Defense Mechanisms in Magic

As the people who know me are fully aware, I love to study the psychological aspect of games. Before I dipped into serious Magic, I used to play football, Pokémon TCG and Counter Strike all at a somewhat serious level. I didn’t just play these games – I also studied them whether it was advanced tactics, cunning mind games, reading of the game plus put a big emphasis on the importance of a positive environment in the dressing room, in testing or on the voice communication server. If you haven’t read “My 10 MTG Commandments” I advise that you give that a look before diving into this one. Keep in mind that everyone either is or has been guilty of all of the following, including myself. Reading this article will hopefully help you as much as it helped me write it.

1) “I lost even though I played perfectly”


Players will use this phrase to project the attention after a tough loss. More often than not, the recipient of this message, usually a friend they traveled with to the tournament, will tell the losing player that they couldn’t do any more than that (doing their best), and that just happens in Magic. While that is a positive response from your friends, the responsibility lies with the losing player. While they maybe didn’t have any other decisions to make during the game, they might not have researched the metagame well enough before constructing a sideboard. Another possibility is that they didn’t playtest the matchup thoroughly enough and that their “truth” is flawed. I suggest playing the match in your head and come up with points where you actually had decisions to make and try to evaluate those after the tournament. Mulliganning, whether to fetch out a basic or shockland, sideboarding and other stuff can be relevant to look at. But at the tournament after the match – just focus on your next game instead of being frustrated about the past.

2) “My opponent got extremely lucky”


I often hear players talk about their match as if only the last draw from the opponent mattered. While it is very hard to practice in the aftermath of a tough loss, it is somewhat simple to see what the constructive way of dealing with this is. You should take a deep breath and look at everything from start to finish in the match instead of looking at the last draw (in case of a devastating top deck) in a vacuum. Conveniently, with a comment like this, the player got to sneak in that they are a way better player than their opponent. I mean, without the extreme luck, how else would he beat you? Sometimes you get into situations against a deck like Burn in Modern where the absolute best line you can draw up will need your opponent to draw either a creature or land for their turn, so you can attack for lethal in a scenario where a targeted burn spell wins your opponent the game. If you figured out the best line, you live with the result and get back into the saddle no matter the outcome.

3) “I didn’t test for this tournament”


Players will usually slip this comment before the tournament to lower the expectations to them from their peers. If they end up doing badly, they want people to remember what they said. On the other hand, if they do great, their friends will most likely look at them as a God-gifted talent (or at least, that is what they hope will happen). Trying to set up artificial win/win situations like this is a very common defense mechanism. What I wish I was able to do in cases where I know I didn’t prepare as well as I could for the tournament, is keep quiet about it and hope to lean on my experience instead of recent actual playtesting. If situations occur, where I lose because of lack of preparation, I will either have to live with it or prepare better next time. No reason to create a false narrative to protect your pride.

4) “This format is horrible”


A commonly used quote from good players about fast formats like Modern and Vintage after losing to a proactive or prison style strategy. Yes, it is not the best feeling in the world to lose to a turn three Karn Liberated or never getting to cast a spell, but remember who chose to devote money and time to sign up to the tournament. During the last couple of years, I have taken a break from Modern whenever I felt the metagame was too proactive – the kind of Magic that I don’t enjoy. You either accept the name of the game or take the necessary procautions.

5) “My Opponent’s deck is unplayable”


Let me be the first to say that I have been extremely guilty of this one in the past. I spend a reasonable large amount of time to figure out the metagame and aim to choose just the right deck for a given tournament. If I then faced a deck that was bad against the consensus “best” deck in the format, which would make that deck unplayable in my mind, and that deck randomly had a great matchup against my m3t4g4m3 k1ll4h deck, I would just tell myself that my opponent was bad and he would probably just play against the “best” deck next round and get what he deserved. Needless to say, all my thoughts were not doing anything good for my tournament success or well being in general. The lesson for me was that players at Grand Prix especially will always show up with whatever they already had built prior, disregarding metagame trends and recent printings. That is part of what makes Magic a beautiful game.

I hope you enjoy the mix-up between strategy, results, psychology and deck breakdowns as much as I do. I might start to do some videos in the future, but I can’t promise anything yet. Thank you for reading and please share your experiences about defense mechanisms with the me and the other readers. We all have a lot to learn.

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.

Modern Pro Tour Predictions

Hello and welcome to a little appetizer for the Modern action coming your way this weekend. The Modern Pro Tour is back, and I decided to look at 15 of the most played decks and talk about their strengths and weaknesses in the metagame. Buckle up!


Grixis Death’s Shadow
Grixis Death's Shadow

It is not that many months ago that the format revolved totally around this deck. Players were packing silly protection from black creatures in their sideboards, and you could expect to face this archetype at least a few times every tournament. While those days are over, it is still the deck to beat going into any high level tournament. At this level of play, I doubt many competitors will sign up with a deck with a bad Death’s Shadow matchup, so the Shadow players will have their hands full and the free wins will be at a low this weekend.


Affinity

Affinity is a deck that has come and gone a lot of times over its’ history of existence. When the metagame becomes too preoccupied with dealing with the graveyard, the stack and demands narrow answers in players’ sideboards because of other decks, Affinity will strike and claim victory. Unfortunately, there are a few other creature decks at the top of the metagame at the moment, so universal sweepers like Engineered Explosives and Anger of the Gods will be present at the event. While I’m not sure that players’ sideboards are completely dry of artifact hate just yet, I predict the Affinity specialists to have a ball this tournament.


Green Tron

Oldschool Tron has been threatening its’ comeback for a while, and looking at the metagame percentages, it looks like turn 3 Karn Liberated is back with a vengeance. Tron will thrive in metagames with many fair Midrange and Control decks, historically how Pro Tour metagames have looked when there is no clear best deck (Eldrazi and Summer Bloom, I’m looking at you), while it has built-in matchup difficulties against spell-based combo and fast creature decks with burn spells to close the deal should you manage to activate your Oblivion Stone before you die. My gut feeling is that not too many professional players will lean towards a simple strategy like Tron, but those who do will reap the rewards.


Burn

With the printing of Fatal Push, Burn moved away from the green splash featuring Wild Nacatl, Atarka’s Command and sideboarded Destructive Revelry for a better manabase and more direct burn spells in the Boros version. The format has become so big that only coincidental lifegain cards are playable main deck and sideboard options, so the success of Burn will depend of the amount of those it faces. I’m talking about Lightning Helix, Collective Brutality and Kitchen Finks mostly, but good manabases with a lot of basic lands and fastlands will also result in headaches for the red mages. The days where players starting lifetotal was effectively 15-17 are gone, and Burn has dropped in popularity as a result.


Dredge

Before the bannings, Dredge was a part of the deadly trio that ruled the metagame. Death’s Shadow moved to other color combinations, Infect is more or less dead, but Dredge just replaced the banned Golgari Grave-Troll and tried to find back to winning form. Now and then Dredge manages to take down big tournaments like SCG Open’s and online Pro Tour Qualifiers, but it’s clear that it’s not the powerhouse it once was. With Storm as a top 5 popular deck, graveyard hate will be very common and Dredge loses valuable percentages against the expected field. I don’t see Dredge bringing home the bacon at the Pro Tour.


Humans

Humans as a deck has undergone serious surgery over the course of its’ life span, but the current version looks like the best yet. Combining blazing speed with a touch of disruption is a great strategy in a “wild west” format like current Modern. I especially like the uptick in Phantasmal Image which can combo with either a disruptive creature like Meddling Mage or Kitesail Freebooter in combo matchups or try to help close the deal with Thalia’s Lieutenant or the new addition, Kessig Malcontents. However, the deck is very soft to sweepers like Anger of the Gods or Supreme Verdict, so the Human players should keep their fingers crossed that opposing players find these too narrow for the current metagame.


UW(x) Control

The only classic control deck in Modern, oldfashioned Blue/White Control, lately got a more proactive alternative in Jeskai. While traditional Blue/White will prey on creature decks and end the game on turn 15, the Jeskai version will use burn spells and Geist of Saint Traft to close out the game. The usual problem with control in Modern still applies – it’s almost impossible to muster good answers to a wide open format, but at the same time good players can really leverage their skill with decks like this. I don’t have very high hopes for the Azorious-based clan this tournament, but I would love to be proved wrong by masterful plays by the game’s greats. Also note that Spreading Seas and Field of Ruin are great “free” ways of beating big mana decks.


Eldrazi Tron

Eldrazi Tron has finally taken a small step back after being a top dog for a long period of time. The deck’s game plan is super solid, and you get a lot of even-to-good matchups with the deck. Playing Chalice of the Void with one counter on turn two will get you free wins, and playing a creature strategy that blanks Lightning Bolt – and to some extend Fatal Push – also leads to game and match wins. Time will tell if having a tough time against the comeback kids of Affinity and Green Tron coupled with the poor Titan Shift matchup will be enough to keep prominent players off the deck.


Storm

Storm is the perfect choice for the good player who isn’t a Modern specialist. You can mostly focus on learning your own deck’s math, sideboard plans against the field and alternative Gifts Ungiven piles and do well without any huge format knowledge. That being said, I expect every good testing team to have a serious plan against Storm and get a lot of practice games in which will ultimately lead to way fewer free wins for the Storm players. I would love to see an innovative sideboard plan from the Storm pilots as a reaction to this, but I’m not holding my breath.


Blue/Red Control

As the picture indicates, this archetype is all about Blood Moon and less about your actual win condition. Whether the Izzet mages choose to finish the game with Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, a horde of Pestermite copies or a protected Platinum Emperion, the cores of their decks are the same and has the same flaws. It has a tough time dealing with creatures that survive Lightning Bolt, and without their combo it is very hard to be a good enough control deck to compete – something they will need to in a world of more copies of Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek than usual. I think time is up for this shell, and the Blue/Red color combination should be used for Storm only.


BG(x) Midrange

Black/Green Midrange is never a bad choice and never a good choice. The players who fancy this archetype likes to influence the game with their targeted discard spells and answer the opponent’s resolved threats with one-for-one removal while beating down with a Tarmogoyf. The nature of the deck makes it good against combo decks, but bad against big mana decks, so the matchup roulette will determine a lot of this deck’s success. I wouldn’t be shocked if we see Reid Duke compete on Sunday in the top 8 against all odds, but overall I predict a quiet weekend for Liliana.


Mardu Pyromancer

The Mardu version is very similar to Abzan and Jund in a lot of ways, but the main differences are Bedlam Reveler instead of Liliana of the Veil, the lack of Tarmogoyf and the ability to play Blood Moon. The Reveler will refill you after killing your opponent’s creatures or pointing burn spells at his life total and provide a good clock, while Blood Moon will give you a fighting chance against previously horrible matchups. The trade-off is losing Tarmogoyf, so your clock will not be as fast and as a result opponents will have more time to draw out of it. The decklists I saw online had very unfocused sideboards, but if high level players figure out the expected metagame and put together 15 strong ones, I have very high expectations for this deck. Mardu is here to stay.


Titan Shift


The Green/Red ramp deck with a combo finish went from fringe Modern deck to the most played Modern deck on Magic Online to something between those two. When this deck was played a lot, players could easily prepare for it with cards like Crumble to Dust and Runed Halo to name a few, but now that it is entering the sub-3% metagame share, devoting sideboard cards to it seems too narrow. Like with Affinity and artifact hate, this is working for TitanShift’s advantage, and we may see another breakout tournament for it this weekend if players have the guts to play it.


Lantern Control

Lantern Control recently got a sweet upgrade in Whir of Invention that made the deck even more consistent in finding its’ key pieces at the right time. With this addition, the games where they don’t find Ensnaring Bridge in time and gets killed by creatures are almost eliminated which is scary to think about. However, this deck is not for everyone. A few dedicated players have kept playing this deck, and this is the weekend to cash in the prize. Couple their dedication and insane amount of practice with people’s hostility and unwillingness to play test against it, and you have a recipe for success. I predict big things for Lantern Control this weekend, and oh boy am I happy that I’m not sitting across from it.


Abzan Company

For players that like creature combo decks with a reasonable aggressive backup plan with solid matchups overall, Abzan Company will be their weapon of choice. With Chord of Calling in your deck, building your main deck and sideboard correctly down to the last slot is super important, and many players find this task intriguing. Both being capable of turn three kills and grinding down removal heavy opponents with Gavony Township makes this deck a more flexible deck in practice than on paper, and if the pilots get their silver bullet slots right for the weekend, a top 8 appearance is within reach.

Thanks a lot for making it this far. In your opinion, which decks will “top” and “flop” this weekend’s Modern Pro Tour?

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?

My 10 MTG Commandments

Hello and welcome back to an actual article from my hand. I’m taking a small break from the interviews to share some mixed thoughts about the way I approach the game. I have come a long way since I started playing, and I feel like sharing my experiences will be beneficial for you reading, but also for me putting my thoughts on paper. All of them has contributed to make me the player I am today, and adopting even one or two of these perspectives will without a doubt make you a better player. Note that the order of these are random.


1. Don’t be too results oriented

If you 5-0 a League on Magic Online, it doesn’t mean that your deck is the flawless. If you 1-3 a League, it doesn’t mean that your deck sucks. Maybe you won a lot of die rolls, maybe your opponents mulliganned a lot, maybe you drew your sideboard cards in your opening hand in games two and three or the other way around. Get a big enough sample size with your deck to have an educated opinion before jumping to conclusions. I see many players, even good ones, switching decks after a Grand Prix because they didn’t get a good finish. If you switch deck right after a big tournament that you prepared for, your preparation wasn’t good enough.


2. Be better at evaluating when you win

It’s easy to try and evaluate a close, important match where you lost, because we find it natural to look for reasons that something bad happens to us. We assume that we must have played sub-optimally or incorrectly, simply because we lost the match. Accept that this is not always the case and be better at looking at the matches you won. The natural behavior after a sweet victory is to feel relief or happiness, but I learned a ton by desecting those games without taking the end result into consideration.


3. Don’t be proud and stubborn

This is something I’m still guilty of practicing, but observing that problem is the first step to improvement. When I get an idea for a deck or sideboard card, I fall in love with it like it’s my new born child. I will ruthlessly defend it when met with critique or raised eye brows like my life depended on it sometimes losing what should be the focus. What I should be doing in these cases is embracing the constructive criticism and use it as a “reality check” to confirm a good idea or feedback to throw away a bad one. Being innovative is great, but don’t fall in love with your ideas. Your peers are here to help you.


4. Be a team player

Fortunately, I learned this many years ago, and it has severely boosted my joy of playing Magic. When I do well, I’m happy and Magic feels very rewarding. When you do badly, if you’re not a team player, you will feel horrible and the negativity makes you unpleasant to be around. Whenever I’m knocked out of an event, I like to stay around and root for and help out my closest friends. Maybe help them scout the opposition, bring them a bottle of water and spectate their matches to cheer them on. If you implement this, all of your Grand Prix trips will feel rewarding regardless of your own performance, and your Magic buddies might even turn into important friends outside of the game.


5. Focus on things you can control

I frequently hear a lot of players talk about circumstances that are out of their control when talking about a match. You can’t do anything about your opponent having the perfect curve in limited or the equivalent in any constructed format. Some percentage of the time it’ll happen, and even the best player in the world would have no chance. I view this as something we sign on an invisible waiver when entering a Magic tournament under “terms and conditions”.


6. The glass is half full, not half empty

When browsing social media or walking through a tournament hall, you will often read or hear comments like “I lost my win-and-in for top 8”, “I was two pro points away from Gold” and “I finished 17th on tiebreakers” with a very negative tone or a crying emoticon. To me this is a very bad habit on the Magic community because it influences the upcoming players a lot. Here is how the above statements would sound in a more positive and constructive way:

“I’m super excited that I top 16’d that Grand Prix!”, “I was only a few points from hitting Gold, so that will be my goal for next season” and “12-3 is a great result that I’m proud of”.

I’m not saying that this is easy to adopt, but we should all strive to make Magic more positive.


7. You play against other Magic players, not immortals

The pairings go up, and you learn that you have a feature match against Seth Manfield. A lot of newcomers and semi-pros will already mentally add one in the loss column, but in reality they should just focus on the game and trust their preparation. Yes, the absolute top level opposition will make very few mistakes and punish immediately for yours, but the gap is not as big as most players think. In matchups like this, I have mostly seen two things happen. Either the newcomer/semi pro will play too conservatively, respecting opposing bluffs and giving too much credit to the platinum pro or the newcomer/semi pro will find it necessary to apply a “Hail Mary” strategy because they feel they can’t win a “normal” game of Magic. If you can play your game like you did last round against Average Joe when getting paired against top level players, you’re in a good spot to take it down.


8. Networking is great in multiple ways

Most of us started playing Magic because of social reasons where the competitive nature came into play much, much later. Once you get to a certain level, your Magic friends will be the ones you bounce ideas off of and the ones you travel with to tournaments. By being friendly and not just minding your own business, a lot of doors will open for you. Whether you need cards for your RPTQ deck, need a couch to sleep on when traveling overseas or want a qualified opinion about a new idea of yours, a good network and group of friends of similar (or better) skill level around you is just what the doctor ordered. Remember you have the same function for them, so this is not a just a selfish perspective.


9. Use the internet, but give credit

Magic anno 2018 lets you find a good decklist with just a quick google search. While this is true for everyone and that should even the playing field, that information is still free for you. While the deckbuilder might have spent 100 hours coming up with ideas and testing, you just loaded it up on Magic Online after a few minutes. This is of course perfectly legal, also ethically, but if you manage to do well with a copied list, at least take your time to credit the creator on social media or a private message on facebook. They will feel great, and you obviously feel great because you just won without putting in too much hard work.


10. Set realistic goals

There is absolutely nothing wrong with using personal goals as motivation, but there are a few pit falls here. You need a more or less objective way to determine what a “realistic” goal is for you, and if you over- or underrate yourself, the whole point of setting goals is invalid. When (not “if”, because no one succeeds every single time) you fail, you need a very strong psyche to get back in the saddle. I suggest working a lot on dealing with failure and tweaking your expectations. As an example, “I want to make as few mistakes as possible and see where that takes me” is a lot better goal for a tournament than “I want to play on Sunday, otherwise the trip is wasted”.

Thank you so much for reading this, and hopefully you can implement some of it to upgrade the way you approach the game.

What are your MTG commandments that I should learn?

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

Beating Modern #4

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


Black/White Eldrazi Taxes

Aether Vial

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

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

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

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

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

Good Sideboard Cards


Ad Nauseam

Ad Nauseam

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

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

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

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

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

Good Sideboard Cards

Dispel

Rule of Law


Green/X Tron

Karn Liberated

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

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

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

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

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

Good Sideboard Cards

Stony SilenceFulminator MageCrumble to Dust


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