Fact Or Fiction: Pro Tour Rivals Of Ixalan Hot Take Edition

Cedric Phillips and Patrick Sullivan play post-Pro Tour Fact or Fiction! Is B/R Hollow One for real? Is Gerry Thompson’s Mardu Pyromancer the best Thoughtseize deck? And Cedric, tell us how you really feel about calls for a Lantern ban…

[Welcome back to Fact or Fiction! Today, SCG Tour commentators Cedric Phillips and Patrick Sullivan give their takes on five statements inspired by the Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan events. Read their responses and vote for the winner at the end!]

1. Even though the deck looks rather strange, Ken Yukuhiro’s B/R Hollow One deck is a legit contender in Modern.

Cedric Phillips: Fact, I guess? Look. I know I’m the one that writes these questions for this column, and I still don’t even know what I think about this deck. It’s the weirdest-looking successful deck I’ve seen in a long time. Maybe I’m just too stupid to embrace the random nature of Burning Inquiry and Goblin Lore, but choosing to sleeve those two cards up in non-Dredge decks (a deck that more or less ignores their drawback) is just really difficult for me to do.

That said, B/R Hollow One obviously has a lot going for it, as demonstrated by Yukuhiro’s first game in the quarterfinals versus Reid Duke where the Hollow Ones came early and often. Will you get a draw like that every time? Nope. But when you do get a draw that starts the game with one or two Hollow Ones, losing feels impossible.

B/R Hollow One was certainly not a deck I planned to play against in Bilbao this past weekend, and I think many could echo that sentiment. Does that mean that Ken and his teammates got free wins because their opponent didn’t know how to play against the deck? I’m leaning towards yes because the deck looks so weird on paper that it’s kinda hard to take seriously until you see it in action.

But once you do, and assuming it does its thing, it’s no joke.

Patrick Sullivan: Fact. The deck looks like a derivative of Dredge, so the question is: why would I do this instead? I think there are several compelling answers.

Hollow One is a lot steadier out of the gate. Because you don’t especially care what goes to the graveyard, that opens up enablers like Goblin Lore and Burning Inquiry (it is telling that Cathartic Reunion isn’t efficient enough here; that speaks to how little Hollow One cares about precise discard). You come out of the gate much faster, too. Dredge typically has to get Bloodgast and/or Prized Amalgam into the graveyard early and then have additional cooperation to be explosive, whereas the Delve threats and Hollow One are more reliable.

The last key selling point: Hollow One can function without a graveyard, making it much less vulnerable to Leyline of the Void, Rest in Peace, and their peers than Dredge. The deck doesn’t “go wide” nearly as well as Dredge and doesn’t have the same staying power, so big blockers and sweepers are better here than against Dredge, but I think Hollow One is more “legitimate” than “gimmick.”

2. Pascal Vieren’s U/R Pyromancer deck is merely a flash in the pan and won’t succeed in Modern moving forward.

Cedric Phillips: Fact. I’m a lot surer about this one than my thoughts on B/R Hollow One. I know there are many that are passionate about U/R Delver and/or Young Pyromancer decks in Modern, but I’m simply not one of them. The reason those decks work so well in Legacy is because they have access to cards that aren’t available in Modern.

I’m talking about Ponder, Brainstorm, Daze, Force of Will, and Wasteland, of course.

Yes, Modern is a different format from Legacy, so saying that a Modern deck not having access to those broken Legacy cards is a strike against it may not be fair, but I just don’t see the appeal of being this deck when you can just be Jeskai Control or Jeskai Geist. They all fall into the same camp of “my deck is a really good Snapcaster Mage deck,” except this U/R deck strikes me as the worst of the three.

I just don’t see it with U/R Pyromancer, but congrats to Pascal nonetheless.

Patrick Sullivan: Fact. There are metagame considerations at play here. Thing in the Ice was a fantastic call at the PT, with Humans and Affinity as the two most popular strategies. I question its efficacy against Lantern and creature decks with Fatal Push, and that may push this particular build to the sidelines for now.

I still think you can build a powerful deck out of the shell of the deck. Snapcaster Mage, Young Pyromancer, and the good blue and red spells are a known mixture and can be flavored to taste for most metagames. But I’m bearish on Thing in the Ice in the aftermath of the Pro Tour results.

3. Traverse Death’s Shadow is a better Death’s Shadow deck than Grixis Death’s Shadow.

Cedric Phillips: Fiction. One of my losses at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan was to Martin Juza playing Traverse Death’s Shadow, so I got to see what this deck was all about firsthand in the hands of an expert. I was playing Humans (big surprise, I know!) and the matchup actually felt totally fine except for one troublesome card…

Martin had multiple Grim Lavamancers after sideboarding, I never drew one of my two Dismembers for them, and as a result I could never get anything going as I watched my Meddling Mages and Champions of the Parish get picked off.

So why do I feel like Traverse Death’s Shadow isn’t better than Grixis Death’s Shadow? Because Grixis Death’s Shadow can play Grim Lavamancer if they want to as well to shore up some of their matchups, and Grixis Death’s Shadow fills their graveyard a helluva lot better than Traverse Death’s Shadow does. Toss in the fact that I think Tarmogoyf is incredibly mediocre in Modern right now with the very high number of Fatal Pushes and Path to Exiles running around, and I don’t really see the appeal of playing green over blue in Death’s Shadow strategies.

Patrick Sullivan: Fact. The Pro Tour was flush with Humans decks filled with Reflector Mages, and the winning Lantern strategy asks you to apply pressure early and reliably interact with artifacts Game 1. These considerations would want me to play with Tarmogoyf, Grim Flayer, and Abrupt Decay while moving away from the delve threats. Again, metagame considerations are important. The more copies of Fatal Push that are floating around, the more I’d want to move back to Tasigur, the Golden Fang and Gurmag Angler. But I think Traverse was a much better choice of Death’s Shadow than the Grixis build, and would err in that direction for the time being.

4. Gerry Thompson’s Mardu Pyromancer is the best midrange Thoughtseize deck in Modern.

Cedric Phillips: Fact. Spotlight? Meet Bedlam Reveler. Bedlam Reveler? Meet the spotlight.

For me, it’s actually just that simple. If you group Mardu Pyromancer into the Jund, Abzan, and B/G Midrange decks of Modern, the main difference between the four is that only one of them has the means to cast the Devil Horror without it being extremely awkward. When you think of the way that all these Thoughtseize decks generate card advantage, you probably think of Dark Confidant and/or Grim Flayer. Those two powerful creatures die to Fatal Push, Path to Exile, and a bunch of other removal I don’t feel like listing. Maybe most importantly, they can be hit with Inquisition of Kozilek.

Yes, Bedlam Reveler can be killed by Path to Exile, but past that, there aren’t a ton of great ways to kill it, as Fatal Push, Lightning Bolt, Lightning Helix, and a ton of other stuff fail. You can’t snipe it with Inquisition of Kozilek, and even if it does get killed, it brought cards along with it, whereas Dark Confidant and Grim Flayer actually have to live to do their thing.

If you want to grind someone down into dust with discard and removal a la the good ole days of Jund, Mardu Pyromancer is the deck to do it with.

Patrick Sullivan: Fact. I’ve been a fan of this deck since it starting eating my lunch in the Modern Leagues a few months back, and it’s surprising that it’s taken this long to really catch on. I think playing with a bunch of discard spells is more appealing when you can ignore large parts of your opponent’s plan. “Take your one live card and strand you with nonsense” is much more powerful than “take your best card but the rest of your hand still matters,” and Mardu can largely ignore creature removal. Young Pyromancer can generate value immediately, Bedlam Reveler loads you back up, and Lingering Souls is made for those kinds of games.

Contrast that to Jund or Abzan, which are typically filled with a bunch of creatures that trade at parity (or even a loss) against spot removal. The fact that you can pitch your late-game discard spells to Faithless Looting is icing on the cake.

5. Given Luis Salvatto’s win at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, something from Lantern Control needs to be banned.

Cedric Phillips: Fiction x 1,000. I’ve had enough.

I’m so tired of people calling for bannings when a deck wins. It’s so unbelievably lazy and it has grown old so quickly that it makes me want to bang my head against a brick wall. Modern, legitimately, has never been more diverse than it is right now.

Seven different decks made the Top 8 of Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan. Seven.

And yet here we are with a Lantern Control win, and now something needs to be banned from the deck? Why? Because the deck isn’t fun to watch or play against?

Says who, exactly?

When Lantern Control has made the Top 8 of SCG Tour events and we have viewers vote on what to watch in the quarterfinals, guess what they pick? Lantern Control!

When Lantern Control is on camera at SCG Tour events, can you guess what happens? We get a relevant spike in viewership!

And as the finals of the Pro Tour were unfolding, I certainly didn’t see viewership dropping despite the deck being “horrible to watch” and “the most unfun thing I’ve ever seen.”

Personally, I think Lantern Control is a very fun deck to both watch and play against. It’s a prison deck that’s working to do a very specific thing and the opponent has to find creative ways to prevent it from accomplishing its goal. And don’t get it twisted: Lantern Control certainly has to work to do its thing, especially because it’s a deck built around artifacts, a type of permanent that isn’t particularly difficult for any deck to interact with.

People like to say Lantern isn’t fun to play against, but what is “fun” to play against? That definition is different for every single person you talk to. Is it “fun” for a Jeskai player to get paired against Slippery Bogle and Gladecover Scout and stare at all their useless removal? It sure is for the G/W Hexproof player player. Is it “fun” for a Jund deck to get paired against Dredge and realize that all their interaction is more or less useless? I bet the Dredge player is having a blast. Is it “fun” for anyone to get assassinated by a Turn 3 Karn Liberated from a Tron deck? I’ve played Tron for the past six years, and creating Karnage has never gotten old!

None of that stuff bothers me and I’ve been on both sides of it! Because when I sign up for a Modern tournament, I know exactly what I’m signing up for – a format where no one is trying to play fair and absurd things can happen. That’s the nature of the format. And guess what? It’s the most popular format in Magic and is responsible for the most watched Pro Tour of all time.

Instead of shouting from the rooftops about how something needs to be banned, how about focusing on trying to beat the top deck (which, by the way, Lantern Control is not). If that can’t be done, like with Temur Energy in Standard or the various Eldrazi decks during Eldrazi Winter, then let’s have a conversation. But Lantern Control has been around for quite a while now and it hasn’t won very much. Ignoring Zac Elsik’s win at GP Oklahoma City a few years ago and Luis Salvatto’s win in Bilbao yesterday, the deck has proven to be very beatable.

For once, please, stop calling for bannings and actually put the work in to beat [insert good deck name here].

Patrick Sullivan: Fiction. Lots to unpack here, as is the case anytime the Modern banned list is discussed. Let’s assume for argument’s sake that Ancient Stirrings and/or Mox Opal would be the targets here. I think they’ve been justifiable bans (not to say that I would have advocated for them specifically) for a number of years now, largely based on the following three arguments.

1) They are among the most powerful cards in the format. It is apple-to-oranges to compare them to, say, Thoughtseize or Lightning Bolt, as those cards lack deckbuilding opportunity cost, while Stirrings and Opal are not. But I’d struggle to come up with a list of ten nonland cards better than those two, factoring in all considerations.

2) They subsidize a dubious class of card. Aether Vial is pretty busted in the appropriate deck, but I think “a bunch of synergistic creatures with a variety of mana costs” is more worthy of subsidization than “artifacts” or “colorless cards,” both of which have a long history of showing up in winning decks without much in the way of explicit support.

3) They subsidize in a dubious fashion. Again, returning to Aether Vial, the card asks you to find creatures that don’t have flash but are attractive to deploy at instant speed. That’s more of a novel thing to encourage than “above-rate selection” or “way-above-rate mana acceleration and fixing.”

So, they’re both really powerful, they both encourage a class of card that doesn’t need any help, and they encourage that class of card in about the most boring ways possible. Still, I’d keep them around for now. I think the counterarguments pull in a slightly more powerful direction.

1) Why now? It won the Pro Tour, sure, but it wasn’t the most obviously dominant strategy. Lots of the game’s best minds were aware of the deck and decided to play something else. I think Lantern’s performance at the PT was well within an acceptable and believable range, and I don’t think the fact that it won the event overshadows the rest of the data.

2) I think you can adjust to the deck. One of the worst-case scenarios for players is when there’s a dominant deck and the “Level 1” (most obvious) answers don’t work. I don’t believe that’s the case with Lantern. Shatters are good. Shatterstorms are better. Discard, certain types of threats…all of this will help your win rate against Lantern, and I’d like to see if the metagame can move organically instead of trying to solve the problem (to the extent there is one) with bannings.

3) As a meta-consideration, I think it is painful if players start associating “The Modern Pro Tour” with “The even that causes cards to get banned from Modern.” I believe this consideration should be stronger than usual in the wake of the volume of Standard bans over the last year and change.

I am sympathetic to the complaint that Lantern is uniquely frustrating and miserable, and even if the deck isn’t actionable on power level alone, that’s enough to get it over the top. If the deck is perceived to be the best thing (or among the best things) six months from now, that could change the equation for me. But I think on the balance the PT was a success, and that both Wizards of the Coast and the players could use a break from a reactionary banning framework.