arcbound Ravager is not the end of the world, as keeping one mana open means your opponent has to respect your ability to interact with a Ravager target. This matchup drastically improves postboard.


Grixis Shadow

Quite positive matchup – we are very fast, even for Modern standards. The Grixis player will have a very hard time punching through, as Harambe blocks exceptionally well due to the Undying creatures and Narnam Renegade. Don’t be afraid to smash a Shadow that has grown too large. Do make sure to finish the game quickly however, as their superior card quality will take over once they get rid of all the air in the deck.


Eldrazi Tron

One of the hardest matchups for Harambe – the game revolves around you being able to handle a Chalice of the Void for one. This is almost impossible to do game 1 and is one of the main reasons for including Ancient Grudge in the board. Apart from that, the deck is able to stall the ground quite effectively with big bodies and annoying card like Matter Reshaper.


Jeskai Control

Very positive matchup – they rely on single target removal, which Pongify effects severely punish. The only card you need to worry about is Anger of the Gods. Otherwise it’s smooth sailing.


Storm

Quite positive matchup – the combination of a fast clock and relevant disruption is just what the doctor ordered against the pure combo mages. Prioritize keeping removal up rather than counterspells.


Humans

Even matchup – we are faster, but they have a number of incredibly annoying cards like the two Thalias. Don’t get caught off guard by a Reflector Mage – keep a Pongify effect up if you can!


Burn

Positive matchup – we goldfish as fast as burn and are quickly able to outmatch their groundbeaters. The only drawback is our manabase, which means you have to fetch carefully in order to not hurt yourself. Postboard a resolved Life Goes On means game over for Burn.


G/X Tron

Even to positive matchup – Tron games feel quite lopsided. We either win very fast leaving them with no relevant way to interact or they manage to land a haymaker in time to stem the bleeding. Wurmcoil, Ugin and Oblivion Stone are the real issues here, whereas Karn and Ulamog are usually manageable. Counterspells work wonders postboard.


Titanshift

Negative matchup – Our interaction lines up poorly against Titanshift meaning we are forced to race and overextend. The presence of Anger of the Gods makes life hard for the monkeys. Try to keep a hand that goldfishes turn 4.


Counters Company

Even matchup – our interaction is very relevant, but the deck wouldn’t be a contender if it wasn’t able to grind through a few lightning bolts. Kitchen Finks is also a very annoying card. That being said, the deck has a lot of air and Harambe will punch through eventually, given enough time.


U/W Control

Positive matchup – they are by far the slowest of the controlling decks and their interaction is quite expensive like Detention Sphere and Supreme Verdict. Don’t overextend into a Supreme Verdict unless you’re doing it with Undying creatures, but make sure to still keep enough power on the board to be able to pressure their planeswalkers.


Lantern Control

Negative matchup – our inability to remove Ensnaring Bridge game 1 means the preboarded games are very lopsided. Postboard we have a lot of interaction but will often have to win two sideboarded games.


B/G/X midrange

Negative to even matchup – Jund and Abzan have a number of annoying cards. While Liliana of the Veil does very little against Harambe (and may even be a liability), Tarmogoyf and Scavenging Ooze present real problems. The Scavenging Ooze needs to die on sight as it invalidates a large part of our gameplan. As for the Goyf, the stage of the game decides how the old Lhurgoyf should be handled. Experience tells me that it is usually correct to smash him and move on, taking the 2-for-1 in stride.

Hope you enjoyed the article. Take the deck for a spin at your next FNM – you might like it 😉

Until then,

Beast_with_2_backs

A fanboy goes to the Pro Tour Part 1

What a trip I’ve had. I went to the US not only to compete in my first ever Pro Tour, but also to play 3 Grand Prix and hang out with two of my best friends. That sounds great but it turned out to be so much more. I will be name dropping a lot of professional players today, partly because I made friends and hung out with some of them so they are a part of the journey, but also because being a Magic pro is one of my dreams.

So meeting all these people who have the life that I hope to have was awesome and I don’t want to kid me or you by saying that I just met some normal people like myself. Of course they are still people but I don’t think there is anything wrong with having idols, and it was a big part of my trip. There won’t be much strategic magic content, as I wanted to try a different kind of article. I hope you enjoy my story!

Let’s start at the beginning with Oscar Christensen, Christoffer Larsen (who is becoming one of these awe-inspiring pros) and I arriving in Phoenix Thursday evening before the Limited GP. Chris was staying with Team Genesis/Revelation so me and Oscar went to our Travelodge. It is one of many cheap American hotel chains and if you haven’t had the displeasure, don’t worry. Luckily we would not be spending much time there, but I managed to get dropped from one draft because of their “high speed wi-fi”.

I had brought a couple of boxes of Ixalan so I spent Friday trying to get some team drafts going. Oscar introduced me to Luis Salvatto and so I got to team draft with him, Thiago Saporito, Marcos Freitas, Sebastian Pozzo, Dan Ward, Vitor Grassato and Simon Nielsen over two drafts. I did manage to embarrass myself on my way to 0-3 in the first one by Simon killing my Deathless Ancient, saying out loud that I could just get it back, after which I just forgot to take it back and losing the game and match because of it. Oh well, at least Dan said he would let me know if they went to play basketball in Albuquerque. I have played basketball for many years and had heard of these high pro point games so this was a quite high priority goal for the trip already in the bag.

The GP itself went poorly as my RG dino deck splashing Gishath, Sun’s Avatar didn’t manage to get to 6 wins. I did manage to play and attack with Gishath, put Thundering Spineback, Snapping Sailback and Regisaur Alpha into play, draw the second Spineback next turn to attack for 38.

For the Sunday PTQ I played a Temur Black deck with 2 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship and no Glorybringer, with two River’s Rebuke in the sideboard. This led to an awkward situation since someone from team Team Genesis/Revelation saw me play and concluded that Chris had given their tech away. Now I don’t want to make a big deal out of this, but all of these things were available from just looking at MTGO league 5-0 decklists, which I had actually done leading up to the trip.

I wasn’t sure which version of energy to play and I did talk to him about it, but all the information was still available. Funnily, the biggest piece of information I hadn’t gotten from the online decklists was to bring in Rebuke in the mirror, but I knew that from watching Joel Larsson and Paul Dean play the mirror in their hotel lobby; hardly an information bunker.

The PTQ went smoothly until my name wasn’t in the pairings for round 3 or 4. I went to the scorekeepers and was told that I had indeed been dropped. They re-enrolled me but to disrupt as few matches as possible, I was paired down, which I had also been the round before. Now, I am fine with this procedure, the problem was that I’m no information bunker myself so when I sat down for the last round of swiss against the only other undefeated player in our pod, I told him that I had been paired down twice. He was playing tokens and after two long games we had little time left for the decider.

It can be dangerous to speculate about people’s motives but the fact was that he played very slowly in the last game, taking a long time to shuffle for every Attune with Aether and Renegade Map. We drew a game that I’m certain I would have won (I had Planeswalkers and plenty of creatures and drew both of my Rebukes) and I came second on breakers. I was pretty bitter at that point but mostly at myself, because I should have just called a judge to watch for slow play on turn one of game three. It is one of my biggest flaws as a player and one of the things I am focusing on getting better at; when in doubt, call a judge. It’s what they’re there for and it’s hard for it to go worse for you than if you don’t. Anyway, at least Vitor Grassato won the tournament so the invite stayed in the Snapcardster family.

While in Phoenix we got to talking with 3 Swedish guys there, Elias Watsfeldt, Niklas Dahlquist and David Stenberg. They didn’t test with anyone so they sort of joined our group of me, Oscar, Jake Haversat and Piotr “Kanister” Glogowski. It is hard to describe to people who haven’t met him but Niklas is one of the funniest people I have ever met. He is pretty quiet but he makes these ridiculous comments with a brilliant poker face. One night we were in a bar with Chris, Corey Baumeister and a couple of his friends, and we talked about where each of us were from. Out of nowhere Niklas asks “just to be clear, am I the only one from Afghanistan?” More from him later.

Monday morning, Oscar and I headed to the airport for the 45 minute flight to Alberquerque. Tuesday Piotr joins us and we get to the task of figuring out what to play. I was pretty sure I would be playing some form of energy and I think so was Piotr. Oscar was torn between energy and Esper Gift, Niklas and David were on RB aggro and Elias had a UW Approach deck that splashed black for Fatal Push with the help of Field of Ruin to both get a Swamp and turn on revolt. Aside from the mana I think it was actually quite similar to the deck that won GP Atlanta a week later.

Multiple times during the week Elias proclaimed that he was done with the deck but he kept falling victim to the sunken cost fallacy; he had put so much work into it that he didn’t want to go to waste by not playing the deck. In the end, I convinced him to just play Temur Black like us and he was rewarded with an 11-5 finish and invite to the next Pro Tour.

 

Trying to decide which of my friends to root for


He didn’t even do the best out of our group as Piotr just kept winning and winning until he had secured a spot in the FREAKING TOP 8 OF THE PRO TOUR!!! I couldn’t believe it. A guy I tested with and who played the same 75 as me had top 8’ed the Pro Tour. This is also a guy who is 11-1 and playing against a Hall of Famer, crews his Skysovereign and when it eats a Harnessed Lightning, he crews it again with itself, just because it’s a legal play and makes no difference! This guy’s penchant for screwing around is the stuff of legends and I look forward to hanging out with him again. Make no mistake, though, he is great at Magic, just look at the year he is putting together, and I was ecstatic for him. For reference, here is what we ended up playing:

Planeswalkers (2)
Vraska, Relic Seeker

Creatures (21)
Longtusk Cub
Servant of the Conduit
Rogue Refiner
Whirler Virtuoso
Bristling Hydra
The Scarab God

Spells (13)
Attune with Aether
Blossoming Defense
Harnessed Lightning
Abrade
Supreme Will

Artifacts (2)
Skysovereign, Consul Flagship
Lands (22)
Botanical Sanctum
Spirebluff Canal
Blooming Marsh
Aether Hub
Rootbound Crag
Sheltered Thicket
Forest
Mountain
Island
Swamp

Sideboard (15)
River's Rebuke
Nissa, Steward of Elements
Negate
Cartouche of Ambition
Deathgorge Scavenger
Jace's Defeat
Confiscation Coup
Chandra's Defeat
Appetite for the Unnatural

I realise that my story is getting rather long so you’ll see how I did at the Pro Tour and the ensuing Grand Prix in part 2. Hope you enjoyed so far, but I’d like any feedback you have in the comments or on social media. Thanks for reading!