Grand Prix Madrid

Casting Primeval Titan in Madrid *2nd*

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

The Legacy Portion

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

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

Thomas Leovoldsen

The Standard Portion

The Scarab God

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

The Modern Portion


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

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

Inspirational deck list (5-0)


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

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

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

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

Sideboarding

Jund

Out:

In:


Tron

Out:

In:


Burn

Out:

In:


Affinity

Out:

In:


Humans

Out:

In:


Hollow One

Out:

In:


Bogles

Out:

In:


Jace Control

Out:

In:

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

A fan boy goes to the Pro Tour Part 2

Editorial Note: This is part two of Anders Pro Tour Experience. Read more about his first part.

Welcome back. I left you in part 1 knowing that Elias Watsfeldt went 11-5 to re-qualify and that Piotr made top 8. As for me, the tournament went okay but I couldn’t help feeling a bit disappointed afterwards. My dream was of course to go 11-5 to re-qualify but if you told me a month earlier that I would go 8-8 I would probably have been okay with it. However I was both 4-1 and 8-4 before some losing streaks happened and I know of at least two matches that I could have won if not for egregious mistakes.

Furthermore, the last round I made a similar mistake to the one in the PTQ the week before: I won a very long game one in the mirror after which my opponent reasonably suggests that we try to speed up to be able to finish 3 games. I ended up playing way too fast for my own comfort and while this isn’t one of the matches I know I could have won, I know I made some mistakes because of my pace of play. I should have just called for a judge to watch for slow play and then tried to play at a reasonable pace while still thinking through my plays. It’s a tricky scenario because on the one hand, it would be fair if my opponent had time to possibly win two games. On the other, I only needed to win one game and since none of us played slowly in game 1, I should be able to just play at a generally reasonable pace even if that meant my opponent’s chances of winning decrease because of it.

I’d actually like to hear what you think of this, so please sound of in the comments. By the way, for the fanboy in me, I got to beat Jason Chung and Lee Shi Tian in Standard while I lost to Shahar Shenhar and Ivan Floch. It was a further point of comfort that I talked the games through with both Shahar and Ivan and we agreed that the potential mistakes I had noted were the same plays they would have made.

Beating one of the great standard minds at Pro Tour Ixalan


Quick aside, the basketball game that Dan had mentioned happened Thursday morning and while we only ended up being five people (Dan didn’t even show up), it was fun to see that Marshall Sutcliffe is every bit as good as rumored (he shoots 3’s like Stephen Curry and he’s so tall that he can shoot over anybody so your only option is to hope he misses), and that Neil Rigby is every bit as terrible as you would imagine.

Sunday came and I was unable to watch and root for Piotr in his quarterfinal because as you may or may not know you get unlimited free drafts at the site on Pro Tour Sunday!!!! There might not be as many money drafts going on as I have heard stories about in the early days of Magic, but there were still a lot of known players going at each other’s wallets. First, Martin Dang, Thomas Hendricks and I took Ben Friedman, Kevin Jones and another guy’s lunch money (that’s right, Dang won a team draft). Then, Oscar and I teamed up with Niklas to beat Chris, Dang and THE Michael Majors twice.

At one point, Niklas was playing against Majors and he has two vampire tokens and a 2/2 while Majors has some random x/2. Niklas goes to attacks, taps the 2/2 and asks in a normal tone of voice so they could hear it as well: “should I fake attack with the tokens like I have Skulduggery?”. Oscar replies “but you don’t have it”, to which Niklas says “but they don’t know that.” The look on the other team’s faces as they were listening to this was amazing.

Sadly, I learned that Piotr had lost as Pascal Maynard pretty much nut drew him 3 out of 4 games. It was still a great result and I am quite proud of having helped tune the deck and played the same 75. It also gives me hope that if I can just stop making so many mistakes, I can compete at that level. Also thanks to Piotr for being graceful enough to buy winner dinner and putting me and Oscar down for vip access Sunday. Apparently each top 8 competitor gets to choose two friends to join him/her backstage for free breakfast and a separate viewing area. Free breakfast was great but the best part was that I got to see Brad Nelson’s face when the lady in charge of the vip section told him that Seth Manfield had chosen two other people so Brad had to leave. Would have loved to see their conversation afterwards.

With the Pro Tour over, it became time for one of the things I had looked forward to the most: going out with all the pros. We started out at an arcade game bar and after betting Niklas on a pinball game which he lost something like 19,000 – 50,000,000 I got to play NBA Jam with Majors against (I think) Corey and Joel.

Unfortunately they knew that John Stockton is broken in that game and picked him so even though I maintain that me and Majors displayed more play skill, we got destroyed. Seth ManfieldLater we went to a pool bar and I got a couple of nice pictures, first of the two guys who hours earlier competed for $50,000, then a picture with the champ himself! It looks like I am slightly more excited than him but I’m sure it was a special moment for him too…

Piotr left for home on Monday but we were joined by Chris and Martin Dang as they needed a place to stay until Tuesday when Martin went home and Chris joined us for the trip to Atlanta. At this point Chris and I pretty much set the tone for the rest of the trip by playing MTGO and watching movies on Netflix for most of the day, while Oscar was sleeping (not just because we were up late, this kid slept over 12 hours a day for much of the trip). I would recommend the best movies we watched but they were all pretty bad, I guess Moana has some good songs but it’s not up there with the Disney greats. Sicario is awesome but I had already seen it. If you haven’t, put it high on your watchlist.

The three of us arrived in Atlanta Tuesday evening and I think our very first Uber driver told us that we were staying in a very bad part of the city, something that several others later echoed. I am not really sure what the problem was because we basically never saw anyone around and I never felt unsafe, but it was pretty strange to have all these people telling us that it was a bad neighbourhood without any specifics. There was even a place we tried to order food from who said they wouldn’t deliver to our place after dark…

Nothing happened though, and after playing MTGO for a few days, we had close to settled on Jaberwocki’s 4 color energy deck. Corey joined us Friday and said that he was going to play straight Temur, but in the end we stuck to 4 color. Specifically, the power of Vraska and her contempt for other planeswalkers was just too appealing.

After scrubbing out of the GP we went to dinner with a bunch of other people including Niels Molle, his girlfriend Miwa, Alex Haynes, Ben Stark, Sarah Zylah, birthday girl Rachel Otto and 9-0 Petr Sochurek. Good times were had and it set the stage for all of us, minus Niels, Miwa, Ben and Oscar to go out Sunday night and celebrate Petr top 8’ing. We found a karaoke bar, and while it was mostly Rachel who did the actual singing, Haynes and Sarah delivered the moment of the night performing Don’t Speak by No Doubt. If Rachel and Chris hadn’t talked through the whole thing, my video might have been worth sharing so thanks you two.

The last leg of our trip was Portland, and boy was it different from the other places. It was like coming to a new country, and one where you could find more influences from other countries. There were no diners but instead an organic supermarket and a lot of food trucks. I also noticed more Asian restaurants than in the south. The GP was pretty much the same though; I scrubbed out while Corey and Chris started 9-0, all of us playing pretty much the same decks as last week.

It was strange on Sunday to see Corey not top 8 and I felt for him but Chris got there and while he didn’t buy winner dinner at the best (and probably most expensive) restaurant in town like we may or may not have agreed upon beforehand, I was still immensely happy for him, as it meant he will probably play all the Pro Tours this year (This was cemented when he won the team GP in Lyon the week after). This is hopefully the start of his ascendancy towards the top of the game where he belongs.

What a great way to cap off an amazing 4 weeks abroad! I still couldn’t help feeling a little dejected as my personal results had been below lackluster, but I was still left with a feeling that I am the only limitation for my success; I picked the same deck as a guy who top 8’ed the Pro Tour, then I picked the same deck as a guy who top 8’ed a GP. When we were playing during the week I felt like my play was very close to the others’. If I can improve my focus and decision making in tournaments, I don’t see why it can’t be me some day. Until then, I’ll try to enjoy all the moments like the ones described here, and try to focus more on the games themselves than the outcome. I hope you enjoyed my tale and if not, I’ll be back soon with some actual content.

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!

Does Ixalan Limited suck?

Hi guys, welcome back. It’s been a while but I wanted a chance to play with the new cards so I could actually give an informed opinion. I have only been drafting so far and done about 15 and my initial impressions are good. At first glance the set looks like it could get boring super quickly because of the tribes; just pick a tribe and take all the cards you see in that tribe.

When you think about it, that isn’t much different from a normal set where you just pick your colors and take the best card in those colors. What makes a normal set interesting are the times where the correct pick isn’t just the best card in your colors but something that synergizes with what else you have going on.

The equivalent in Ixalan is then when the correct pick is not just the best card in your tribe, but that is often going to be because there is a super powerful card in your colors that doesn’t have any tribal synergies. I haven’t gone deep enough yet to know how often these things happen but at least you have to consider both tribe and colors when making a pick which is more than the base level for a normal set. I hope there will be rare times when you get to draft a treasure deck for example and I will be looking for it (probably at the expense of tickets), but today I want to talk about what has been the best tribe for me this far; vampires.

Anoited DeaconUnassuming, I know

The key to this deck for me is Anointed Deacon; most of the vampires are 2 or less power and this is the guy that can push them through. With Bishop’s Soldier, Queen’s Commission, Paladin of the Bloodstained, and Call to the Feast, boosting power is worth double sometimes and since the lifelink makes racing difficult, your opponent will often have to start trading real cards for each of your tokens. If you ever get two deacons down together, it becomes extremely hard to lose.

Aside from the lifelinkers my favorite creatures in the deck are Skymarch Bloodletter, Legion Conquistador, both undersized creatures that benefit from getting an extra two power (or 4). You even get two good one drops in Duskborne Skymarcher and Vicious Conquistador. While they’re both uncommons, it’s unlikely that anyone else will be interested in them. Glorifier of Dusk is also good in the deck, but it doesn’t need as much help as the other guys.

Other good uncommons for the deck are Adanto Vanguard (which is also just a great aggressive card), Deathless Ancient, and Bishop of the Bloodstained if you are really deep in the tribe. Once you find that the archetype is open, there are also some great rares that you can expect will come to you if someone opened them; Sanctum Seeker and Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle. These are straight bombs for you and pretty poor for anyone else.

That actually brings me to a side note on the format which is that the rares in this set are less ridiculous than they often are. Yes, you still have things like Regisaur Alpha and the planeswalkers which are insane, but I don’t think there is anything on the level of Glorybringer and because of the tribal theme, a lot of the good rares are only good in specific contexts, so your first pick will not be a windmill slam rare or mythic as often as you’re used to.

This to me is one of the most important signs of a good limited set; You might lose to Sanctum Seeker but at least it required your opponent to draft reasonably well and they would probably still have a deck that could win without drawing it. I actually didn’t even enjoy many of the draft decks where I had Glorybringer because I lost so many games where I didn’t draw it.

So back to vampires, how do you draft them? As I said, Anointed Deacon is the key but I don’t like first picking it. There a lot of generically good black and white cards that you can often first pick, like Contract Killing, Pious Interdiction, Vanquish the Weak, and Adanto Vanguard. Then if cards like that keep coming for the next few picks, maybe including a Deathless Ancient I will start to look for the deacon and the uncommons.

Legion ConquistadorIgnore this card at your own peril

One important thing to keep in mind is if you have passed any Legion Conquistadors. It is likely to wheel and you obviously need more than one for it to be playable. Let’s say it’s pick 6 and I have a couple of removal spells, a deacon, a Bishop’s Soldier and some good card in another color that hasn’t looked open so far. The pick is now between Queen’s Commission, Skymarch Bloodletter and Legion Conquistador.

If I have passed a Conquistador earlier I will probably take it here but if I haven’t, both of the other cards have higher priority (probably the flier first). Two Conquistador is just playable but as soon as you get more than that it becomes insane since it helps stall the ground and with a deacon to help them trade up, it will grind the opponent out quite effectively.

So you have a couple of removal spells, a deacon and a couple of vampires and now you have to choose between a Contract Killing and a Queen’s Bay Soldier (your first two drop). I am going to go out on a limb here and say you should lean towards the removal spell. The reason for that is that there is so much lifegain in this archetype that your curve matters less than it normally does in limited.

This particular example might be a stretch and it also depends if you have any lifegain so far, but keep in mind that the tools are available in this archetype to stabilize both the board and your life total. Of course, you would also like to have a board presence so your deacon has an effect the turn it comes down so if it’s a Bishop’s Soldier instead, I’d probably take it. I guess a more general way to express it is that you often don’t have to take subpar cards for curve considerations if you have a lot of good ways to gain life.

That’s about what I have learned so far. I will spend next week playing a lot of Standard so I’ll hopefully have something to report back soon. Until then, thanks for reading and good luck in the queues.

Beating Modern #3

Editorial Note: Make sure to check out Beating Modern #1 and Beating Modern #2. They are great. Trust me.

Welcome back to yet another batch of basic guides to beating the usual suspects of Modern. I’m really enjoying writing these overall matchup blueprints, but I enjoy getting your input even more. Maybe you have played the deck for three years and my testing is useless compared to your expertise. Great, then contribute in the comments here, on facebook, reddit or where ever you are reading this. Let us get better together!


BG/x Midrange

Black and Green-based Midrange decks with one mana discard spells, Tarmogoyf and Liliana of the Veil fall under this category. Even though their threatbase and removal suite will differ and depend on their splash color (if any), playing against these different versions of the archetype feels very similar. Ideally, their objective is to grind both players down on resources so their superior card quality can take over the game. They use cheap discard and cheap removal spells to make sure the game doesn’t get out of hand quickly, so turns 1-2 it is very difficult to get an edge there.

Collected Company is a very good example of what BG/x Midrange is weak to. Cards they can’t use Inquisition of Kozilek, Abrupt Decay or other 1-for-1 removal spells to deal with. Four-mana planeswalkers, Reality Smasher and Gurmag Angler are other good examples, while – if you are playing Affinity – your best threat against them is Etched Champion.

They lean hard on Liliana of the Veil to get pairity in cards and keep the board clean, so cards that match up well against her are at a premium. Lingering Souls, Kitchen Finks, Voice of Resurgence and Matter Reshaper come to mind when thinking about main deck cards, and Obstinate Baloth can blow the BG/x player out after sideboard.

This archetype has traditionally been weak to “big mana” decks like Tron and Scapeshift strategies, and that is still true today. Ramp your lands onto the battlefield and trust that your deck with much higher top end will draw better than your BG/x opponent. Any respectable BG/x sideboard will contain Fulminator Mage, sometimes combined with Surgical Extraction or some main deck Ghost Quarters, so they will also come prepared.

Good Sideboard Cards


Abzan Company

Abzan Company is a creature combo deck that tries to assemble either Vizier of Remedies + Devoted Druid + Duskwatch Recruiter and finish the game with Walking Ballista or Rhonas the Indomitable or the old infinite life combo of Viscera Seer, Kitchen Finks and Vizier of Remedies. The only non-creature spells in the deck are Collected Company and Chord of Calling, and combatting those is how you get the upper hand in the matchup.

The deck also plays a couple of Gavony Township, and these serve as a great plan B when they can’t assemble their combo. Keep in mind that if you are playing a fair deck, a long game against Abzan Company will most likely result in Gavony Township taking over the game.

When they lead on Noble Hierarch or Birds of Paradise, you should always kill it with Fatal Push and Lightning Bolt, and the same goes for Devoted Druid on turn two, but later on managing your removal spells can be tricky. Having one ready at instant speed means you can break up their infinite combo and leave them with a 2/1 vanilla creature and Duskwatch Recruiter which ability is somewhat expensive to use. Also note that the Devoted Druid will be summoning sick, so you always have time to remove it from the board before they combo.

Grafdigger’s Cage is fantastic because it stops persist from Kitchen Finks plus all of their eight green search spells. Anger of the Gods is another great card that will deal with most board states and the Kitchen Finks completely.

Good Sideboard Cards


Blue/White Control

(written by U/W Control pilot Anders Gotfredsen)

U/W Control has pretty much always been a major deck in Magic all the way back to Brian Weissman’s ‘The Deck’ from 1996. Back then it was all about staying alive and eventually kill your opponent with whatever slow – but resilient – win condition was available. With Modern having so many different strategies, staying alive indefinitely against everything is an impossible task, but the win conditions have also gotten more powerful, and counterspells and board sweepers are still great against most decks.

The main plan revolves around planeswalkers, mainly Gideon of the Trials, Jace, Architect of Thought and Gideon Jura which they keep alive with Supreme Verdict, Cryptic Command and cheap interaction like Path to Exile, Mana Leak and Snapcaster Mage. The deck is very good at dealing with conventional creature strategies because if you play one creature at a time, Path to Exile or either Gideon buy them a turn, but if you play more than one, Supreme Verdict can get you.

The way to beat U/W is by not just playing creatures and attack with them. This means you want creatures that provide value even if they are killed right away (these often come as a Collected Company which is also great against U/W) or non-creature threats like planeswalkers or Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. U/W Control can also be quite weak to Tron decks, because even though they have Spreading Seas and Tectonic Edge, they don’t close out the game fast enough to stop the big Eldrazi from being cast. Lantern Control also has a great U/W matchup because it sidesteps the whole creature damage plan and have inevitability for the long game they will surely reach.

Generally, U/W isn’t a deck that has it’s own game plan that you should aim to disrupt; they want to stop you from enacting your game plan and so you beat them by having a plan that they’re not prepared for.

Good Sideboard Cards:

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