#GPSanAnt this weekend will be the first Grand Prix I’ve played since…well, I don’t really remember the last one. Needless to say, it was before I was the competitive player that I am today, before I traveled on the SCG Tour and started writing for StarCityGames.com. I’m really looking forward to playing in a GP for what feels like the first time for me to see how I do in an event that I won’t be as comfortable in as normal.
#GPSanAnt is also a Team Modern Grand Prix, and considering I believe Modern to be my best format and that my two teammates, Dan Musser and Tom Ross, are both more talented players than I am, I believe this is my best shot to date to make it to the Pro Tour. The standard to make it to the Pro Tour is to go X-2, and with team GPs being one round shorter than normal GPs, that means one less win is needed to qualify. Now, this is of course a Grand Prix and there will be some of the best players in the world there, so my expectations are tempered, but the hope is still there.
As you probably know, I’ve written a ton about the Modern format since the release of Aether Revolt, and it’s because it’s the format that I’m most well-versed in. I have been playing almost Modern exclusively over these past couple of months, and my recent success on the SCG Tour with multiple archetypes has shown that. I did play Standard this past weekend at the Hunter Burton Memorial, and after playing with and against the Saheeli Rai / Felidar Guardian combo most of the day, I’m glad to be back in my comfort zone this upcoming weekend.
Back in Modern, it has become abundantly clear over the past month that Death’s Shadow decks are the best in the format, and if you want to win #GPSanAnt, you should most likely have one of your three players piloting the card. The problem with having a Death’s Shadow player on your team, though, is that the various Death’s Shadow decks are three to four colors and therefore take up a large amount of the available manabase and card selection from the other archetypes. For example, Abzan is another Tier 1 Modern deck, but playing both it and Death’s Shadow in the same group is simply impossible because the two decks share an ample amount of cards.
That’s a lot of different fetchlands and a lot of the format’s best cards. So maybe you have a player on your team that’s playing Death’s Shadow and you need some help finding a second or third deck, so let’s take a look at some decks that you can play with Death’s Shadow variants, specifically Jund Death’s Shadow, if you’re struggling to find some compatible decks for this weekend.
Let’s start with an obvious one. Eldrazi Tron is a quality deck choice to pair with Jund Death’s Shadow. The traditional G/X Tron decks may be in lower demand this weekend, considering G/B plays both Fatal Push and Collective Brutality and G/W plays Path to Exile, all cards that may be in high demand from other decks. This leaves G/R Tron as the most likely version of traditional Tron decks, but Grove of the Burnwillows is the only good payoff card that red offers right now.
Back to Eldrazi Tron, though, I think it’s a good choice for the team tournament. It can play a normal midrange game but has some percentage of games where it can go way over the top of other decks. I also recommend having Chalice of the Void in the maindeck for this tournament because there will be a higher number of non-interactive decks in the field, even though I haven’t played Chalice of the Void maindeck very often. All Is Dust is an underrated card in the deck, and I like Carl having access to three in the sideboard because it’s very good against Death’s Shadow and it’s necessary against Merfolk and Elves.
The one slight against Eldrazi Tron is that it doesn’t have a favorable Death’s Shadow matchup, but it’s still a power deck that has good matchups against most of the field. Bant Eldrazi may be the Eldrazi deck of choice for some people because of this, but playing Bant Eldrazi also eliminates a large portion of available deck choices.
- 2 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner
- 4 Lord of Atlantis
- 3 Merrow Reejerey
- 4 Silvergill Adept
- 4 Cursecatcher
- 4 Master of the Pearl Trident
- 4 Master of Waves
- 4 Harbinger of the Tides
I think Merfolk is a sneakily good choice right now in Modern overall, and definitely a good one for #GPSanAnt. Cavern of Souls is the only card from the manabase that other top decks may want, but it isn’t a necessity to have access to. Merfolk is on the short list of decks that I’m considering to pilot for the tournament; I haven’t been playing with Cavern of Souls and it hasn’t been a problem.
I think the counterspells are the biggest pull to Merfolk right now because there are a ton of decks that can’t handle a fast clock paired with a little disruption. It’s one of the reason why Death’s Shadow is so good, but instead of using discard for the disruption, Merfolk uses counterspells. Master of Waves has been surprisingly poor, however, and with Fatal Push and Path to Exile being the two most prominent removal spells in the format, it may be time to leave the Master on the bench.
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 1 Elvish Champion
- 1 Elves of Deep Shadow
- 4 Heritage Druid
- 3 Nettle Sentinel
- 4 Elvish Archdruid
- 2 Ezuri, Renegade Leader
- 2 Glissa, the Traitor
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Dwynen's Elite
- 4 Shaman of the Pack
- 3 Walking Ballista
Elves and I aren’t necessarily on good terms because almost every deck I play these days gets destroyed by Elves, Merfolk included. This leads me to ask why aren’t more people playing Elves these days. It may even be Death’s Shadow’s worst matchup in the entire format. When looking at playing Elves for #GPSanAnt, the toughest part will be the manabase. If you have a Jund Death’s Shadow player on your team, then you’ll probably need to use a fetchless manabase so that you don’t have to rely on Overgrown Tomb, while Cavern of Souls may be problematic if you’re playing Bant Eldrazi. If you can work out a solid manabase, though, I think that Elves is a great choice right now in Modern.
Ad Nauseam is the most obvious deck choice and the first one that people point to when designing trios of decks. The manabase, the maindeck, and the sideboard have few if any cards that other decks desire. The problem? I don’t believe Ad Nauseam to be a deck that unexperienced players will simply pick up for the event. I tried playing a few Leagues with the deck and didn’t have much success due to the unfamiliarity with the cards and with sideboarding. So although it’s a good choice to have access to if you have an experienced Ad Nauseam player on your team, I wouldn’t expect to face too many more Ad Nauseam opponents than normal this weekend.
There are many people who complain about control decks not being good enough in Modern, but I doubt those people are actually trying to play control in Modern, because if they were, they would realize that U/W Control is one of the better decks. The rise of Death’s Shadow, paired with the fall of Tron decks, has allowed U/W Control to put up many solid results recently on Magic Online and it’s a deck that I’m starting to face more and more.
Alex Mitas finished 29th at SCG Dallas, and the only thing I don’t like about his decklist is the lack of Detention Spheres. Between card draw, Path to Exile, Detention Sphere, and Supreme Verdict, it’s honestly possible to run your Death’s Shadow opponent out of threats, at least long enough for one of your planeswalkers or creatures to finish the game. Spreading Seas is another wonderful payoff card for this strategy, and it’s a big reason why Merfolk is also well-positioned. While not the best for the Team Unified format because it takes up Path to Exile, Rest in Peace, and Stony Silence, U/W Control is a very real deck in Modern right now, and if you like playing control, then I’d recommend picking it up.
The upside to playing Blue Moon over U/W Control is that the red cards it takes up are not used as much throughout the format as the white cards, which means it’s available for more teams to choose. However, I would still be scared of the Death’s Shadow matchup because the damage-based removal from red doesn’t line up well against the large creatures of the format right now, unfortunately.
To be fair, though, I have very little experience with this archetype, and Caleb Keung won his Invitational Qualifier this past weekend with the deck that featured three copies of Torrential Gearhulk. Now, we all know how ridiculously powerful Cryptic Command is, and having access to four Snapcaster Mages to go with the Torrential Gearhulks means there are seven cards in the deck that can Flashback Cryptic Command once you have six mana. I could see plenty of games end by Cryptic Commands tapping opposing creatures turn after turn while the Gearhulks and Snapcasters chip away.
Sometimes all you need is a Bogle to slip past your competition, and if that’s the case, then I’d recommend the Slipperiest of bogles.
It’s not always right to sleeve up G/W Hexproof, but this weekend may be the time. Texas is an aggressive state when it comes to Modern decks, and it’s basically impossible to race a Daybreak Coronet. G/W Hexproof does use Windswept Heath, Temple Garden, and valuable white sideboard options that may interfere with another deck choice, but it’s not the worst choice to pair with Death’s Shadow and Eldrazi Tron, for example.
For all of the people who love to play mono-red decks, I have a few solid options for you. First, the most obvious one.
Josh Crowe finished in the Top 16 at #SCGDFW with Skred Red, and when I played against him during Day 2, he said that he had also been doing well on Magic Online with the deck and highly recommended it. Blood Moon is still one of the singularly most powerful cards in the format and Skred Red takes full advantage of it by only using basic Snow-Covered Mountains. I am concerned about Skred Red’s ability to beat Death’s Shadow, specifically because of using damage-based removal, and if you decided to play the deck, make sure you’re confident with that matchup.
- 22 Mountain
Jeffrey Howard finished in fourth place at a recent event by taking Skred Red to the next level. Hopefully your opponents don’t like casting their spells or attacking. I’m not exactly sure how good this deck is, as I haven’t played with or against it before, but it’s a mono-colored deck filled with powerful cards. Those are two perfect qualities to have when picking out a deck for a Team Unified tournament.
- 18 Mountain
Finally we have the “budget version” of Naya Burn, but maybe not the worst one for this tournament.
I’ve seen Mono-Red Burn get a couple of 5-0 results in competitive Leagues on Magic Online recently and I think the deck is for real. When playing against Death’s Shadow with Burn strategies, you want to have as many burn spells that can be cast at the player as possible, and to hold them and wait for a turn where you can cast a couple of instants at their end step and then untap and kill them. Having only eighteen lands in the deck also helps against flooding out, which can be a problem after an Inquisition of Kozilek or two takes a key burn spell from your hand. If you’re a Burn player and don’t have access to the Stomping Ground that Death’s Shadow has or maybe Path to Exile from different white decks, try out Mono-Red Burn for this weekend.
No matter what decks your team chooses to play, I recommend trying to put together three decks with good Death’s Shadow matchups, if that is even possible. Assuming that two out of three teams have a Death’s Shadow player, then each player on your team will play against Death’s Shadow an average of three times throughout the fourteen rounds. That’s nine total matches that can make or break your tournament.
Also remember that this tournament is in San Antonio, Texas, and that Texas is a very aggressive state when it comes to Modern tournaments. Expect to see plenty of decks like Burn, Affinity, and Zoo, because local players will be bringing those decks to beat the perceived uptick of Tron, Ad Nauseam, and Scapeshift for this tournament.
#GPSanAnt will be my best chance to date to qualify for the Pro Tour, and I’m really looking forward to playing in my first Grand Prix in ages.