Pro Tour 25th Anniversary
As most of you know, I was lucky enough to place 2nd at Grand Prix Madrid earlier this year. This Team Trios Constructed event qualified me for the incredible tournament that was Pro Tour 25th Anniversary in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
I was beyond stoked by the fact that not only did I qualify for a Pro Tour that did NOT feature Limited; but I was going to play side by side with the best friends imaginable and compete for the title!
As it turned out, Michael Bonde had a six month old agreement with Grzegorz Kowalski that he wanted to honor being the noble gentleman he is. Thomas Enevoldsen and I sub’ed on the 2017-2018 Draft Master, the one and only: Elias Watsfeldt. Elias is conveniently a very willing and very good Standard player. No harm done.
Months went by and as I spent most of my time preparing for and playing in the Vintage Super League and competing in Commander and Vintage Challenges I didn’t enjoy the thought of testing Modern in-depth. The games seemed one-dimensional and non-interactive which didn’t appeal to me at all. Despite that I decided to take up the challenge (even though my favorite Challenges are on Saturdays), grab the bull by the horns and playtest the top two fair decks in Modern; Mardu Pyromancer and Blue/White Control.
The Problems of Playing Fair in Modern
When interaction spells are not enough
When you’re winning with a fair deck in Modern, you feel very powerful and rewarded for making big decisions, sometimes every turn, that had an impact on the outcome of the game. If you feel like an above average player, this feeling is very strong and hard to let go of. When you lose to “turn 4 strategies” like Burn, Affinity, Hollow One, Red/Black Vengevine, Ironworks, Dredge, Humans (the list goes on) or lose a tight mirror match, you will start to ask yourself questions like “why am I not doing that instead? and “How do I outplay great players in the Control mirror at the Pro Tour?”.
I hate to admit it, but I was stubborn enough to continue playing these decks for way too long. I was addicted to the feeling of stabilizing at a low life total and turning around the ship for a sweet match win.
Around ten days before leaving for the tournament, I had narrowed my deckchoice down to Hollow One and TitanShift. I had finally succumbed to playing a proactive strategy, but I didn’t feel 100% familiar with learning a new deck, so I decided to lock myself in on TitanShift, something I should’ve done weeks ago, and focus on tweaking the deck to the best of my ability in the expected metagame. After getting inspired by a Seth Manfield article and a message from Sebastian Pozzo to our testing group about which decks to expect in big numbers at the Pro Tour, I came to the following list:
TitanShift by Andreas Petersen
4 Primeval Titan
4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
4 Wood Elves
4 Search for Tomorrow
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Summoner’s Pact
1 Anger of the Gods
1 Sweltering Suns
4 Wooded Foothills
2 Verdant Catacombs
1 Bloodstained Mire
4 Stomping Ground
3 Cinder Glade
1 Blood Crypt
4 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
4 Slaughter Games
2 Nature’s Claim
1 Reclamation Sage
1 Anger of the Gods
3 Tireless Tracker
2 Obstinate Baloth
Now, let’s break down the more interesting choices about the list.
The inclusion of the full playset of this card sure has raised a lot of eyebrows. Aside from the obvious fact that it helps you ramp into a lethal Scapeshift or cast Primeval Titan, Wood Elves is a valuable blocker for matchups like Humans, Hollow One and Death’s Shadow. I chose Wood Elves over something like Growth Spasm because of Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and niche disruption cards like Spell Pierce, Negate, Duress and Thorn of Amethyst.
Additionally, it boosts your chances of a lethal turn four Scapeshift in a format where racing and the dieroll are super important. Lastly, you can cast Wood Elves and Scapeshift on the same turn from six mana.
The sweeper split is odd on the surface, but is super valuable when facing Meddling Mage out of Humans. If they lose to one of them in game one, our chances of resolving one of the others in the sideboarded games go way up. I was lucky to have this exact scenario come up at the Pro Tour.
While the inclusion of a couple of green pacts is no new thing, I just wanted to mention that searching up a Sakura-Tribe Elder or Wood Elves is not only useful when missing land drops early, but also from six mana to combine with a Scapeshift if the opponent is at 18 or less life. You can even do this play with only two green sources available now thanks to Wood Elves.
This blast-from-the-past inclusion was the reason I felt good about submitting TitanShift for the event. I desperately needed a reliable way to beat Ironworks Combo, because I knew that deck would be well represented by good players at the Pro Tour. I justified the full playset by adding Storm (Grapeshot or Gifts Ungiven, Ad Nauseam (Ad Nauseam), Amulet (Primeval Titan), mirror match (Scapeshift) and Tron (Karn Liberated or Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger depending on gamestate) to the list of decks where I would bring it in.
I expected a large number of Blue/White Control at the tournament because of its good matchup against Ironworks Combo and the points I talked about earlier regarding Control decks. Tireless Tracker will dodge Negate, go under Cryptic Command and either has to be dealt with by Path to Exile or a four-mana sweeper. All good scenarios for me. The pitfall was if players would bring Jeskai instead because the red burn spells provide a cleaner answer to it.
These beasts of course share the duty of being good against Burn and help with a midrange plan against decks like Jeskai and Mardu Pyromancer, but other than that they are very different. Baloth will randomly be good against Liliana of the Veil and Burning Inquiry while the fifth point of power on Thragtusk will be relevant against Gurmag Angler, Tarmogoyf and Reality Smasher. Thragtusk is also a lot better vs. Jace, the Mindsculptor decks.
Now, onto the important matchups and my gameplan against them going into the tournament.
This particular list is favored against Humans for a couple of reasons. My gameplan in general will win the game on turn 5 a lot of the time. If you add a Lightning Bolt to slow down their clock or remove a disruptive creature, it will be enough to win the majority of the time. Humans have a mosaic of disruptive elements that will beat you from time to time, but if you can break it up, your win should be able to slip through the cracks. If you manage to resolve one of your four sweepers, your win percentage goes way up. I was 2-0 against Humans in Minneapolis. Summoner’s Pact can be clunky against Thalia.
-2 Summoner’s Pact
+1 Anger of the Gods, +1 Obstinate Baloth
This was my personal enemy number one going into the tournament. I kept losing to the deck in testing and made the drastic measure of adding the playset of Slaughter Games to the sideboard. If you expect to face this juggernaut of a deck, do yourself a favor and splash black in your sideboard and mulligan aggressively to it. I do keep turn four kills on the play or turn four kills with a Nature’s Claim or Lightning Bolt on the draw. I was 2-0 and had an unfinished match where I resolved turn three Slaughter Games in the deciding game vs. Ironworks Combo at the Pro Tour.
You get rid of excess win conditions and useless sweepers in exchange for “four mana: Win the game” and some disenchant effects. Keep in mind your draw will have to beat either a Wurmcoil Engine or army of Sai, Master Thopterist plus tokens after resolving Slaughter Games on either Krark-Clan Ironworks or Scrap Trawler.
-2 Summoner’s Pact, 3 sweepers, 1 Lightning Bolt, 1 Primeval Titan
+4 Slaughter Games, 2 Nature’s Claim, 1 Reclamation Sage
This matchup can be tough because they have very good tools to make sure you don’t get natural Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle online and very good tools to make sure you don’t resolve a big spell that wins the game. The mana advantage you generate and their lack of hard counters aside from Cryptic Command combined with my dedicated midrange transformational sideboard makes this matchup very close in my book.
Work hard to get Valakut and enough mountains in play to start chipping away, and don’t play into Cryptic Command. It’s much more valuable to wait for them to put their shields down or hope to double spell on a crucial turn. I was lucky to win the one time I faced it.
During sideboard, depending on the cards you see game one, you might want to hedge a little more against stuff like Leyline of Sanctity and Runed Halo. Wood Elves for Nature’s Claim would be my suggestion.
-4 Lightning Bolt, 3 sweepers, 1 Wood Elves
+3 Tireless Tracker, 2 Thragtusk, 2 Obstinate Baloth, 1 Reclamation Sage
This matchup is all about racing and not being buried under Karn Liberated and Ulamog, the Ceaceless Hunger before firing off a lethal Scapeshift or attacking with Primeval Titan. In some cases, Lightning Bolt can make their Karn bearable and allow you to rebuild from there, but don’t count on it. Don’t be afraid to take a hit from Wurmcoil Engine, since this deck is able to deal a lot of damage easily. I was able to win the only time I played against Tron.
I add two Nature’s Claim after sideboard for the sole purpose of tearing up an Expedition Map on the first turn of the game. If you can, play around Ghost Quarter + Surgical Extraction by not putting your Valakut into play.
-3 Sweepers, 2 Lightning Bolt
+3 Slaughter Games, 2 Nature’s Claim
This matchup plays out a lot like Humans except your removal spells are worse against them. Sometimes you will Lightning Bolt a Flameblade Adept, but you should count on most games being a race where blocking with Sakura-Tribe Elder and Wood Elves while ramping to your pay-off spells are the name of the game.
Unless you have a good tempo play with double ramp spell on turn three or need the mana to play Primeval Titan, keep the Sakura in play for future fatties even though they haven’t played one yet. Also keep in mind the deck is super swingy, so losing two quick games shouldn’t dishearten you. I split the two matches I played against Hollow One at the Pro Tour.
Sideboarding against Hollow One is super tricky because of their unique creatures. Some are big, some come back and one is your only target for Lightning Bolt. On the play I like trying to race them (still board in the two copies of Nature’s Claim aka the green Swords to Plowshares) while having a few pieces of interaction on the draw seems fine.
-4 Lightning Bolt, 3 sweepers (2 Pacts)
+2 Obstinate Baloth, 2 Thragtusk, 2 Nature’s Claim, 1 Reclamation Sage (2 Anger of the Gods or Lightning Bolt)
We did a good enough job to be in the Top 10 after twelve rounds played, needing to win the last two to in order to make the Top 4, but we ultimately fell short and ended up in 23rd place – something I’m very happy and proud of. Thomas played lights out as usual, and Elias struggled to find even decent draws whenever I looked at his match, so overall we can’t complain. We pocketed $4000 each for our trouble.
I learned a lot about myself during the weeks leading into the trip and the tournament as well. Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel toying with new decks and learn them from the bottom, I now have enough data that suggests that tweaking what I already know to the expected metagame is the way to go for me. This is the third time in three tries that I succeeded playing TitanShift in metagames where the deck was counted out. For what it’s worth my personal record at these three events were 12-2 at Grand Prix Madrid 2017, 13-3 at Grand Prix Madrid 2018 and 8-4 at the Pro Tour 25th Anniversary, and, unless something crazy happens in the metagame, I will try my best to keep it as my pet deck and protect myself from failing with other decks.
Everyday I’m shufflin’.