All Or Nothing: The Invitational

With the Modern field for the Invitational at SCG CON seeming to narrow, Brennan has decided it’s time to give Grim Flayer another chance.

Here we are once again.

Season One of the SCG Tour is ending in spectacular fashion, and I couldn’t be more excited! When it comes to the Invitational, there’s no messing around. All the hard work, countless hours of preparation, endless hours of travel, and the numerous hotels and convention centers all come down to this one tournament that’s so crucial for those looking to make a name for themselves. Seasons can be won and lost during sixteen rounds of Magic and what a wild ride it can be.

For the record, I’ve never done all that well at an Invitational. Why that’s the case I’m not sure, but there’s something about switching Constructed formats mid-day that gets at me in a weird way.

Putting aside my own shortcomings, we have two very riveting formats on our hands and for the first time in a long time, I’m excited to play both. While many of you might think that I’m being a hypocrite in saying that, yes, I’m going to enjoy playing both Standard and Modern. For all that I’ve said, all the hate I’ve been the subject of, and all the crap I’ve talked about the format and how it’s my least favorite to indulge, that doesn’t mean I don’t find the game fun or the decisions challenging during games I get to play. While the times where you opponent does something completely absurd is a drag, the games where you and your opponent are acting on the same axis are very intense and is a place where the experience can certainly shine. I just think those games are few and far between is all.

It’s certainly nice that the Modern metagame is somewhat stable right now, with the top three to five decks all acting on a similar axis. What do I mean by that? Well, Humans does a lot to stabilize the format because of how punishing it is against some of the big mana and combo decks with cards like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben; Meddling Mage, and Kitesail Freebooter stopping anyone not packing some removal from doing something degenerate. So, like it or not, many decks have been pushed out of the format because of this one-two-three punch of spell hate making the format appear a lot fairer than it used to.

It’s music to my ears hearing the number of viable decks on a down tick in the format because my biggest complaint about the format was the extreme diversity made it hard not to see seven or more different decks in a nine round day one. How does anyone prepare for a field like that anyway? Well on my road to mediocrity over last weekend, where I clocked in an aggressively average 6-3 finish, I played against Humans three times, U/W Control once, Affinity once, Merfolk once, and even Cheerios once.

Despite an overshowing of what is Modern’s most popular and powerful deck at the moment, a lot still holds true about the format. People play whatever they want and that’s even if they’re not optimal decks.

I won’t bore you with the Grixis Death’s Shadow list I played. Okay, fine, here it is.

While I could go on about how awesome my deck was and gloat on what a genius I am for building it the way I did, the deck wasn’t and I’m not.

My day didn’t go that well. Despite the lie of the 6-3 record, which might have been respectable if it was my first Open and I didn’t have two byes for the event, I went 4-3, losing to Humans several times despite my deck having a lot of sideboard cards for the matchup. Now I will say that I didn’t draw my ten sideboard cards for that matchup all that often, but that’s irrelevant. The more I played Grixis Death’s Shadow, the more I concluded that my deck just wasn’t right for the tournament. What I should have instead done was taken the sideboard configuration of my deck to the extreme and abandoned Death’s Shadow altogether and geared it to be more of an anti-creature deck in the form of Grixis Control:

This is a strong deviation from Jeskai. While there may be many similarities between what this deck does against the field and what Jeskai Control does, Grixis Control suffers a bit from things Jeskai doesn’t and has strengths where Jeskai doesn’t as well. In particular, I think Grixis Control would be almost equally as advantaged against Humans and many other creature matchups but have a significant edge against Jeskai itself with cards like Liliana, the Last Hope and Kolaghan’s Command being card advantage spells that are leagues better than anything Jeskai has outside of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. Where this deck would struggle would be in the Hollow One matchup where being able to Path to Exile several threats that have recursive capabilities is imperative as well.

I’m not here saying that Grixis Control is better than Jeskai Control. There’s a reason that Jeskai has done so well over the past year and there’s no arguing that. My point here is that I felt that my Grixis Death’s Shadow deck felt like it was trying to be a control deck too many times to the point where I’d have been better off playing a control game from the get go. Additionally, it’s not a terrible idea to metagame heavily against Humans and Jeskai Control for the Invitational where people are going to be playing the most consistent and best decks of the format with so much on the line; maybe Grixis Control is the way to go!

Modern is an ever evolving puzzle and for right now it’s in a place that I might understand, even if only just a little bit. Carpe diem!

What I can’t get over is how much I miss playing with Grim Flayer. As you may remember, I spent the time shortly after Bloodbraid Elf was unbanned playing more colors than I should have with this work of art!

While I had my fun cascading Bloodbraid Elf into Lingering Souls and then casting Traverse the Ulvenwald for Bedlam Reveler into so much value I could hardly contain myself during the event, I might have gone a little overboard with the mana. While the fetchland-shockland manabase can withstand a lot, and using Traverse the Ulvenwald to find a basic land isn’t the end of the world, there really wasn’t that much need to go that deep.

While my love affair in Standard with Grim Flayer is a thing I’ll always hold near and dear to my heart, I’ve yet to fully go in on this card for Modern. A lot of what I spoke about last week was doing something powerful in the format, and casting a two-mana 2/2 that needs some help in more ways than one to get past a Reflector Mage might not be the best place to be. Nonetheless I’ve given the card some serious consideration since last week since the format seems to be in a relatively fair spot right now and flipping over Lingering Souls to a Flayer trigger is one of the best feelings out there. With all those feelings, I’ve come to the wild decision that my week and a half I have left to prepare for the biggest event I’ll be at so far this year is to making Grim Flayer work again.

Now this is a deck I can get behind!

I’m curious to think as to why Gideon, Ally of Zendikar doesn’t see more play in Modern since it’s a fantastic planeswalker to resolve after your opponent has had their hand attacked by a discard spell and had to deal with some problematic creatures along the first few turns of the game. Gideon hits hard people and the game is over in just a few swings.

Now I might be going overboard by not including Tarmogoyf in this deck, but as a rule, I don’t like my creatures to be like my ice cream and Tarmogoyf is as vanilla as they come. The rest of the creature suite here is going to bury the opponent more and more each turn they’re on the battlefield or be a Scavenging Ooze preventing all kinds of Snapcaster Mage nonsense. Lingering Souls is not only a control punisher but also a nice layer of protection against Affinity and some Mantis Riders that have jumped from the sky.

Tireless Tracker is another card that impresses me every time it’s on the battlefield. What was once a Standard all-star has slowly made its way into Modern, and I expect it’s here to stay. What’s better than playing lands and drawing cards? You don’t have to be on a team with Todd Stevens to know the answer to that one!

Now with some awesome cards in the maindeck, we’re playing white and black, so that means we get access to the best sideboard options in the business.

Modern is all about efficiency and making an impact. What I want my sideboard cards to do is just end the game when they’re played. A few upgraded removal spells don’t exactly spell lights out, but Stony Silence sure does. If you’re not going to be end the game, you better service a wide variety of matchups, and Blessed Alliance isn’t horrific against some random creature decks but is busted against Death’s Shadow, Burn, G/W Hexproof and some other nonsense people show up with. Celestial Purge is showing that it’s useful not just against Humans hitting Mantis Rider and Kitesail Freebooter but being the fantastic against all the threats out of Hollow One except Hollow One itself.

The point here is that if you’re looking to fight fair, Abzan might be the better option than Jund right now simply because of Lingering Souls and Path to Exile offering better options against more of the field. If I do end up registering Grim Flayer, you best bet it won’t be alongside Bloodbraid Elf.

All of that and we haven’t even touched on Standard, which I’m excited about. I suppose we have a Pro Tour about to begin and just around the time people are submitting their decklists, this article will be live. With that in mind, we’ll have to get into Standard next week since I’m sure there will be tons of new information from the Pro Tour that we must get into. If I were playing at Pro Tour Dominaria, I’d definitely not be playing Teferi, Hero of Dominaria because I had almost zero fun playing that card last week explaining to a very young opponent exactly how I was going to beat them when they had no permanents on the battlefield by decking them because for some reason Teferi can target itself with his minus ability and that’s the preferred way to win these days.


I’d probably play this because it’s been too long since I’ve registered Forests and Swamps in a competitive tournament.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend SCG Regionals, but I’ll be watching all weekend long to see how the Pro Tour goes. I’ll see you all next week with the breakdown of what I’m playing at the Invitational in Standard!