Preparing for Grand Prix Lyon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creatures (6)
Baral, Chief of Compliance
Goblin Electromancer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Standard hit by the banhammer once again

What just happened?! I know Standard had been a pretty binary format for a while but 4 cards seems like an overreaction. Until you start going into the details that is. Wizards provided a lot of context for their decision in the announcement, including a lot of matchup data for both Energy decks and Mono Red. In that data you can see that Energy (both Temur and Temur Black) is the classic “Jund” deck in terms of matchups; they all hover around 50% and it almost always improves after sideboarding. This is just how midrange decks play out almost by definition and that alone isn’t enough for me to advocate a ban. But then consider that this is with everyone who doesn’t play Energy trying to beat it. It is problematic that no matter how hard you try, you can’t get a considerable edge.

If you take the BG Midrange decks in Modern, many of their matchups are close to even but it can’t take over the metagame because a few decks like Tron and Scapeshift could then rise and prey on it. In Standard, the counter strategies available like the UW Control decks hold a massive advantage in game 1 but they are so inconsistent or low power that the Energy decks could sideboard their way to a reasonable matchup.

I personally enjoyed having Energy decks in the format because the games were often very deep and interesting, but I agree that it would get to monotonous to keep having it around with Rivals of Ixalan looking like it wouldn’t be able to change much.

Then we have the takedown of the Mono Red deck. This one I unequivocally agree with, for a couple of reasons. First, I hate Mono Red. It’s a deck that just plays the hardest hitting cheap haste creatures it can find along with whatever burn is available and just hopes the opponent misses a spot on their curve and/or doesn’t have any lifegain. It leads to boring games where the opponent just has to try and take as little damage as possible and hope they can stabilise out of burn range. When you play against Mono Red you rarely have to think more than a turn ahead and most decisions are quite obvious. When I lose a game, I can often find a decision that I could have made differently to give me a chance of winning. This basically never happens against Mono Red.

Second, Mono Red destroyed the metagame outside of Energy. Some decks rose up to beat Energy, like UW Approach and UW Cycling and not only were they not as good at that as intended, they got crushed by Mono Red to the tune of around 70% of matches. The Mono Red deck boasts both blistering speed and incredible resiliency. You couldn’t just fill your deck with life gain because you would just lose the long game. Red aggressive decks still look quite viable but the power level seems more reasonable.

Now for the individual cards removed from the format. Let’s start with the two energy cards banned; Attune with Aether and Rogue Refiner. I agree that these are the core of the Energy decks’ power; they are both reasonable without the energy so it becomes very close to a free addition.

Banning Attune only would definitely kill off the black versions of Temur Energy but straight Temur would still be viable albeit weakened. Banning Rogue Refiner only would hamper the decks consistency a lot and it would need to be replaced by less generic 3 drops like Deathgorge Scavenger. This would also allow the deck to stay but would take most matchups down a notch. I think banning either one would have been interesting but with the risk of leaving it atop the metagame still, I understand the “safe” choice of taking out both.

Then we have Ramunap Ruins and Rampaging Ferocidon. Ruins was from the beginning touted as a game changer because it provided reach to aggressive decks at basically no cost. The Mono Red plan is to get in damage early with creatures and then finish the opponent of with burn once their better creatures have gained control of the combat phase. The creatures can deal more damage because they can do it every turn, but they are easier to stop. You want creatures in your opening hand and draw burn later. Ruins meant burn in lands so you could play more creatures and thus have more creatures in your opener while still giving you burn for the late game when you need it. Land also meant it didn’t get stopped by Negate so the damage was all but guaranteed. Without it, Mono Red goes back to the “traditional” way of needing to draw creatures and burn spells in the correct order, making it more manageable.

Lastly and to many, most confusingly, is Rampaging Ferocidon. I think it makes perfect sense actually. I don’t think ferocidon was a ban worthy problem in the pre ban format. But consider that now we are getting the second set of a tribal block, and a lot of players will be looking to play their favourite tribe in Standard. Then imagine playing your Vampire deck and making a gazillion 1/1 lifelink tokens and thus stopping any hope the Mono Red opponent had of getting your life total to 0, except they have a 3/3 that not only prevents you from gaining life, it kills you for making all those tokens. Beyond just the Vampire deck, a normal plan against Mono Red is to gum up the board and gain some life. The dino stopped both those plans. It is still just a creature that can be killed by removal without having any effect on the game, but tribal decks, almost by definition, are light on removal and would be very vulnerable to it.

In conclusion, I think the bans are reasonable and more importantly the reasoning laid out by Wizards seems sound and thorough. On the other hand, it is very disconcerting that we continue to need bans in Standard, which already has a yearly rotation to keep players’ wallets under pressure and I’m afraid Standard support will keep dwindling for a long time before confidence in Wizards is restored. Finally, on a positive note, Standard now looks fresh and exciting and I look forward to exploring it (get it?).

I was getting worried that I would have to do a Vintage article but it looks like that can wait until I actually get an idea of what I’m talking about (don’t hold your breath).

Let me know in the comments or on social media what you think of the changes if you haven’t already.

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:

If you want more Modern action, tune in to my twitch channel and follow me on twitter!

It’s a miracle: Back-to-Back Victory

© 2017 photo credit: magiccardmarket.eu

Editorial Note: “It’s a miracle: Back-to-Back Victory” is a guest entry by Johannes Gutbrod. Read more about Johannes in “Meet the Pros: Johannes Gutbrod, Legacy”. Johannes Gutbrod is not affiliated with Snapcardster.com

After Show-and-Telling in Frankfurt I was testing a lot of different archetypes but mostly various miracle variants. In may I began testing an UWB MentorMiracles deck. It was the Ovino list from my good friend Claudio Bonanni, which I thought had more potential as he seemed to think himself.

After months of testing we both came to the conclusion that the red splash is superior to the black one at the moment. Blood Moon is a hell of a card and helps with the harder MU’s like Eldrazi, Czech Pile or Lands. Pyroclasm is great against Delver, Elves and Death and Taxes and Pyroblasts are still superior to Discard effects in the control mirror.

We figured if we could somehow fix the combo matchups (we upped the number of Ethersworn Canonist), the UWR-variant would be better in every regard.

In the last weeks we settled on a quite stock list, but were still differing in 4-6 cards in the 75. This is the 75 I registered for the Legacy Main Event:

Not Quite Miracles by Johannes Gutbrod

Creatures (7)
Snapcaster Mage
Monastery Mentor

Spells (33)
Brainstorm
Ponder
Portent
Counterspell
Flusterstorm
Daze
Force of Will
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Swords to Plowshares
Terminus
Engineered Explosives
Predict
Lands (20)
Tundra
Volcanic Island
Scalding Tarn
Flooded Strand
Arid Mesa
Island
Plains
Mountain

Sideboard (15)
Flusterstorm
Pyroblast
Blood Moon
Surgical Extraction
Ethersworn Canonist
Vendilion Clique
Pyroclasm
Wear // Tear
Relic of Progenitus

The Relic of Progenitus was a late addition as I wanted another card for Grixis/ Grixis Control and still have the same amount of graveyard-hate. We were 295 players, and here is the part you all came for:

Round 1: Deathblade 1:2
G1: My opponents overextends and Force of Wills two Terminus, of which I force back to resolve the second one. I try to fetch for a Dual to make him use his Wasteland and turn on my Daze for a potential True-Name Nemesis. He does so but finds another land with his last draw slams True-Name Nemesis and I don’t find an answer in four turns.
G2: Opponent keeps one land.
G3: Double Lingering Souls are quite good in this matchup…

Round 2: OmniSneak 2:1
G1: I’m still trying to figure out what my opponent is on until he plays a Boseiju, Who Shelters All turn three. I think I’m pretty much dead, as my hand is slow. Next turn I can resolve a Jace, the Mind Sculptor and manage to lock him out with Portent + Jace while countering all his cantrips aggressively.
G2: Got combo’d out.
G3: Ethersworn Canonist rides to a close victory.

Round 3: Grixis Control 2:1
G1: Hymn to Tourach and early beatz bring me into Lightning Bolt range, and when I finally stabilize it is too late.
G2/ G3: My superior control cards (Predict!) take those games.

Round 4: Czech Pile 2:0
G1: We play draw-go for a while until I find a window to resolve my Jace, the Mind Sculptor. He fights back quite well with several Snapcaster Mages and Kolaghan’s Command, but in the end Monastery Mentor joins the party and he gets monk’d out.
G2: Blood Moon is a fair magic card, no?! 😉

Round 5: SneakShow 2:0
G1/ G2: These games were similar to my first match against OmniSneak. In the first game Jace, the Mind Sculptor drew me a lot of cards as well.

Round 6: Elves 2:1
G1: Can’t find a Terminus in time before I get run over.
G2: Is a long fight, involving Pyroclasm, Nissa, Vital Force and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. The blue planeswalker helps me establishing control in the end.
G3: We go to time. My opponent kindly scoops, as a draw in this stage of the tournament is pretty bad for both of us. Thanks again!

Round 7: Lands 2:0
G1/ G2: I aggressively counter Gamble to prevent Life from the Loam-shenanigans and win with Jace, the Mind Sculptor. It helped that he didn’t find Punishing Fire in game one as well (I fatesealed him out in the end).

Round 8: Goblins 2:1
G1: My opponent is seemingly nervous and mulls a hand that’s good against miracles but bad against the rest of the format as he fortunately doesn’t know what I’m playing. He ends up going to 4 cards, though.
G2: Aether Vial on four and several Goblin Ringleaders find too much gas for me to handle.
G3: This one is really close, I can Force of Will a crucial Tarfire targeting my Mentor. Next turn I resolve Jace, the Mind Sculptor and keep my army back to defend him. He taps out for Goblin Ringleader and I have the window to prowess my army and slam Pyroclasm to extinguish his board and swing for the win.

Round 9: TurboDepths 2:0
The draw could leave me at a potential ninth place, so I decide to choose my fate myself and play it out.
G1: I play Monastery Mentor, Swords to Plowshare on Marit Lage and beat him slowly down while he bricks and gets Portented out of the game.
G2: Instead of cantripping I decide to leave my mana open, even if he just has a forest. He tries to play Crop Rotation, I have Flusterstorm and the game is basically over as he can’t cast any spells.

After the dust settles I’m 8:1, and second place in the final standings.

Quarters: Elves 2:1
G1: I fail to find cantrips and die with all the good stuff in hand.
G2/ G3: Mass removal, Jace, the Mind Sculptor and a hail-mary Terminus for his Progenitus.

Semis: UnexpectedMiracles 2:0 (these matches are covered on the MkM-site as well)
G1: My hand is very blueish, and I resolve Predicts and Snapcaster Mages while countering his.
G2: I manage to tap him out with an end-of-turn Vendilion Clique and mainphase Monastery Mentor, so that my hand with Daze + Ponder can go completely out of hand. Later I manage to fateseal a crucial Terminus to the bottom and make my way to the finals.

Finals: RUG Lands 2:1
G1: The game lasts for forty minutes and in the end I have just 8 cards left in my library. The game is basically Life from the Loam vs. Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Unfortunately after 14 hours of Legacy I miss a trigger of The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale, that might have enabled another sequence and could have won. Happens!
G2: Relic of Progenitus takes away a lot of goodies and Jace, the Mind Sculptor fateseals him out of the game.
G3: I can clear away his first turn Chalice of the Void on one with Engineered Explosives and play my hand with a lot of cantrips. I hold my Blood Moon for a long time until he finally taps under three mana. Then I cast the enchantment and he scoops them up. Props to his beautiful foiled out lands deck though.

Hope you enjoyed the read, see you all in Hamburg!

Johannes Gutbrod

Meet the Pros: Johannes Gutbrod, Legacy

© 2017 photo credit: magiccardmarket.eu

Editorial Note: Read more about Gutbrod’s performance at MKMSeries Prague – It’s a miracle: Back-to-Back Victory

Hello Johannes and congratulations for taking down the Legacy portion of the Magic Card Market Series this weekend! Thank you for stopping by today. Please give the readers a quick introduction of yourself as a Magic player.

Hello guys, thanks for having me 🙂
I’m a 25 year old student and Legacy enthusiast from Nürnberg (Germany). I only play this format, as I enjoy it the most. I organize Legacy tournaments, playtest a lot with friends and try to play all the big European tournaments.

I like to learn new interactions in this format and I’m a person who analyses his own gameplay and tries to find mistakes in there in order to get better and to develop my skill further.

I know you played a fair share of Miracles in the past, and at this event you brought a new version of the deck. Talk a little about the card choices. Monastery Mentor + Daze package opposed to going harder on the Snapcaster Mage + Predict engine with multiple copies of Unexpectedly Absent.

First of all this version can win games much faster than its controllish cousin. Monastery Mentor and Daze can swing games in two or three turns. But that’s rarely the case.

What I like about this version is that it can switch roles so effectively. Often it’s correct to keep a Daze, even when it seems counterintuitive to protect a crucial spell later on when your opponent will never expect it, or taps out. Daze is a safety net for many problematic cards in the format as well (Show and Tell, True-Name Nemesis, Planeswalkers…).

I’m curious about the strengths and weaknesses of the deck. Obviously the Miracles plan has become less consistent after Sensei’s Divining Top got banned, so the deck has lost some overall powerlevel. How does your version make up for that?

I don’t even think that the deck lost as much powerlevel as most people think. Counterbalance was weak in a lot of matchups and with more Predicts and Mentors previously harder matchups like Eldrazi got way better.

Moreover the bluecount is higher than before. And Portent, although being weaker than Sensei’s Divining Top, is another shuffle effect (important e.g. under Blood Moon) and enables locking out the opponent in topdeck mode.

But I think the deck got even harder to play than before… so to anyone picking this deck: You have to practice a lot and try to overthink your gameplay in order to become better!

I heard you lost round 1 of this tournament, but you still managed to come out on top. Take us through your mindset as the rounds went by and you kept racking up wins.

Honestly speaking, in the minutes after the loss I was quite tilted, as I expected much more from myself. So I went out to grasp some fresh air and tried to refocus, thinking that if I will lose no one would care but if I will make it to the top it would truly be a miracle.

I try to think of these situations as learning experiences not just regarding legacy but regarding life as a whole. As I was coming closer and closer to my goal I became more focused and concentrated, trying to block out my surroundings and just think about the next turn(s).

What is your opinion about the health of Legacy right now? On the surface it seems very balanced and like you can play a lot of different decks without being horribly behind like in the Top era.

I agree 100% with your statement. I’ve never thought that you could play that many different decks competitively without one dominating the others. I love to see new decks popping up, be it Marcus Ewaldhs Blue Moon deck, or Tomas Vlceks NicFit.

Legacy was announced as 1/3 of the formats for an upcoming Pro Tour next season. In my opinion, it’s a brilliant move by Wizards of the Coast to motivate Legacy specialists to try and qualify to try their skills versus the absolute elite. What’s your take on this in general and on a personal level?

In general I like the renowned interest in the best magic format. Many people will have a look into this format which they might have never tried before. This will help the community as more tournaments would get organized/ articles get written and so on.

For me personally it is a long wished but very high goal to play Legacy at the ProTour. Although qualifying seems to be really hard and I’m not looking forward to playing Standard to do so, haha. On the other hand I can’t wait to play at GP Birmingham!

Thanks a lot for your time. Hope to see you outplaying platinum pros on the biggest stage next year! In meantime, feel free to follow me on twitter and on my twitch channel. See you there! 🙂

Really? Control in modern?

I’m taking a break from standard this week so I have some time to get the new cards online and get some decks tested, but let me just say that I hadn’t seen the card Hour of Devastation until this week so that explains my color choices in the last article.

Now, you don’t really need white since devastation is just a better and cheaper revelation. For this week, I will talk about how I got my love of uw transferred to modern. I had been looking for a deck to play Sphinx’s Revelation in since it rotated out of standard, and when the eldrazi took over modern previous winter, the opportunity finally came. Supreme Verdict was an absolute beast in that format and while uw eldrazi was the best deck at the time uw control at least had a good eldrazi matchup.

After Eye of Ugin was banned modern became wide open again which, as we all know, is a poor sign for control mages. I briefly reconnected with the deck while preparing for the WMC but we didn’t spend that much time on it. Then came GP Copenhagen in late May with GP Las Vegas soon after and I took the opportunity to continue working on the deck. I have GP Birmingham coming up so I have been playing the deck a lot the last couple of months and while I’m no modern master (I didn’t even like the last Modern Masters set) I think I’ve gained a lot of insight into the deck that could be valuable to share.

The first question to answer is if you want to play Ancestral Vision or not. For a while, I thought it was about whether you wanted to be better against creature decks or combo decks since ancestral usually leads away from Wall of Omens and lots of planeswalkers, but now I think it’s just about card flow and consistency. Ancestral Vision is obviously a powerful card but oftentimes drawing three cards on turn 5 is just not as necessary as seeing an extra card or two on turns 3 and 4. You see, the real reason uw can be successful in modern is because of Supreme Verdict and white sideboard cards. You would think that modern having so many different archetypes that you can all realistically run into during a large tournament would make it impossible for control to succeed, but for the most part modern is all creature decks and decks that fold to various hate pieces backed by a counterspell and/or a verdict. This is quite a statement and should be looked into a bit more thoroughly. Let’s look at the decks presented in Reid Duke’s recent article on the modern metagame (https://www.channelfireball.com/articles/the-state-of-modern-july-2017/) and how uw stacks up against them. First, my current decklist:

UW Control by Anders Gotfredsen

Creatures (2)
Snapcaster Mage

Spells (33)
Path to Exile
Serum Visions
Spreading Seas
Wall of Omens
Blessed Alliance
Negate
Gideon of the Trials
Detention Sphere
Cryptic Command
Supreme Verdict
Jace, Architect of Thought
Leyline of Sanctity
Gideon Jura
Sphinx's Revelation
Lands (25)
Island
Plains
Celestial Colonnade
Flooded Strand
Hallowed Fountain
Tectonic Edge
Mystic Gate

Sideboard (15)
Leyline of Sanctity
Stony Silence
Spell Queller
Vendilion Clique
Rest in Peace
Dispel
Blessed Alliance
Jace, Architect of Thought
Elspeth, Sun's Champion
Grafdigger's Cage
Celestial Purge
Timely Reinforcements

At least one kid must dream of a
boogeyman that looks like this

Death’s Shadow:

The consensus best deck relies on its namesake and a few more 1 mana black threats backed by discard, Lilianas and cheap counters. They often can’t play out more than one threat at a time because of verdict and that means that pretty much all of our spells buy us at least one turn. The goal is to get to a point where you either run them out of threats or can remove their current one at the end of their turn so you can untap and say go with Cryptic Command up and a clear board (as is often the goal when you play a deck with Cryptic Command). Outside of that general plan we have some jokers like Gideon of the Trials (who is, ironically, still in the deck on a trial basis) and Spreading Seas.

Gideon shines here as, since they often only have one big guy in play, he can bubble it and force them to extend into verdict. He is also great at pressuring Liliana of the Veil and Liliana, the Last Hope varieties, and they pretty much can’t remove him without combat damage. Spreading Seas has gotten worse since most shadow players started including blue but it can still be quite useful to keep them from turn 3 Liliana and sometimes off black mana altogether. The matchup has gotten a bit harder compared to when it was Jund and the color swap is actually a big reason for cutting Ancestral Vision. Turn 1 suspend used to be pretty much gg but when they have the possibility of countering it turn 5 it can completely destroy the plan you had for the game.  On the bright side, some people have continued switching colors to include Lingering Souls. That seems like a bad thing for a control deck but it really just makes them slower and slow is good. Verdict is already often just a 1-for-1 so killing 2 or 4 tokens isn’t that much of a downgrade and if they just have 2 in play you can easily just take 2 damage for some turns. 

Maybe not format breaking anymore, but still quite gross

Eldrazi Tron:  I think I would actually rather play against the pre ban uw eldrazi deck than this since tron lands powering out Karn, Liberated and huge Walking Ballistas is pretty annoying. Chalice of the Void can also be a bitch but without ancestral, but at least you no longer actually get spells countered and you can stock up spells to cast when you finally draw a Detention Sphere. And now if they remove the sphere the chalices do nothing. You will lose some games to their nut draws, but so will every other deck in the format; there’s a reason it’s number two on the list. Verdict is sick here and so is Blessed Alliance. I used to have two Ceremonious Rejection in the board for this and regular tron and they are still in consideration. I saw Corey Burkhart had a Dismember in his list as another way of getting around chalice and I will give it a try at some point. Losing 4 life isn’t typically in a control decks best interests, though.

Are the rest of the creatures in modern finally catching up to the Lhurgoyf?

BGx: Liliana of the Veil is your main concern here as verdict deals with the rest of their deck. Often in the midgame, they will play a discard spell and take your verdict if you have one and then extend the board to kill you quickly. In this spot, it’s super important to have 4 verdicts so you have a good shot at finding one to stay in the game. Of course you can also just start the game with a Leyline of Sanctity in play and it’ll be smooth sailing. One interesting thing we realized in GP Las Vegas is that Abzan cannot beat a Rest in Peace on the board. Their threats are Grim Flayer, Tarmogoyf, Lingering Souls and Scavenging Ooze (sometimes a Siege Rhino will sneak in as well but that is manageable to put it mildly) and it’s pretty intuitive for them to board out Abrupt Decay. All these matchups usually go the same way; either you win easily or the games are very close and interesting (and often winnable), can’t ask for more in a matchup. 

Collected Company:  The infinite combo with Kitchen Finks and Viscera Seer have added another infinite combo and it’s a doozy. I can’t figure out if this is a good matchup but I know it was bad when I played Ancestral Vision. Supreme Verdict should be lights out since it is more creature based than any of the previous decks but Kitchen Finks, Eternal Witness and especially Selfless Spirit give them a lot of counterplay to it. I try to always save a Path to Exile for the spirit and after board Rest in Peace helps out against the other two while Grafdigger’s Cage handles finks along with Collected Company and Chord of Calling. Wall and the extra planeswalkers are definitely better here than vision was but I’m not sure if it’s enough to turn it around. Also note that this is the first matchup where Leyline of Sanctity isn’t good. The elves and humans company decks have far less resilience in the face of verdict and play out pretty much as you’d expect a creature deck against a control deck to do. 

A noncreature spell you’re happy to see; it means creatures en masse

Hatebears:  Maybe I was a bit too brash above saying you’re happy to see Aether Vial. If they play it turn one, there is a good chance I’ll Detention Sphere it turn 3 if I can, since it takes a lot of the oomph out of Supreme Verdict. Nevertheless, the rest of the deck is all creatures and aside from vial they have very little counterplay to verdict. They basically have to keep you from casting it with Leonin Arbiter and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. The black versions have discard spells to help out, but it’s still a fine and fairly straightforward matchup. Note that Ancestral Vision is a big liability against the black versions since Wasteland Strangler can eat it from suspense. 

Affinity is easy, isn’t it?

Affinity:  Great matchup! If you have a Path to Exile and a verdict they can’t win. There is only one Stony Silence in the board because you simply don’t need help here. Spreading Seas takes out their womanlands (#feminism #landswithher) and verdict handles the rest. Remember to board in Celestial Purge for Blood Moon and Ghirapur Aether Grid. 

Valakut, meet Leyline of Sanctity

Scapeshift:  It took 7 spots before we got to a deck where Supreme Verdict isn’t good. While Leyline of Sanctity is good against some of the other decks on the list, this is why there is one in the maindeck. It has picked up a lot online recently and it can be very hard to win without leyline. They have turn 4 Primeval Titan more often than you Cryptic Command for it (especially when you factor in that you can’t counter their turn 4 titan if they’re on the play) and killing the titan after it has found 2 Valakuts still means that almost all their cards deal you 6. Spreading Seas helps but if they play turn 4 titan it’s rare that you can kill it and seas both Valakuts. If you have leyline, everything changes. Now their deck is a 2 mana 1/1 and a 6 mana 6/6 also known as complete crap. Post board they get a Reclamation Sage and maybe some Nature’s Claims that you have to be aware of along with some more random creatures like Obstinate Baloth that shouldn’t cause any problems. 

There’s always that one guy…

Burn:  I hate this deck so very much and I can’t wait to cast Oketra’s Last Mercy against it. Right now I’m relying on 2 Timely Reinforcements and to a lesser extent 2 Blessed Alliance and it’s not something I look forward to. I don’t think the matchup is unfavored beyond 40-60 but it’s just never comfortable. You struggle and struggle to stay alive and then at some point they either scoop or draw enough burn to kill you. And of course there are games where you just get demolished by turn 3, and games where they can’t remove you leyline. 

Control:  I can’t say too much about this specific mirror match since a lot of the times I face it online, my opponent concedes the match after or during game I don’t get it, why would you pick a grindy control deck if you don’t want to play grindy games? There are a lot of different control decks out there, some with more planeswalkers, some with Ancestral Vision, some with more creatures, some with Esper Charm (that card is a beating against us), but overall I would say be patient and try to keep making land drops. It’s often the first player who taps out in his turn that loses. And play quickly!

Keeping players honest since 1994

Blood Moon decks:  We’re already scraping the bottom of the barrel here but it is important to know if a Blood Moon could be coming when you’re fetching in the early turns. There are 10 basics so it’s not that good against us but if you fetch two Hallowed Fountains without thinking about it you can still lose. The rest of the decks are usually on the slower side and Cryptic Command can take the day against them. 

You don’t want to face this guy

Dedicated Combo:  Well, at least we have a sideboard, right… Storm is the most prevalent right now, which is good because path and verdict still have some use there. Ad Nauseam; not so much, and the chances of you being able to cast more counterspells than they have Pact of Negation are slim. Stony Silence is good but the other hate pieces don’t do anything. Gideon of the Trials can help but I would still hate to face this matchup. Let’s focus on storm as it’s the only one I’ve actually face since Vegas (I guess discard spells and one mana 8/8’s are not what Ad Nauseam excels against). Martin Müller recently told me that you should wait on your removal spell for their electromancer until in response to Gifts Ungiven, and you probably should more often than you do now. If they go for it on turn 3, path in response to gifts is likely to mess them up but they often won’t against 3 open mana from a blue deck. If they stick an electromancer, the most likely way to lose is to double Grapeshot, but even without their spells being cheaper, Gifts Ungiven end of turn can get them enough spells to go off. Again, leyline is lights out game one, and game two you get an extra along with 3 graveyard “removal” spells. Don’t give them an opening for Echoing Truth and keep some number of Jaces/verdicts to deal with Empty the Warrens and you’ll be fine. 

Other: The other decks I feel are worth mentioning are Dredge, Living End and Lantern. Dredge is near impossible game 1 and post board you rely on the 3 graveyard hate pieces. It matters a lot here that Golgari Grave-Troll is gone since they are a lot less explosive so you don’t have to have the hate turn 2; turn 4-5 followed by a verdict can be fine. Living End is a bit strange because on the one hand, you have more verdicts than they have Living Ends but they can kill turn 4 on the play and they have 8 land destruction spells to keep you from 4 mana. Remember that not only does Grafdigger’s Cage not stop Living End, it also doesn’t prevent cascade (which I may or may not have learned the hard way recently). Finally, we have Lantern, and it’s a slaughter. I don’t know how you’re supposed to ever beat them since you give them so much time that they can overcome whatever disruption you throw their way. They can quickly start controlling your draw step but at that point you’re probably dead no matter what you draw. If you really want to beat it, I guess you can play more Stony Silence but I don’t think it’s worth the slots and you’re probably still a huge underdog. 

Almost forgot, you’ll always face a regular tron player. This one is all about Spreading Seas and Tectonic Edge trying to buy you time to get enough lands in play that you can counter their big spells and not be devastated by the cast trigger on Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. As with eldrazi tron you will lose some games to their nut draws, but have a favorable matchup overall. 

Right now, I am leaning towards no Ancestral Vision, but I plan on trying a list with one or two in it. Other than that, I am quite pleased with the list and am mostly looking at minor tweaks as I get more games in with slightly different cards. Go now and enjoy making your opponents feel miserable and helpless, the way Magic was intended.