Dark Times

The SCG Tour Season One points title is within Brennan DeCandio’s grasp! To secure it, though, he must abandon the seemingly solved confines of Standard and confront the wide-open world of Modern for SCG Charlotte!

“Dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when we must choose between what is right and what is easy.” – Albus Dumbledore

This week has been a quiet one for the SCG Tour, but not for the rest of the Magic world. This weekend across the globe there were three major Standard tournament:, Grand Prix Manila, Grand Prix Amsterdam and Grand Prix Omaha. If you neglect the Grand Prix in Omaha and only focus on the decks that made Top 8 of an event, Standard might look like a relatively healthy format, with the ever-present Gideon, Ally of Zendikar looking like the frontrunner for best card in the format in Manila. Another picture was painted in Amsterdam, with Winding Constrictor and Rishkar, Peema Renegade doing me, and the Blooming Marsh fans of the world, proud.

The hope that the feel of Pro Tour Amonkhet would be a distant memory when the format had been given the time to evolve has fallen short. Unlike back when Pro Tour Kaladesh was made up of nearly 25% Aetherworks Marvel decks and the various control decks of the format emerged to help fight the good fight against them, the control decks in this format have shown they’re not able to accomplish the same feat. Since the Pro Tour, the Aetherworks Marvel strategies have evolved out of control and out of reach of almost any other decks in the format. It’s nearly been perfected in the hands of the extremely capable Brad Nelson.

Grand Prix Omaha was a vastly different story from what the rest of the world told. Here we saw the true ugliness that is the Standard format. I think the feel of how the card Aetherworks Marvel works was best exemplified by Sam Pardee in the finals against Brad Nelson. Brad activated Aetherworks Marvel on the sixth turn of the game, and all Sam could do was hold his hands up and cross his fingers Brad didn’t find Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger.

The biggest innovation for Aetherworks Marvel seems to be something I originally scoffed at. Especially in the sideboarded games, the plan of hard-casting Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger seems more realistic than ever, especially with the majority of players bring in cards such as Dispossess to nuke Aetherworks Marvel, as seen in the sideboard of B/G Constrictor and Mono-Black Zombies. The one-two punch of Ulvenwald Hydra into Shrine of the Forsaken Gods takes advantage of the tempo loss a card like Dispossess causes to play a fairer ramp strategy…not to mention Ulvenwald Hydra is just a giant threat in its own right!

Like I said, if you focus on strictly the Top 8 decks of each Grand Prix, only Omaha seems like it a part of an unhealthy metagame. Upon further inspection and a quick peek into the Top 32 of both Amsterdam and Manila, you’ll see that well over a dozen Aetherworks Marvel decks littered the top tables all day and were only a coin flip (or Aetherworks Marvel spin, whichever you prefer) from dominating the tournament the same way they did in Omaha.

I think that I’m in the majority here when I say we have a problem and its name is Aetherworks Marvel.

Is it too oppressive? Yes it is.

Does it feel like I’m playing Magic when that card is activated? No.

Does Wizards have to do something about this? I’m not sure.

We’ve been incredibly ban-happy this year and it’s stemmed from some of the most miserable Standard environments I’ve ever seen. If we lived in a world where we hadn’t banned anything in years and we were seeing the numbers we are now and the overall community feedback about the format, I doubt it would be a question as to whether or not Aetherworks Marvel shouldn’t be legal in Standard anymore. But unfortunately that isn’t the case and things are in fact dark and difficult.

I’m not here to preach. I’m not here to say what we should or shouldn’t do. I’m just here to say we’ve hit an all-time low for Standard and something needs to be done. If you don’t want to listen to me, just look at the numbers. Grand Prix Omaha had only just over 800 players, which for a North American Grand Prix this side of 2010 is unheard-of! Manila had even less, clocking in at 757 players, and the only saving grace of the weekend was Amsterdam with 1,170 players. These are staggering numbers, folks, and if they aren’t a clear message to Wizards, I don’t know what is.

Luckily, here on the SCG Tour we don’t have to drown in such misery…. at least until the Invitational.

Modern has quickly become my favorite format to play, since the possibilities are endless. For once, I think we have a healthy format, and I’m looking forward to the final Open of the season!

This is likely the 75 I’ll be registering tomorrow for the SCG Open in Charlotte. I’ve spent this past week making minor tweaks here and there, and overall there’s no deck I’m more confident in in this format. I went over this deck last week and the specifics of the card choices. Since then, we haven’t gained or lost much information on the format. As always, Modern is a format where you have to expect the unexpected or you’ll simply be left behind.

These are only some of the major pillars of the format. Even if you devise a strategy for every single one of the decks these cards represent, you’re not even close to fighting half the battle. With the format consisting of cards starting from nearly back when I began playing in Onslaught, the number of linear decks that exist is beyond reckoning. So how do you prepare for a format like that?

Modern isn’t just the format of the final SCG Open of this season; it’s half the Swiss of the Invitational and the format of the Top 8 (should I be so lucky). Since you can’t prepare for everything in a format as wide as Modern, the best thing you can do is to make sure you are doing something powerful. If you can’t describe to me a draw that your deck can produce that a bevy of decks can’t handle or interact with, you could be in trouble.

The counterpoint to that argument: your deck has plenty of ways to interact with your opponent and prevent them from doing the things that they’re trying to do with counterspells, hand disruption, or creature removal. In the end, you can only do so much to prepare and equip yourself with the proper tools for any given Modern tournament. Just be well-versed in whatever deck you decide on and hope for good matchups. That’s part of what makes Modern so great! You can literally play against anything!

There are few things I hate more than someone saying a certain deck is easy to play in Modern.

“Burn is a mindless deck. All you do is point damage at their face and hope they concede.”

“Tron is simple. Hope you hit all your Urza lands and cast a big dumb card.”

Magic is hard, plain and simple. Every deck requires a lot of thought and every decision you make, if not well-planned, could be a mistake that costs you the entire game and match. Something as simple as sequencing with a fetch/shock manabase could cost you the ability to cast a specific card at the right time or even an additional life point that swings a game. Modern is full of complicated decisions and rewards extremely tight play. That much has been very clear if you look at the most recent SCG Open and the players who made it to the Top 8.

There’s no player better-prepared when it comes to the Modern format (or better-dressed, for that matter) than Todd Stevens. With Todd responsible for the development of several mainstay decks in the current format, it’s easy to see that we’re at a rare and glorious time in Modern. We’re seeing that there’s still a lot of room for decks to be designed and a lot of cards yet to be utilized to their fullest potential.

Todd is certainly one to fear in any given game of Magic, especially Modern. He’s been on my heels for the Season One points lead the entire time, despite my back-to-back wins early on, and he’s made most of the ground back up in Modern.

The race is certainly getting tight, and if I’m to maintain my lead throughout the remainder of the season, I’m going to have to do it in Modern! Hopefully the Banned and Restricted announcement coming up will allow us to spread our wings in Standard once more and have a format that I won’t dread playing. Magic is a game of luck and skill, and I’m looking for a little bit of both in the coming weeks!