A Discussion Of Modern

Two-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Sam Black writes about the Modern decks he considered playing at Pro Tour Born of the Gods. Get some inspiration for Grand Prix Richmond!

GP Richmond

The changes to the banned and restricted list before Pro Tour Born of the Gods definitely changed Modern, but it was hard for me to get excited about it because it didn’t make the format feel new the way good new cards might. Wild Nacatl hadn’t been legal for a while, so "Zoo" had some new tools that weren’t available last time, but it all still felt very familiar.

I advocated unbanning Bitterblossom on the argument that the card isn’t really good enough to have a significant impact on Modern based on comparing it to Lingering Souls, looking at how much each of them are played in Legacy, and thinking about the answers to 1/1 flying tokens that have been printed to answer Lingering Souls that match up similarly well against Bitterblossom. Despite knowing this, I still spent far too much time working on Faeries because it had enough success on Magic Online to be encouraging and I knew that I’d be very unhappy if I played something else and Faeries ended up good.

I quickly decided I didn’t really like Mistbind Clique, Vendilion Clique, or Cryptic Command. Too many other decks were too fast for four-mana spells or too capable of interacting at instant speed in such a way that made four-mana instants too clunky to use. I also felt like the deck really had to choose between trying to fight creature decks and trying to fight spell decks. Faeries isn’t exactly a control deck, but it definitely wants to be a reactive deck. And in Modern, it really felt like you had to know what you were reacting to.

One card I really liked was Sower of Temptation. The prevalence of Abrupt Decay and Smother as some of the more common removal spells helped it a lot, but I also found that I wanted to play a lot of cards that are good at protecting it. Specifically, I liked Scion of Oona more than Vendilion Clique, and I was very interested in trying to relive the experience of copying Drogskol Captain with Phantasmal Image but this time copying Scion of Oona, which is even easier to set up because Scion of Oona has flash and also because I could use Aether Vial.

The shell that I was most interested in used Aether Vial with Spellskite, Phantasmal Image, and Scion of Oona to protect Sower of Temptation. The problem with this is that it didn’t leave me with a lot of tools against control—I’d moved away from the traditional strengths of Faeries into something more like a bad Merfolk deck. It just wasn’t going to work, but for reference this is something like where I left off:

I liked Creeping Tar Pit and Mutavault a lot, but this deck clearly wasn’t good enough. I really like the interaction between Aether Vial and Thirst for Knowledge, but I can’t find a good way to use them together—well, I suppose that’s not true. I think the best way to use them is probably something along the lines of Shouta Yasooka’s Eternal Command deck.

After I gave up on Faeries, the decks that I was most interested in were Patrick Chapin’s Dredge deck, Owen Turtenwald’s Zoo deck, Reid Duke’s B/G deck, and Andrew Cuneo’s Birthing Pod deck. In other words, I knew I didn’t want to play Storm again, but I was open to most of the other decks that someone on my team liked.

I’d played and liked Melira Pod before, but I felt the banning of Deathrite Shaman did more to hurt that deck than to help it—while Deathrite Shaman was good against it, only some opponents would have it, while you would have it in your deck no matter who you were playing against, and it was much better to find with Ranger of Eos than the other mana creatures. More importantly, Andrew reported that the deck was only okay against Zoo despite his card choices being made very much with Zoo in mind (decisions like skipping Murderous Redcap entirely and playing Thrun, the Last Troll in the maindeck along with a large number of Kitchen Finks and Voice of Resurgence and the Spike Feeder + Archangel of Thune combo).

I felt like most decks were either "pretty good against the field but a little soft to Zoo" (Twin in particular) or "competitive against Zoo but only if they really work for it."

Zoo felt like the place to be if that was the case, and Owen had a list of Big Zoo that seemed great against Little Zoo decks while keeping most of the strengths of Zoo and playing all great cards.

At the same time I knew that I wanted to be proactive in Modern, and I felt like people might not have enough graveyard hate since they were used to a format where Deathrite Shaman was incidentally suppressing graveyard decks. So I thought that if there was something really broken in the tournament, which is a rarity for Modern these days when everyone knows what to expect and just plays any of the known good decks, it might be that. Patrick Chapin’s Dredge deck had a lot of potential to do really unfair things.

The deck just wasn’t quite consistent enough for me. The mana was a little too unstable, and while some of its wins were really dramatic, too often it would do things that just weren’t enough better than what fair decks were doing. Too much of the deck’s power felt concentrated in its good draws, giving it a "win more or bust" feel, as much as I wanted to it to be good enough. It was playing well after sideboarding but was playing a very different kind of game, and I didn’t feel comfortable enough with knowing exactly when and how to make the transition for games 2 and 3. And I felt like the mana was even more of a mess then when green became important in addition to the red, blue, and black that the mana was designed to support.

Reid’s deck was solid in testing. At first Reid said he was working on it because it was the kind of deck he wanted to play, but toward the end testing he transitioned to saying he thought it was a great deck that he would recommend playing. I take recommendations from Reid pretty seriously because he’ll do exactly what he did here—if he’s playing a deck because it’s his style, he’ll say so, but once he gets more confident, he’ll stand behind his deck and recommend it to anyone. The fact that he has those different modes makes it easy to know when he’s really sure about something.

I trusted that he had a good deck here and knew that it was positioned where I wanted to be in the format—it had a very good matchup against Zoo but also had tools to fight combo and a very versatile set of answers in general. However, it definitely had a feel very similar to Jund, which is a deck I’ve never really been happy playing personally, and at this point the PT was very close. I had very little experience with the deck, and William Jensen and Owen were very confident in Owen’s Big Zoo deck.

This is the deck I played at the PT. When playing against Little Zoo, it was just so easy for a Scavenging Ooze or Knight of the Reliquary to take over a game, and that was a big draw for me. Also, I tested against it with a lot of decks that were trying to be more controlling, and cards like Kessig Wolf Run; Thundermaw Hellkite; and Chandra, Pyromaster just made the deck very difficult to beat going long.

Big Zoo felt like it was really at the mercy of its draws since it had very little real card advantage and no card selection—-it just played powerful cards and hoped they were more powerful than the opponent’s, which they usually were. The deck seemed a little soft to combo, but I thought most people would be playing fair. It still had game there, especially against decks like Splinter Twin that weren’t great against Zoo to begin with, and the sideboard had good bullets for some of the other matchups if you happened to draw them.

Ultimately, I didn’t do well—I went 3-5 and didn’t make the second day after a 1-2 start in Draft. However, the deck still felt pretty good. I lost to Burn, which is a horrible matchup if you don’t draw Lightning Helix (and I didn’t), but my other two losses could have been wins if I’d played them differently.

The most painful loss was against a Grixis Twin deck. I won a long first game that I thought I’d definitely lost when I cast a Thundermaw Hellkite against a hand with a bunch of cards and it lived and went the distance—it turned out my opponent was just holding a bunch of Splinter Twin and no Deceiver Exarch or answers to my Dragon. I lost the second game, but I thought I had the third game locked up.

My opponent had Batterskull, but he only had two cards in hand, five untapped lands, and four life. I had Thrun, the Last Troll; Noble Hierarch; and three answers to Batterskull: an Ancient Grudge in my graveyard and Wear // Tear and Path to Exile in my hand. He had two cards, and I had three answers and a hexproof lethal creature—surely I’ve won this game. So I just started the academic process of actually killing my opponent. Flashback Ancient Grudge, killing your Batterskull. Spell Snare. Okay, sure, Wear / /Tear your Batterskull. Cryptic Command, counter that and tap your creatures.

Oh no, what have I done? If I’d just moved to combat and attacked with Thrun before I started playing my answers, he couldn’t have done that—he’d have to either tap my creatures and draw a card, at which point he’d only have one mana left and I could destroy his Batterskull for sure, or he’d let my Thrun attack and kill him. Instead, I found myself unable to kill him with my tapped Thrun, and worse yet all I had to answer his Batterskull was a Path to Exile. If I’d played that before the Wear // Tear, I’d still be able to destroy the Batterskull and kill him next turn with the Thrun. Instead, I’d found the only losing line from an extremely dominant position because I just didn’t recognize it as a spot where I needed to think at all.

Hopefully this will teach me that it’s not over until it’s over, and I’ll remember to think next time. Unfortunately, this is the exact kind of spot where really pausing to think will upset some opponents, who will feel like you’re "slow rolling" them when you have the win, but really I’d like to think that I’m at the point where I don’t really care if my opponent gets upset about something like that. If they’re really offended, I tend to think they’re just upset because they lost and want something to be mad at.

Overall, our team did great work, and prepared several good lists that performed really well. While I didn’t want to play Storm myself, I think Jon Finkel had the best list, and it turned out to be a great deck for the tournament. I definitely like his decision to play Desperate Ravings over Faithless Looting, so I’d caution against just copying the highest-finishing Storm deck. Trust Jon on this one, but also note that Gaudenis Vidugiris, Rich Hoaen, Kai Budde, and Tom Martell all also did well with the same list as him. If you’re going to play Storm, start here:

I didn’t mean to introduce another list while I’m wrapping things up, but it definitely deserves a mention even though it was never a serious consideration for me personally. Reid, Owen, and Andrew all had very good results with their decks, and I recommend any of them (in addition to Jon’s Storm deck) for Grand Prix Richmond this weekend.

GP Richmond