From The Sidelines

Get ready for Standard and Legacy at SCG Open Series: Atlanta this weekend and Modern at Grand Prix Richmond next weekend with Frank’s latest article!

The last few weeks have been chock full of awesome Magic tournaments. Between a couple of Grand Prix, a Pro Tour, and the SCG Open Series, all of Magic’s competitive formats have seen high-level play in some form. Although distance and some unfortunate weather have kept me out of the ring lately, as a Magic enthusiast you know my eyes have been glued to as much coverage as I could watch. With so much information coming in and a few Grand Prix of my own coming up, my mind has been racing trying to digest it all. I’d like to take today to sort some of my thoughts out, going format by format and taking a "quick hits" approach to everything that’s been going on lately.

And what better place to start than Legacy?

Watching Greg Smith dissect the Legacy Open Top 8 in St. Louis was an experience of absolute beauty. He didn’t drop a single game in the elimination rounds! For me, Painter’s Servant combo decks have always been something of an enigma. Still a babe in the woods when it comes to the format, I’ve known about the deck for a while, but I didn’t really know if it had the chops to consistently put up results. Sure, the combo looked powerful, but even in the form of a deck like Painted Stone, the idea of playing mono-red in Legacy scared me. It took seeing the deck played in hands of a true master for me to fully appreciate just how strong it can be.

So what exactly makes it so strong?

The first answer to that question is painfully obvious:

As a diehard Shardless BUG player, I have vivid nightmares about this card at least once a month. I know when it comes down early if I don’t have a Force of Will in hand or Deathrite Shaman in play, the game is over on the spot. Yes, I could try to integrate some basic lands in my deck to give myself a fighting chance of beating Blood Moon, but that’s where its secret power lies. I don’t feel like there are enough people actually taking advantage of Blood Moon in Legacy to warrant hurting a somewhat shaky three-color mana base just to gain a few percentage points against it.

This is good news for anyone trying to "getcha" with Blood Moon and bad news for anyone who is hoping to avoid the card and has the misfortune of running into it. With Greg Smith rocking six of the effect maindeck, he’s an opponent I definitely don’t want to find myself across from at a Legacy tournament.

Other than running amok on nonbasic lands, the power of Imperial Painter comes in its simplicity: a tidy two-card combo backed up by a consistent mana base that gets to take full advantage of sol lands. Add in Imperial Recruiter to bring a small toolbox package to the deck and tie everything together and you’re looking at a well-oiled machine, not to mention how impressive the deck makes Red Elemental Blast and Pyroblast look. A majority of the decks in Legacy are playing powerful blue cards to begin with, and with Painter’s Servant around to force a blue hue on all of your opponent’s cards, the two blasts are never without a target.

I’m really curious to find out whether this is just another flash in the pan for Painter combo or if more dedicated pilots are going to start to rise up and put the deck to work. For anyone still on the fence about the deck’s ability, I’ll leave you with a quote from Cedric Phillips:

"I don’t even think he took twenty total damage throughout the entire Top 8! This kind of undertaking is going to change the face of Magic as we know it!"

Paraphrased for value of course. [Editor’s Note: I don’t think I’ve ever used the word undertaking unless it was in reference to The Undertaker, Frank.]

Next on the list is Standard. Standard has been in an interesting place over the last couple of months. With so many devotion decks flying around, people were growing tired of the format and especially of the arduous mirror matches it could produce. Many hopeful eyes turned to Born of the Gods to save us from the monotony of amassing mana symbols. If you take a look at the results from the Standard portion of #SCGSTL, Born of the Gods delivered.

The first thing to notice is that there is only one instance of the word "devotion" in the entire Top 8, which was of the mono-blue variety. In its place are an astounding five decks headlined by the word "monsters." While it looks like G/R is the big winner from the Born of the Gods pot, something to take note of is the actual amount of new cards that were utilized. By my count, throughout the entire Top 8 there were only 26 nonland Born of the Gods cards being put to work in maindecks, zero of which were in the winning deck. While that’s a nonzero amount, it certainly isn’t format defining. Most of the cards being used are ones like Xenagos, God of Revels and Fated Retribution, which are strong role players but not "build around me" type of cards.

I’m hopeful that as the format fleshes itself out and more players focus their efforts on the new cards that we’ll see more decks triumph based wholly on cards from Born of the Gods.

Last but certainly not least, we have Modern. I’d be lying if I said that Modern wasn’t the Constructed format that has been on my mind the most recently. Not only did we just get an amazing weekend of Modern from Pro Tour Born of the Gods, but Grand Prix Richmond is right around the corner to further push Magic’s newest format into the spotlight.

I went into the Pro Tour weekend hoping to see all sorts of whacky concoctions ready to battle it out on Magic’s biggest stage, and what I saw by far surpassed my expectations. Let’s take a look at a few of these saucy brews.

I’ve never seen so many terrible cards come together so perfectly to produce such a wickedly potent deck. For those of you unfamiliar with the deck, you basically use the combination of Amulet of Vigor, bounce lands, and Summer Bloom / Azusa, Lost but Seeking to turbo ramp to six mana and get a Primeval Titan into play. The real innovation with this list was adding in numerous Pacts and Hive Mind to have some redundancy at the six-mana slot and another "oops, I win" component in the deck. While the concept of Amulet Combo isn’t exactly brand new, it took a great player like Matthias Hunt to take the decklist to the next level and actually have the gumption to bust it out at the Pro Tour.

Similarly exciting in the awesomeness department is this pile of insanity that Jared Boettcher took to ninth place:

This is the kind of decklist that when I first saw I actually had to pause for a second to figure out what the heck was going on. The central piece to the puzzle is none other than Ad Nauseam. By combining it with either Phyrexian Unlife or Angel’s Grace, you can draw cards to your heart’s content without having to worry about losing the game. Once you have your entire deck in your hand, you get to use the completely hilarious Lightning Storm to blast your opponent into next week.

The thing that I really love about this deck is just how clearly it represents Jared Boettcher. You can practically taste his roots as a Legacy mastermind in the degenerate awesomeness that is this combo deck. The fact that he can transition that talent so fluidly to Modern and have such remarkable success with it is truly inspirational.

Now that we’ve gotten some of the more unconventional strategies out of the way, it’s time to once again reference the great Chris Fennell.

Pyromancer Ascension Storm turned out to be one of the best decks of this Pro Tour, and I couldn’t be happier that a good friend and teammate is the player that took it all the way to the Top 8. If not for a stretch of bad luck on Sunday, I’m confident he would’ve taken the deck all the way.

There are two major factors that helped facilitate Storm’s success. One is the absence of Deathrite Shaman. When people don’t have access to an easily maindeckable way to mess with the graveyard, Storm has a much easier time getting Pyromancer Ascension online as well as setting up a deadly Past in Flames.

The second reason can partially be attributed to Deathrite Shaman as well. Without the one-mana powerhouse around, the heavily disruptive decks that it used to enable (like Jund) became a lot weaker and started to take a backseat. This opened up a lot of breathing room for all-in combo decks like the three that I’ve mentioned here to see play without having to worry about losing multiple matches to a few discard spells.

How will Modern react to this new shift in the metagame? I think I know where we’re going to find out:

StarCityGames.com is ready to host what is going to be an incredible Modern Grand Prix next weekend. I can’t wait to see what people learn from Pro Tour Born of the Gods and how they apply that knowledge in Virginia. I’m between two decks myself. On one hand, I’m tempted to pick up Fennell’s Storm list and put it to work. It’s a powerful and reliable deck that a lot of people probably won’t prepare for even though it might be prevalent.

My other choice looks a little something like this:

I’ve always had an affinity (hehe) for these little robots, and that might be enough to convince me to take them into battle. Although Affinity is certainly not the best deck in the format, it’s incredibly fun to play and has game against every matchup. While I’m not a hundred percent sure just yet, I’ll most likely be playing one of these two decks when the time comes.

I’ll of course be staying at my friend Elliot’s house in Richmond. If you remember from a few weeks ago, we’ve been working on a crazy yet competitive brew for him to champion at the GP. Let’s just say we’ve found our masterpiece. I’ll leave you with a little teaser:

As a three-of in the deck, this baby really makes things tick. If you want to see what we’re doing with it, you’re going to have to wait until after the GP or check for "Wegman" on the pairing boards when the big day comes. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Before I head out for the week, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Grand Prix Barcelona. This weekend I’ll be in Spain to battle alongside Seth Manfield and Joe Demestrio in Team Sealed. Team tournaments are some of the most fun experiences you can have in Magic, and I highly suggest teaming up with some buddies to play if you ever get the chance.

Wish us luck!