Beating Modern #2

With just a few weeks until the Danish Modern Masters event that I talked about last time, three new decks must be planned for in order for us to succeed! And by “us” I mean you guys, because unfortunately I’m not allowed to play the event, as it is also a Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifier.

#1stWorldProblems


TitanShift

Primeval Titan

This Red/Green ramp deck is put into the world to beat up on Midrange and Control decks in particular. Your ability to either jam threat after threat or put your self in a position where a lot of your top decks are lethal makes it a nightmare to be the Thoughtseize-yielding opponent unless you draw multiples. Most of the time it relies on Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle to get the job done, but a lot of the newer versions will have a respectable midrange plan as backup, should anything happen to your Valakut.

Since TitanShift needs 6+ lands and a “big” spell to win the game, we need to exploit this. This can be done quite a few ways with the most realistic ones being Spell Snare or Inquisition of Kozilek for his early ramp. Even using a Mana Leak or Logic Knot on a ramp spell can buy you a lot of time, so don’t hang on to it to counter a Primeval Titan or Scapeshift if he puts a Farseek on the stack early and you have the mana available. This also means that they mulligan worse than other decks and is punished much harder by missing land drops.

Of course land destruction like Fulminator Mage and Tectonic Edge are effective against this deck, but that’s like lifegain vs. Burn, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time explaining that. What I can say is that destroying a Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and then exiling the remaining three with Surgical Extraction is something I foresee people turning to again. Fulminator Mage is great against other matchups like Control and Tron, and Surgical Extraction will always help you out for various graveyard-oriented matchups over the course of any given Modern tournament.

Sideboard Options

Disdainful StrokeRuned HaloAven Mindcensor


Eldrazi Tron

Eldrazi Temple

For a lot of months I was convinced that Eldrazi Tron was a bad version of regular Tron and a bad version of Bant Eldrazi, but things have changed. I now understand that the mash-up of these two archetypes makes the deck both resilient and unpredictable for opponents. Cards like Fulminator Mage and Crumble to Dust are slamdunk allstars against regular Tron, but against this deck you can easily find your self behind on board when you cast these land destruction spells. Don’t pay 3-4 mana for killing a land when you can cast Spreading Seas or activate Ghost Quarter instead. Bringing in Fulminator Mage can of course be correct depending on your 75, but I felt like this comparison would make my point clear.

Eldrazi Tron is looking to turn off a high percentage of your deck with Chalice of the Void and then spend the rest of the game casting monsters with relevant abilities. Thought-Knot Seer will take your best card, Reality Smasher will finish you off quickly and Walking Ballista will either eat your board of small creatures or deal the final points of damage to the dome.

A lot of games playing against Eldrazi Tron are decided by your “ability” to draw the right answer at the right time. You want Spell Snare or Abrupt Decay when Chalice of the Void goes on the stack, you want Fatal Push and a fetch land when they have a Thought-Knot Seer and you want Liliana of the Veil when their only threat is Reality Smasher. Easier said than done, but it’s the name of the game and why Eldrazi Tron is a good strategy in Modern.

Ironically, a strategy like TitanShift is very good against Eldrazi Tron because you don’t care about your converted mana cost 1 spells, their clock is not super fast and they can do little to nothing about your big green spells.

Sideboard Options

Ceremonious RejectionStony Silence


Gifts Storm

Grapeshot

Storm got a much needed boost when Baral, Chief of Compliance was printed. Aside from making Commander players’ lives miserable, Baral is the redundancy the Storm deck needed next to Goblin Electromancer to be top tier again. These 7-8 creatures play a huge roll in the outcome of your matchup against Storm, so kill them at all costs – even removing one with a Path to Exile on turn two is the correct play. The land they search up is of course not optimal, but neither is them untapping with the creature in play. There are some scenarios where you want your opponent to invest a Ritual before you kill their creature, but be very careful with experimenting with this, as it could easily cost you the game.

The easiest path to victory for Storm is resolving a Gifts Ungiven, playing some Rituals and then Past in Flames to do it all over and get the lethal Grapeshot after replaying all the Rituals and Gifts Ungiven, and there for attacking the graveyard is very effective. Rest in Peace and Grafdigger’s Cage come to mind. However, Storm players will sideboard with this in mind, and they have very good tools for it. Empty the Warrens offers you a victory condition that doesn’t care about the grayeyard, while Blood Moon – sometimes powered out turn two with the help of a Ritual – will make tricolered decks sad. The difficult part about beating Storm is that they ask so much of you in sideboarded games. If you want to beat it playing a non-combo deck, you must get lucky or fulfill these criteria:

Kill the bear.
Attack the graveyard.
Don’t lose to Empty the Warrens.
Prepare for Blood Moon by fetching basics if you can afford to.

Sideboard Options

Engineered ExplosivesDispelRule of Law

As I mentioned last time, I enjoy your input quite a bit, so please contribute to the knowledge pool in the comments!

Look ma, I made it to the ProTour!

This article will be about two things; my personal experience of qualifying for my first Pro Tour, and the UB Control deck I used to do it. I will start with the deck since I assume that will be the most interesting to people who don’t know me. Let’s kick things off with the list:

UB Control by Anders Gotfredsen

Spells (28)
Yahenni’s Expertise
Fatal Push
Grasp of Darkness
Censor
Negate
Essence Scatter
 Glimmer of Genius
Supreme Will
Disallow
To the Slaughter

Creatures (6)
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
The Scarab God
Torrential Gearhulk
Lands (26)
Fetid Pools
Sunken Hollow
Aether Hub
Choked Estuary
Island
Swamp

Sideboard (15)
Negate
Dispel
Yahenni's Expertise
Bontu's Last Reckoning
Gifted Aetherborn
Summary Dismissal
To the Slaughter
Never // Return
Liliana, the Last Hope

This was a perfect storm of being both a powerful, consistent deck and a great metagame call, and with the results from GP Denver, that looks to continue being the case. The most common decks are Temur Energy, God-Pharao’s Gift, Mono Red, BG Constrictor, RG Ramp, Zombies and UW Approach. I have no problem facing any of these decks and I’ll go through all of the matchups, but first I have some general notes on the deck:

“Best card in Standard(?)”

This card is the reason to be UB instead of UR or UW. The only cards in the above decks that can deal cleanly with The Scarab God are the white exile removals, Cast Out and Stasis Snare, but they are only in the UW Approach deck which, as I’ll explain later, is close to impossible to lose to (there are of course also counterspells but it’s mostly Censor and Supreme Will, which you can play around).

All other decks need two cards and many of them have no way to keep it from coming back. If you get to untap with it or play it on 9 mana, it will immediately dominate most games, and I often had a Torrential Gearhulk in the graveyard along with a counterspell, which is basically game over for anyone (or they might have Goblin Dark-Dwellers in their yard, which is how I sealed the last game of the RPTQ). Against Mono Red, I actually like it more than Kalitas because you can just slam it on turn 5 and unless they topdeck an Ahn-Crop Crasher (I assume they would have played it sooner if they had it, and then you have probably either countered or grasped it), they are completely brick walled.

Alongside my new favorite insect buddy we have all the run of the mill control options: removal, counterspells, Glimmer of Genius and Torrential Gearhulk. There is nothing groundbreaking about it, which kind of proves my point that the god is what makes this deck the best. Censor and Supreme Will are key for a strategy like this since you can’t be stuck with a bunch of them in hand and not be able to deal with something on the board. You can customize a lot of the spells in the deck but I would be hard pressed to play less than 4 of each of these.

“A sign that you will win this match”

Temur Energy has been the top dog for the last couple of weeks. It won the MOCS two weeks ago, an MTGO PTQ a week ago and this weekend it put 3 copies in the top 4 of GP Denver. It also had 3 or 4 copies in the top 8 of my RPTQ for what it’s worth. In short, you want to be able to beat this deck and UB is great at it. You have Fatal Push for their Longtusk Cub, To the Slaughter for Bristling Hydra and Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Grasp for Glorybringer and everything else. This is of course only needed if they resolve, and all your counterspells are great here.

Then you play The Scarab God and get to enjoy all of the delicious ETB triggers from their creatures. Be aware that some Temur decks splash for The Scarab God (and Nicol Bolas) themselves so try and save an Essence Scatter or Disallow for it. Bontu’s Last Reckoning, Never // Return and To the Slaughter Negate come in from the board for Kalitas, Expertise and a counterspell (not completely sure which one, maybe since we are bringing in two potential answers to Chandra).

Try to line up your answers as listed above and try to save the hard counters for last. For example, if you have the choice between Fatal Push and Essence Scatter for their cub, use push. If you have the choice between Disallow and To the Slaughter for their hydra, use To the Slaughter. Be aware of Confiscation Coup on your god post board.

“A sign that you will win this match”

Next is God-Pharao’s Gift. Currently the most popular version is UR but all them share important traits: crappy creatures and then some number of 3 and 7 mana artifacts that can actually beat you. Luckily we are packed with counterspells for them and if you kill Minister of Inquiries they can have a hard time filling their yard to activate Gate to the Afterlife. You should at the very least be able to slow them down and The Scarab God is game over when you untap with it in play.

They have Dispel after board but they need to draw both Dispel, Gate/Refurbish/Gift and some ways to fill their graveyard to beat just a single counterspell from you and their are in a real hurry before we get to five mana. This is about as easy a matchup as you can get in Standard.

“A sign that you will win this match”

Hyper Aggro has traditionally been the bane of control decks and I will say that this is the matchup where I am least certain about my opinion, but I will go out on a limb and say that it’s a fine matchup. You have cheap removal, cheap counters, removal that can kill a resolved Hazoret the Fervent and threats that can close the game out fast. As I mentioned above, The Scarab God is still great here (noticing a trend?) and you get to bring in Gifted Aetherborn, Liliana, Never // Return and an extra Expertise, while lowering your curve a bit (I like to cut one Gearhulk, one Glimmer, To the Slaughter, Disallows and Supreme Wills for the rest). I’m torn on the expertise because your main concern is keeping your life total high and so you can’t really afford to just take hits from their creatures to set it up.

Let’s say they play Falkenrath Gorger turn 1. Do you Fatal Push it if you also have expertise in hand? I think you have to. Then they play Kari Zev, Skyship Raider. Do you grasp it? Again, I think you have to. Then they play Earthshaker Khenra or Ahn-Crop Crasher.

Now your expertise can kill one creature. If you say go and they play another haste creature, do you counter it or take 5 damage? Maybe this is getting too specific but my point is that I don’t really like a 4 mana sorcery speed removal spell when I’m trying to keep the board clear and have mana open on their turn to counter Chandra, Hazoret and Glorybringer. It can still give you a chance in the games where you stumble a bit so I think two is an appropriate number. Again, I’m not sure it’s a great matchup but I just keep beating it over and over again on Magic Online so, running the risk of being too results oriented, that’s what I’m going with.

“A sign that you will win this match”

This is a Midrange and so plays out similarly to Temur except BG is more straightforward and they rely more on synergy which is good for the all removal and counterspells deck. I guess you can lose if they somehow resolve Dispossess and Lost Legacy but that should be rare. Maybe turn 3 Nissa on the play if you have neither Negate nor Censor but it’s still a pretty slow clock if you can keep Winding Constrictor off the table. Negate, Never, To the Slaughter and Reckoning replace Kalitas, Expertise, a Disallow and a Censor for game 2.

“A sign that you will win this match”

You can lose game 1 to ramp if they get to play Ulamogs before you get enough lands into play to be able to afford losing two of them but after board you get an extra Negate and 3 Summary Dismissal along with a To the Slaughter and Never to replace your useless Fatal Pushes and upgrade two Grasps. So not only can you counter a lot of their ramp, when they finally get to 7 or 10 mana, you have clean answers to their top end. They bring in Tireless Tracker and Thought-Knot Seer but they still fight on the same axis and your counter magic has that axis on lockdown.

“A sign that you will have a fair fight this match”

This is a close one. They have a lot of recurring threats and threats that produce more than one creature and after board they get a few more along with Transgress the Mind. Game 1 is usually pretty easy as they tend to draw a couple of removal spells that don’t do anything until it’s too late but try and make sure that Diregraf Colossus doesn’t get to make a token and that Liliana’s Mastery doesn’t resolve. I bring in all 3 sweepers, Liliana and Never for To the Slaughter, 2 Disallow, a Censor and a Supreme Will. As with the other matchups where I shave counterspells, I’m not 100 percent sure about which ones are actually correct to cut and it also depends on your opponents play. If they always play around Censor, trim those, if they play very aggressively you can trim Supreme Will instead since Censor will often be as good and you might not have time to spend 3 mana for card selection.

“Ask your opponent to just concede so you can go get lunch. He’s not winning”

I said the Gift deck was about the easiest matchup in Standard, well this is the easiest matchup I can remember ever playing in any format. You have all the time in the world and as soon as you’ve drawn 3 of your 4 Negate/Disallow along with enough lands to pay for Supreme Wills and Censors you can’t lose game 1. My opponent in the RPTQ even had a Sphinx of the Final Word main but when he played that and then Approach on 14 mana I could respond with To the Slaughter and Negate which is one of the better feelings I’ve gotten from a play.

It was even more satisfying because I had replaced the maindeck Never//Return with To the Slaughter specifically because I kept facing UW players online who had Sphinx main. Post board they get some hard counters but so do you along with 4 more answers to Sphinx. They probably also bring in a couple of Linvala, the Preserver and/or Regal Caracal and maybe Torrential Gearhulk but you still have Essence Scatter along with all the other counter magic and they just aren’t able to compete in the slightest as long as you don’t draw all spells or all lands.

As you can see from this walkthrough, the current Standard metagame doesn’t really contain any problems for UB; I might not be certain of how good the Mono Red matchup is but I’m sure it’s nowhere near as bad as it is for UR Control (I haven’t played against UR Control with this deck but you are very similar and so I would assume it to be quite even).

I guess Mardu Vehicles is still a deck and that might be problematic but I haven’t faced it at all and from what I hear it’s bad against Temur Energy so I wouldn’t expect to face it anytime soon. Unless something changes drastically, I will bring this to Nationals and I wholeheartedly recommend you do the same. If, by some chance, this deck picks up in popularity, I will figure out the mirror before then and write another article.

Now it’s time for me to get a little sentimental because this past Sunday was a culmination of 6 or so years of trying to get on the Pro Tour. In fact, the last 3 years it has pretty much been the only thing on my mind. Almost every day when I came home from work, I would fire up Magic Online and play until I went to bed. Work, Magic, sleep, repeat. Even at work, I would constantly be thinking about Magic.

I have had a lot of close calls; 1 GP win and in, 10 or so PTQ top 8’s along with a bunch of good GP performances in the first 9-12 rounds only to get crushed in the last rounds. When you have that many near misses, you can’t really blame it on just bad luck anymore. I have enough insight to know that I am theoretically good enough to compete on the Pro Tour, but when the matches got important I would crumble under the pressure.

I qualified for the World Magic Cup twice but failed to make enough of the opportunity to get on the Pro Tour. Both years Denmark top 8’ed the WMC, I lost in the finals of one of the WMCQ’s. Many times, I have contemplated giving up and just do a regular 9 to 5 job and be “normal”, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it. About a year ago, I decided to dedicate myself even more and go to all the European GP’s. Around Christmas, when my results kept being #mediocre, I tried to focus not so much on winning but more on just enjoying the competition, the game and the awesome people I have met on the GP circuit.

Brad Nelson and other great players have written articles telling you some variant of “don’t focus on the results” and I have really tried to take that to heart. Make no mistake; I think this game is a lot of fun and I have made a lot of friends that I would love to hang out with outside of Magic, but it can be hard to justify spending that much time and money on something “just” for fun.

So a couple of months ago I began seeing a sports psychologist to deal with the root of the issue: If you present me with a situation, I will usually be able to tell you what the correct play is but when matches become important, my thought process goes awry and I mess up. I am not sure how much of this qualification I owe to my shrink, and I know I have a long ways to go, but I know I’m making progress, so maybe in a year or two, it will just be my strategic ability that limits my performance.

And when I sat down for my top 8 match in the RPTQ I could feel a difference in my mentality; I didn’t like the matchup (BR Control with Scorpion Gods and tons of discard. I wouldn’t expect to face it though) but at least this time, I wouldn’t just be throwing the match (You might think that I didn’t literally throw matches away but the one of Lasse Nørgaard and Martin Dang who sat behind me for the WMCQ Final against Christoffer Larsen will testify that it is true).

I lost game 1 but game 2 he got mana screwed and game 3 he mulliganed into a poor hand and didn’t draw out of it. I have heard myths of winning important matches like this (Oscar Christensen won his win and in at GP Birmingham against an Ad Nauseam player who just did nothing for two games in a row), and always lamented the fact that it didn’t happen to me. Now I’ll have to find something else to complain about, I just hope it won’t be that I got terribly unlucky and scrubbed out of my first Pro Tour. Jinx.

It was so heartwarming to see so many people congratulate me on Facebook and Messenger, and I feel so fortunate to have so many people care in the slightest about how I do. I am a social person and while I try not to chase recognition, of course it’s great when you get it, but ultimately, I started this chase for me; because I want to make me proud. I can finally say that I am proud of my Magic career, but I am not good at settling and I already have a new goal: Become a mainstay on the Pro Tour, and/or make top 8 of one. I’ll get back to you in 20 years or so, probably. Until then, my best piece of advice is to be honest about what weaknesses are keeping you from achieving whatever goals you have for yourself, and do whatever it takes to remedy them.

Next week I’ll be back to tell you about my adventures in Metz and AKH-HOU Limited. Thanks for reading.

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!