How To Prepare For SCG Columbus

With Team Modern the format for the SCG Columbus main event and no Unified rules to restrict players’ deck choices, what will reign supreme? Dylan Hand gives general insights, plus the five decks he might choose to play!

The first stop of the 2019 SCG Tour is almost here. The month-long break we’ve had since the conclusion of historically snowy SCG CON Winter has come and gone, and while we finish up our holiday celebrations and ring in the New Year, it’s time to look ahead to doing battle once more.

SCG Columbus is this weekend, and the first Open of the year introduces a unique format for its participants. Team Modern is the name, which is a departure from the typical team tournament structure we see on the SCG Tour or Grand Prix circuit. Team Unified Modern is a format we saw a few times in 2018, but SCG Columbus is non-Unified.

This week, I took to Twitter to ask for questions regarding this tournament, due to its uniqueness. I’d like to answer those to the best of my ability, after which I will cover what decks I would look to play this coming weekend.

This is a good question, as it requires you to think about a different aspect of a given deck beyond attributes such as its place in the metagame, power level, consistency, and so on. When it comes to team events, the logistics of “who sits where” is usually unique for each team of three, and should be discussed within the context of those players’ individual format knowledge, deck knowledge, deck complexity, etc.

Based on Zach’s suggested scenarios above, I would expect a deck like Ironworks to be in the A or C seat, since even at this stage, a reasonably small subset of players are capable of playing the deck efficiently, and due to the amount of game actions required, it would be unlikely they would be able to offer much assistance to their teammates. The same would be true of a control deck, and I would most likely expect a deck like Burn in the B seat. If your team values the ability to communicate with one another during games, a deck like Burn is a solid B seat option, since it is a deck that has lesser difficult decision points, leaving more time to assist teammates during difficult plays.

This was one of the most commons questions I received, which makes sense given it being the most distinctive aspect of the event compared to other team events.

Given the ability to play three copies of the same deck (and a reasonable amount of teams will do this), it seems likely that, should a team utilize this approach, they should pick something like KCI or Tron, decks with an absurdly high power level but still more than enough consistency to win more often than lose.

My intuition tells me that, if a team is to pick three of the same deck, you would want to play something with as high of a ceiling as possible in terms of win percentage. This leads me to believe that it would not be correct do a team configuration of, say, three Jund decks, as those decks have a tendency to be “50%” decks, and given that 66% of your team needs to win their matches to collectively win a round as a team, the numbers don’t quite add up.

I thought to address this question in the previous answer, but felt that it ultimately deserved its own response.

I think there is little to lose and much to gain by playing three of the same deck in all three seats, as long as you don’t do the aforementioned by playing three “medium” decks. You don’t want to be the team of three Azorius Control pilots and sit across from triple Tron, but if you sign up the triple Amulet Titan team, you stand well to have enough busted draws per team to carry you to the trophy.

The three-of-one-deck strategy additionally provides the advantage of triple the insight on in-game decisions. How much value this provides each individual team will vary, but is worth noting.

Triple Threat

The discussion to be had over the “optimal” setup for a unique event such as this one fluctuates heavily in value, depending on the person. The number of percentage points to be gained by thoroughly examining the various aspects of a Team Modern tournament is admittedly quite low, but I think that this is a good example of how players can think more critically about tournaments as a whole, beyond straightforward decisions like deck choice and metagaming. On one hand, it is easy to view this tournament as a normal Modern Open, except you have to pick two other people to try to collectively win two matches a round with. On the other, it is very reasonable to assume that some players will gravitate towards the “three of the same deck” strategy. While the number of teams that do this won’t be astronomical, to discount this fact completely is ill-advised.

What’s Up With Modern?

It’s been a quiet month for tournament Magic, but that doesn’t mean that the Modern format hasn’t kept on moving week to week.

  • Bant Spirits has now all but completely separated itself from Humans as the top creature deck in Modern.
  • Izzet Phoenix, first popularized by Ross Merriam with his win at SCG Baltimore in late November, has solidified itself as a top-tier contender in Modern. The deck continues to evolve week to week, and the lists are tuned enough at this stage to beat the metagame at large. The deck makes sure to follow the cardinal rule of Modern right now (have a Turn 4 goldfish), so it’s hard to go wrong here.
  • Grixis Death’s Shadow has seen a recent resurgence, as players have started to pick up the deck again and tune it properly. Besides Bant Spirits, Grixis Death’s Shadow is the other top disruptive deck in the format. A deck such as this one thrives in a format that is degenerate and fast, so this is to be expected.
  • Amulet Titan, Ironworks, Tron, and Dredge all still sit at the top of the format as degenerate powerhouses, generally impervious to the hate cards that so frequently end up in sideboards. Ironworks uses Sai, Master Thopterist to easily circumvent Stony Silence and Rest in Peace; Dredge comes more than prepared for the hate it faces; Amulet Titan gets to live in a format devoid of Blood Moons; and Tron is, well, Tron.

Short of Grixis Death’s Shadow and Bant Spirits, it doesn’t make sense to play fair or interact in Modern right now. Your goal should be to get your opponent dead on Turn 3 (yes, Turn 3!) or 4, and then know how to dodge sideboard cards.

Here are my top five picks for SCG Columbus:

#1. Ironworks

To pretend this isn’t the best deck in Modern right now is a complete farce.

If you understand how to play with this deck and sideboard with it, and possess the mental fortitude to slog through playing this deck for over a dozen rounds, there is little reason not to play Ironworks. Between an interaction-resistant combo that can start as early as Turn 3; a fantastic alternative win condition in Sai, Master Thopterist; and a sideboard ready to deal with anything that gets thrown at it, this deck has it all. This deck’s time off the banned list may be numbered, so take advantage while you can.

#2: Bant Spirits

If you insist on interacting with your opponents in Modern right now, nothing does it better than Bant Spirits. In a format full of decks trying to end the game on Turn 4, most of the cards that those decks utilize cost four mana or less, which makes Spell Queller a fantastic option. Supreme Phantom finally gave this deck the clock it needed to close games out on time, and the sideboard is chock-full of strong white cards that have a reasonable chance of locking your opponents out from doing anything meaningful.

#3: Izzet Phoenix

The new kid on the block, this deck is a mana-efficient, card-drawing, player-killing machine. Thing in the Ice shores up creature matchups incredibly well, and the deck possesses a very fast goldfish if you find a high enough number of Arclight Phoenixes early on. The original incarnations of the deck struggled slightly against very fast combo decks but have since been able to streamline themselves to have a shot in those matchups. For example, some players have begun splashing Hallowed Fountain for Stony Silences and other white cards in the sideboard.

#4: Grixis Death’s Shadow

The bogeyman of 2017 has seen a large resurgence lately, even taking down the last Modern Grand Prix of 2018. An increase in decks soft to Stubborn Denial and Thoughtseize, as well as a decrease in Humans (goodbye, Reflector Mage!), has created the perfect storm for this deck to see some play again. The deck still being able to kill people quickly with Temur Battle Rage gives the deck the “cheese factor” it needs to close games instantly.

#5: Amulet Titan

I debated putting Dredge in this spot, but Amulet Titan is just as powerful and has the added bonus of existing in a format devoid of targeted hate towards it. This usually consists of Blood Moon decks, which are all but nonexistent in Modern right now. Additionally, the deck is very hard to play against, giving the deck some free percentage points it likely shouldn’t have. This deck is the distant cousin of Ironworks as far as fairly complicated decks are concerned, but, like Ironworks, this deck will reward you for learning the ins and outs and playing well.

I know for certain that I will be playing one of the five decks on that list, but I’ll keep exactly which under wraps so my teammates don’t get cross with me.

The battle for the 2019 Players’ Championship is about to begin.

Are you ready?