Grand Prix Detroit Blues

Adrian still has no idea what to play at Grand Prix Detroit this weekend, so he goes over some of the Modern decks he’s considering. Get some ideas if you’re still unsure yourself!

One of the things that is exciting for me about a Midwest Grand Prix like the one being held in Detroit this weekend is the ability to spend a full weekend playing Magic in a single format. So often, when it comes to big Magic weekends, I’m in the booth giving commentary or there simply isn’t an SCG Open Series or that rare double-PTQ weekend within driving distance.

There was a little moment in there where I thought I’d be able to count online PTQs as a part of a "twofer" weekend of Magic, but when it really comes down to it, what I love about Magic isn’t just the competition; it is the camaraderie. I occasionally hosted some Magic Online tournament gatherings and got between one and five people to show up to play, but even that was less fun than just going to an event. Even without counting things like the difference between paper and online Magic, as people lost to things that weren’t even a part of the "true" gameplay like their computer lagging and misclicks on things they didn’t want to do, the bigger loss was just catching up with people you perhaps didn’t expect to see. At a PTQ in Madison recently, for some reason a ton of players from the past just showed up, some of whom had only been to perhaps five PTQs in the last ten years.

At one point during M14 deck construction, I was complaining about the new face of Slivers and said to a somewhat old-school neighbor about how at least Metallic Sliver, as opposed to Sliver Construct, could be sideboarded in against a Sliver-heavy Limited opponent. From a few rows over, suddenly someone called out my old nickname "SLIVERBAIT!" prompting laughs from basically all of the old-school players in the room. Back in the day, I famously lost again and again to the deck Counter-Sliver, and Rob Castro, the first Wisconsin State Champ from 1997, was a part of the Milwaukee crew that came up with the nickname in the face of my many losses. It was a small moment, sharing a good-natured ribbing and laughter with a good two dozen people who didn’t come around to Magic events that often and another score or so who still did.

Some people joke about in-person events being like a bad version of Magic Online, complete with "mini-games" like "Find Your Seat" and "Hold Your Nose Through the Smell." To me, though, the great thing about in-person Magic tournaments is catching up with friends, running into the people you’ve come to know, and meeting someone new who is totally awesome.

Grand Prix are even better for this.

Now, I’m one of those weird people who love Detroit, so I could be biased. But between loving the town, loving Constructed Magic, and just having a good run in Constructed lately (I’ve cashed at six of the last eight bigger events I’ve played at), I’m pretty pumped for the event.

Of course, there is one little problem:

I have no idea what to play.

A part of that is my own fault. Between SolForge, and Hearthstone, and Hex (and, and, and . . . ), I’ve just been giving far less attention to Modern than I should have. I actually feel pretty great about Standard and Legacy, but Modern is an incredibly deep format and really takes a great deal of effort to be prepared for.

I’m also someone who likes to play a deck that at least I find fun. Back when Eggs, for example, was definitely one of the top decks worth considering, even if someone were to convince me that it was easily the best deck in the format, I don’t believe I could stomach the deck. I was talking about this problem with Adam Jansen the other day; we were both struggling to find a deck for Detroit that we enjoyed and thought was definitively a good call.

So here I am. I’m talking to everyone I can about this. I talk to the people I work with every day: Brian Kowal and Bob Maher. Brian says to play U/W (no red) like he played at GP Chicago last year. Maher says something that I imagine Cedric would edit out, but the gist of it is that he has no idea but not the deck I’ve been enjoying (a pretty wild white-based Prison deck). I ask a bunch of other people, and basically everyone I speak to suggests some variant on the deck that they last played with any success. I get calls for Burn, Tron, U/R Delver, U/W/R Splinter Twin, and R/G Aggro.

No one suggests the same deck.


For this week, in preparation for GP Detroit, I decided to bring you up to speed with all of the more rogue winning decks I have found on my journey. Astute readers might notice something that they all have something in common . . .

In addition to the lists, I’ve included some comments about how I think they might be improved. In some cases, this breaks my rule of "never change a rogue deck’s card choice until you’ve played it," but, there were simply too many decks to be able to vet every question or concern I had. My suggestion is to keep both the original list in mind and my suggestions for it.

U/R Delver

This is still one of my front-runner decks.

Here is Jeff Hoogland list from GP Kansas City, where he finished in the Top 16. That was only a few months ago, so this list is still very relevant:

This list is one of those that I love because it actually gets to play the legitimate role of an aggro-control deck, putting down clocks and then stopping their relevant spells. It doesn’t do it as absurdly aggressively as does a deck like Merfolk, but I don’t know that one needs to go that route (though, hell, I still might).

I’ve seen this list a lot in Daily Events, most people tweaking it in their own ways. Tweaking this list isn’t particularly surprising to me. I think a lot of people are going to look at the Burst Lightning / Pillar of Flame and not see the value in the split. Pillar can be a fine weapon against Kitchen Finks and Voice of Resurgence, and Burst, whether kicked or not, also has a lot of use. Some of the cards I’ve seen people slip into here are Cryptic Command, Condescend, and Forked Bolt. I don’t think that that is the way to go, though. Cryptic is a fairly expensive spell for the deck, as powerful as the card is. Condescend similarly requires a mana investment to be effective. Forked Bolt seems too narrow to me and importantly doesn’t do the work in answering the true problem cards.

About the only card that I’m not on board with in Hoogland’s list is Telling Time, a card that seems to me to be filler, albeit filler that can make a Delver of Secrets flip. If you’re looking for something to fill this slot, my suggestions are low-mana investment cards—nothing that costs more than two, period. My first instinct is to try Thought Scour, primarily to provide the cantrip effect combined with the way that it can help Snapcaster Mage. If you’re looking for something that might have an affect on play, consider Shadow of Doubt. Another option is to try a card like Grim Lavamancer or Young Pyromancer, though I wonder if you might want another land in order to support two fewer cantrips.

Jeff, for his part, has actually shifted this deck away from being a Delver deck. He told me he’s going with Scion of Oona instead. Scion actually creates a more resilient deck overall, albeit with a cost—you lose out on the auto-win that a fast Delver can create. This deck, whether as a Scion deck or maintaining its namesake Delver, is high on my radar, though I am worried about its results in Daily Events. It doesn’t have a single 4-0 finish this last week. Frowns.


Here we go, further into the lands of aggression. Merfolk is definitely even more interesting to me than Delver, but I keep wondering if cutting oneself off from other colors is worth it.

This list from minsky is a little different than other Merfolk lists that I’ve seen, mostly because it is "missing" one card that is widely considered to be sacrosanct for Merfolk lists. Did you catch what it is?

A part of me feels like there is no way in which this could be right. After all, even though Legacy is a different format, it is an auto-include in Legacy Merfolk, and Modern is ostensibly a "weaker" format. That being said, though, minsky is the only player among a great many players who have played the deck who has a 4-0 last week in Modern in Daily Events. All of the Silvergill Adept players are at 3-1, so maybe minsky is on to something.

I’m a big fan of information in general, but one of the things that I keep thinking about when I look at these lists is why Gitaxian Probe?

It could simply be that the information is just so valuable that you need it in order to successfully pilot it against resistance. I’m not that convinced on this, though; I’ve played a lot of Merfolk over the years, and I’ve never really found myself wishing I had a Gitaxian Probe. When I think about the list, I definitely find myself just leaning towards having Silvergill Adept or simply more counterspells in that slot, but your mileage may vary.

Esper "Caw-Blade"

While a part of the namesake of this deck (the "Blade" / Stoneforge Mystic) is absent, this was definitely an interesting deck to come across. There is certainly something intriguing about going back in time a few years.

The one huge bit of flair in the deck, Clutch of the Undercity, is actually a very intriguing card to me. Aside from the ability to seek out an Elspeth, Knight-Errant or a Supreme Verdict, I love that it can fetch a Leyline of Sanctity after board against some opponents.

This deck isn’t running any maindeck Path to Exiles, which is certainly a little surprising. In its place, we see Dismember, Detention Sphere, and Supreme Verdict. Dismember is certainly a valuable spell, but I do have to wonder if Path wouldn’t be reasonable in here. Even if this deck is playing the slow game and giving an opponent a land could be problematic, the spell is just so powerful. I’m definitely wondering if it is something that should just find its way in, perhaps in place of some of the Spreading Seas, which while powerful in their own right seem to primarily be an afterthought in this deck, not advancing the game plan like they would for Merfolk and not being supported by four Tectonic Edges.

In addition, without Stoneforge Mystic’s help, I’d like to see another Sword in the deck. My instinct is Sword of Feast and Famine, but perhaps it should be Sword of Light and Shadow.

This is an interesting deck, and even if I’m not completely sold on it, it certainly made me take pause.

Speaking of interesting . . .

Turbo Time Warp

The first time I saw a Turbo Time Warp deck, a young Patrick Chapin was playing it, I believe, in some side events in a Chicago PTQ back after the printing of Tempest. His deck was incredibly exciting, running some haterific cards like Exhaustion and using Recall to keep the deck going along with Helm of Awakening and Sapphire Medallion to make the combo work all the more cheaply. As a fan of Stasis, I was definitely excited by the direction his deck was taking. I saw something similar around the same time in the hands of Dan Bock, who styled his deck "Premature Blue."

Here is something more "Modern":

An older version of this deck by the same player finished 4-0 in another recent Daily Event, which altogether leads me to believe that there is something going on here.

Now, I’ve talked about Turbo Fog / Time Walk before at some length, and I feel like I have a pretty good handle on how this style of deck can work. One of the first things that I don’t like about this deck is something that I and long-time collaborator Ronny Serio disagree on—I think all of the 1CC search is just wrong.

Remember, when you’re using a Howling Mine, the effect of a card like Serum Visions and Sleight of Mind is actually far less powerful just because when you’re drawing more cards the filtering power of a card like that has less of a comparative affect. In totally abstract terms, think of it like this. If you get, for the sake of argument, a card that is 50% better by using a card selection card, if you’re drawing one card a turn, you’ve got a pretty huge improvement (1.0 => 1.5); if, on the other hand, you are drawing more than one card a turn, you are actually getting some diminishing returns for your investment (2.0 => 2.5, half the value; 3.0 => 3.5, one third of the value). I just don’t think it is worth the time when you have such a tightly filled deck to begin with; it’s better to just include means to find redundancy via actual redundancy. There are a ton of Howling Mine effects legal in Modern.

Remember also that when Joel Calafell went 6-0 with the deck and Olivier Ruel looked at improving it, they didn’t add Ponder and later when Ruel considered Ponder in one of his articles, he only included one, largely because it could filter the deck but he wanted action. He preferred a Fog to a second Ponder. Keep that in mind.

U/W Control

Shifting gears to a more controlling deck, we see what can happen if you decide to eschew red in this interesting deck that placed in the Top 8 of the last Modern Premier event.

The first thing that I think might be obvious is that this deck is really heading into the land of resilient threats, with six planeswalkers, a Batterskull, and ten other ways to kill the opponent that have other uses (Colonnade, Restoration Angel, Vendilion Clique, and Vedalken Shackles). In addition, it has a ton of cards between main and board that are very effective against another blue deck even though it is running zero Cryptic Commands. Now, ehhh was quickly dispatched 2-0 by a Jund deck in the Top 8, but that doesn’t mean this deck isn’t worth looking at for potential inspiration.

Some might say that with only nine Islands and only five ways to fetch more, Vedalken Shackles is an easy cut. I’m not one of them. I’ve found that you don’t need to make Shackles optimally good for it to be very good anyway. I actually really like the maindeck (albeit with a minor desire to have a fourth Tectonic Edge). Where I’m a little less excited is the sideboard.

The big issue for me is that for the life of me I’m not sure what this deck plans to do in the face of Tron, one of the decks that I’d really want a great plan against in Modern, particularly in a large event. In the first game, only three Mana Leaks and two Vendilion Cliques stand between it and a major problem from a fast Karn Liberated. After board, three Spell Pierces join the mix, but overall, I think the deck is likely to be overwhelmed by one of the most popular decks in the format and doesn’t even look like it has much likelihood to win with a lucky draw. Even a very good draw from this deck looks like it would struggle for three games. I’d love to see, say, access to two Stony Silence and another Vendilion Clique or perhaps more Aven Mindcensors.

All told, that’s a pretty minor quibble, but there it is.


There really isn’t much time until I head out to Detroit, so I’m planning on playing as much as I am able to on Magic Online over the next few days. I spent a bit of time playing a truly rogue bunch of brews, but none of them really had something that all of these decks have. Did you catch what that is?

Regardless of what I end up sleeving up, I’m pumped to be playing in Detroit. One of the things I’ve got the blues about the most for Detroit is being unable to talk Maher into coming out to this event. He’s done pretty well for himself in the Motor City, placing Top 4 in 2001, losing to eventual champion Matt Vienneau, and winning the 2003 event, piloting the R/W "Slideless Slide"* deck designed by Brian Kowal (who also looks like he won’t be attending).

I know I’m certainly listening to Kowal a lot for this event, and even if I end up playing some "linear unfun garbage" instead of what he recommends, I’m pumped to be heading back to Detroit to play Magic. A few months ago, the last time I was in the area, I made Top 8 of a PTQ in Standard. Here’s hoping I do just as well in the Grand Prix, even if the challenge is all the more difficult.

See you there! Wish me luck!

Adrian L. Sullivan

@AdrianLSullivan on Twitter

*I love Brian Kowal decks, and the one below, for Onslaught Block Constructed, is definitely a masterpiece. It was a good weekend for Madison Magic, with Maher winning it with this, fellow Madisonian Matt Severa also in the Top 8, and a smattering of people, including me, in the money. Maybe at this 2013 Grand Prix, we’ll have a similar collection of Madison Magic at the top; I’m certainly hoping so.

For the Magic history buffs out there, here is that deck:

R/W Slideless Slide – Bob Maher 1st Grand Prix Detroit

4 Forgotten Cave
4 Secluded Steppe
8 Mountain
11 Plains
3 Akroma, Angel of Wrath
4 Eternal Dragon
4 Silver Knight
4 Starstorm
4 Lightning Rift
3 Renewed Faith
3 Decree of Justice
4 Akroma’s Vengeance
4 Wing Shards
2 Oblation
2 Decree of Annihilation
1 Decree of Justice
2 Temple of the False God
4 Wipe Clean
4 Shock