Legion Of Doom

In this week’s article, Ari writes about his team’s testing for and performance at Pro Tour Born of the Gods. Get up to date on Modern before the upcoming Grand Prix Richmond!

After Pro Tour Theros, a heated argument broke out among a couple of my team members. One of the people felt that our testing went very well, while the other felt there was much room for improvement. In the end, the argument became very heated, and the following (approximate) words were uttered:

“I didn’t pay for a flight to Dublin to come here and do nothing. I. WANT. TO. WIN.”

The yelling on a Sunday night drew far less heads than normal on a public bus. The driver probably didn’t even notice. Welcome to Ireland.


At dinner Thursday night just before the Pro Tour, the group discussion turned to the point that many of our team members have been viewed as villains of the Pro Tour in past events.

This then spiraled off into deciding which Batman villain or hero each team member is.

Our cast of characters:

Ari Lax

I helped co-found the team, aid in general operations (testing focus, in-event information gathering), and typically explore less fair decks. I also am very good at rapid deck and matchup assessment.

We decided I am The Joker. I have a hell of a super villain cackle, and have you seen my writer profile picture?

Craig Wescoe

Another founding member of the team. When we first started getting things together a year ago, we looked at a list of unclaimed pros and found Craig. We asked, and he was in. Basically, Craig just does Craig. In doing so, he keeps everyone honest, which is especially important when people like me tend to spiral away from playing the format in a fair way.

We determined Craig is Catwoman. Despite having been portrayed as the villain in the past, his intentions are pure in the end.

Chris Fennell

Chris was added to the team before Pro Tour Theros. After the last pro season rollover, the remaining team members specifically sought out people who were qualified for multiple events. Chris Fennell had just hit gold in the Pro Players Club with a Top 16 at Pro Tour Dragon’s Maze, and we were specifically looking for Limited specialists to shore up a weakness. He has definitely delivered on that front

Chris is Killer Croc, a given for someone whose online moniker is GatorMage.

Steve Mann

Steve Mann was a package deal with Chris having also locked up gold for this season. There were hesitations based on his online reputation, but in person he is completely different. He is extremely mild mannered and very willing to do whatever is needed (and do it well).

Based on his mismatched online and real life personas, we deemed Steve to be Two-Face.

Seth Manfield

Seth was added to the team after his win at Grand Prix Kansas City. Another quiet person to balance the extremely loud base personalities of the team, Seth performs a similar role to Craig and picks up a lot of things other people would immediately dismiss (note that other people especially refers to myself).

It took us a long time to figure out who Seth is, but his propensity to switch decks at the last minute left no choice but Clayface.

Andrew Shrout

Andrew Shrout came up in discussion for Pro Tour Theros, but the team was full at the time. We picked him up in the turnover between Pro Tour Born of the Gods, and it turned out awesome. He called the deck we ended up playing back in December, and we trusted him to do the work. As a result, we had the best list.

As the pure soul on the team, Andrew has to be Batman.

Joe Demestrio

After making Top 25 his first Pro Tour in Montreal, Joe immediately approached me and asked about working together for future Pro Tours. He hasn’t had a dedicated role on the team but has taken care of odds and ends where needed.

As the young one, Joe is clearly Robin.

Harry Corvese

Harry was on the original Pro Tour Gatecrash team and finally was able to make it back after a near miss on pro points and a deferred invite.

Harry is Bane. Originally Harry was not Bane, but he got really sad when he realized this. He got even sadder when he realized he is 26 and cares that much about being Bane.

Conley Woods

After we were eliminated from Pro Tour Theros, Chris Fennell and I started talking to Conley about how to fix our respective teams’ testing processes.

Fast forward a month and Harry mentioned Conley wanted to work with us. Could we say no?

As with Craig, we had Conley just be Conley. He brewed, and we battled with and against them and provided feedback. He didn’t 100% break it this time, but he came close on a number of occasions and provided great insights that spanned to other areas. He is also an excellent technical player with some of the more difficult decks in the format (Melira Pod), which helped a ton.

Harry snap called out Conley as The Penguin. The mental imagery was hilarious, so it stuck.

Matt McCullough

Matt is one of those people I always name drop that no one else knows. He’s just good at Magic. He also keeps people honest but in a different way than Seth or Craig. If there is a “best deck,” Matt will remind you of this by beating you repeatedly with it.

Matt overly enjoys a good elaborate scheme and as such immediately claimed The Riddler.

Marc Lalague

Marc was added to the team late in testing. He was supposed to be on the team all along, but Craig forgot to add him to the original Facebook group. Everyone just assumed that we had already discussed him and had a reason they didn’t really know for him to be excluded.

Marc has helped the team out a ton in the past despite not being qualified multiple times and often has a bunch of random logistics covered. This Pro Tour he was given the role of G/W Auras master, which he clearly demonstrated by creating some of the wildest sideboard plans for the deck. For example, did you know bringing in Rest in Peace versus Living End is actually incorrect?

Mostly due to his semi-gangly appearance, he was given the role of Scarecrow.


This pre-event dinner was not without its own share of special flare.

We decided on an early dinner for Spain (6:45 PM) and spent some time wandering the area around our apartment to find a place that was open. An attempt to cut through an alleyway revealed it was a dead end . . . featuring a Mexican restaurant. That was open. With a waitress that spoke solid English.

The food turned out to be pretty good too.

The main event came at the end of the meal when we were presented with a carnival shock device and told to hold hands. If you let go, you’re out. Last one standing got a shot of tequila.

Naturally, with a crowd of competitive people, this can only end well.

The smaller people dropped out first, but it took a while. Shortened science for those interested: smaller, longer arms –> higher resistance –> more power drop –> more nerve activation/pain due to injected charge. Conley, Chris, and Harry were left standing, and they refused to concede as the voltage was ramped up.

After a solid 30 seconds on full blast, the waiter operating the device shrugged, declared defeat, and fetched three shots.


Our team began testing for Pro Tour Born of the Gods all the way back in November. This was an opportunity unique to Modern, and we took full advantage of it. We paced ourselves, talking a brew here and playing a known deck in a Magic Online Daily Event there. Every week we got on Skype, discussed what we learned the previous week, addressed any overhead issues (travel, membership, sponsorship), and assigned things to examine for the next meeting.

Any ideas we had were posted to a well-organized forum with categories for each broad archetype. Later any testing results we had were entered into a spreadsheet with the most important/gauntlet archetypes in the first few columns for easy viewing.


Our early returns from the format heavily focused on the cards added to the format since the last major event. At the time that meant just Theros.

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx was interesting, but it turned out the Mono-Green Devotion deck didn’t do anything the other combo decks couldn’t do better and faster. Notably, it was a combo deck that was disrupted by removal the same way Infect was but was slower and less redundant.

Our blue Nykthos lists were the most interesting. We had one with Grand Architect (as expected) that started down the path of Birthing Pod as a way to find all of the things as well as something to pump Architect mana into. The most promising was a Merfolk Nykthos deck Conley built based around untapping the legendary land with Merrow Reejerey. Overall, we learned that Jund just killing things was a problem for permanent-based decks, especially those that didn’t do something particularly redundant or quick. We also learned that Master of Waves is basically indestructible since it lives through Abrupt Decay and Lightning Bolt.

After that we went into gauntlet decks and went wide on midrange options. I quickly determined Kiki Pod was 45-55 against the field and tossed it. Chris came up with some Varolz, the Scar-Striped and Death’s Shadow brews, and Craig tried to get Martyr of Sands or W/B Tokens to beat Tron lands. Harry found that the fewer creatures U/W/R decks played, the worse they were against the field.

Combo came next. Shrout was sold on Storm against anything but Jund. Twin was still Twin; 60% of the time, it works every time. Infect was still brutally fast but permanent based. Goryo’s Vengeance was not a hundred percent reliable but was completely outside of the format boundaries when it worked. Ad Nauseam was tried and binned as being too slow relative to other combo and too soft to Thoughtseize.

Amulet of Vigor was slightly less consistent than the other options since it could be disrupted by Abrupt Decay. Restore Balance was cool, but it wasn’t assured to do anything relevant even when it went off. The no Cryptic Command build of Scapeshift was miles ahead of the heavy blue list against everything but Liliana of the Veil, but that was probably unbeatable for either configuration.


Three months in, the banning of Deathrite Shaman and unbanning of Wild Nacatl and Bitterblossom shook up our established deck options.

I was immediately frustrated by the existence of Wild Nacatl. In my past experience, the card has a very negative effect on format diversity. Instead of various threats with various answers, you just have Nacatl. You can Lightning Bolt a Wild Nacatl, but there aren’t a lot of ways to trade with it at tempo parity. There aren’t a lot of creatures that stand up to it in time to matter. Because of the upgrade to three power, Nacatl also turns R/G Aggro into one of the faster “combo” decks, where the combo is just play all your creatures and hit them.

As a result, one of a couple things always occurs when Wild Nacatl is around:

1. People play slightly bigger creature decks.
2. People play Snapcaster Mage and Path to Exile to try to kill all of the big guys.
3. People play fast combo and kill before they die to Cats.

Obviously, I wanted to do the last one.

The above points suggested U/W/R, Big Zoo, and Melira Pod as likely level 1 decks to beat, with the level 0 requirement of handling Little Zoo. Twin would also be relevant, as would a generic plan against generic combo.

Note: In the below comments, Little Zoo distinguishes Tribal Flames and variants with a bunch of Kird Ape and no Noble Hierarch. Big Zoo almost exclusively includes Knight of the Reliquary and Noble Hierarch.

Early results had Little Zoo as a heavy favorite against most things that weren’t Kitchen Finks or Bigger Zoo.

We briefly explored Faeries. It pushed against Birthing Pod and could never beat a Little Zoo deck. Next.

Affinity was okay against Zoo variants, but there were concerns about Ancient Grudge just being randomly inserted into sideboards. It also had the normal Affinity consistency issues inherent with a deck that consists of 40 blanks and 20 actions.

Melira felt fine against fast Zoo, but the bigger Scavenging Ooze lists felt awkward. They could disrupt your creatures and create enough Abysses (read: anything big enough to attack into Kitchen Finks) that you would eventually run out of things to block with.

Moving to the “kill you on turn 3” options, we had Infect, Goryo’s Vengeance, and Storm. Goryo’s Vengeance was unable to reliably kill through a splashed Negate out of Zoo, so that was discarded. Infect lost a lot of incidental games to normal Zoo actions, making it out.

Shrout kept killing people with Storm though.

G/W Auras was also a top contender, though it’s early “kill” was different than Storm’s. So few decks can beat a Daybreak Coronet these days.

I kept waffling between Affinity, Auras, and Storm as the event crept nearer. The three decks all attacked from the same angle, but it was a matter of figuring out your way around splash hate. Would there be Qasali Pridemage in Zoo? Did people get the memo that you no longer need Stony Silence to cover Tron as well as Affinity? Would people find room for a Bojuka Bog to Knight of the Reliquary for? How does Engineered Explosives change things?

In the very end (as in morning of the event), I drew up some hands with Auras and settled on Storm. Cantrips are just phenomenal cards, and being able to sculpt an ideal hand put the deck to a different level than the other options.

Plus Shrout kept killing people with the deck.

Overall, the team was split into four decks. Shrout, Chris, Matt, Joe, and I played Storm. Marc, Steve, Harry, and Seth played G/W Auras. Craig tuned W/B Tokens to a point where he was willing to play it. Conley played Melira Pod, a deck he decided to move in on and master after running out of time for a new brew.


Looking around the room as of round 6, I couldn’t believe what I saw.

Zoo, Melira, U/W/R, Twin, assorted combo. A bit more Living End, but that was expected from the Europeans from their Grand Prix results.

This was it? People went into the tank for months and came back out with nothing?

Also, how do any of these decks ever beat a Pyromancer Ascension?


Between rounds 7 and 11, my wheels fell off. I punted all four of those matches, and only one of them was my opponent kind enough to hand back.

The punts I made were small tactical mistakes. Thinking I had a read on a second Lightning Helix over a first Lightning Bolt. Playing a lethal Aspect of Hydra on the wrong unblocked guy, which resulted in a slightly worse post-bounce spell situation. Missing the fact I had to fetch to six life when trying to stop a Geist of Saint Traft attack and dying to a known counter on an answer to the Angel token.

These things happen. A couple of them are things I likely could have done wrong in an event I won without noticing. I’ll play more, and I’ll make less of them or have them line up correctly with my good luck on some days.

This added up to a 0-3 draft, but as I mentioned above, I’m basically ignoring that for the time being. Our preparation was excellent, and I drafted a fine deck. I just got paired against other fine decks, played worse than my opponents, and didn’t get disproportionately lucky enough to win.


Sometimes you win; sometimes you lose. I’ve been told Chris hit runner, runner, one outer to win a match in the Swiss portion of the tournament. He then lost two games in the Top 8 from positions where he was 90% to win.

I went 8-8 at this event, but I couldn’t be happier with the result. We put a member in the Top 8. We played the best list of the best deck in the event, with a combined record of 67.5% among our Storm pilots (excluding two matches against each other). Things felt cohesive and well planned from the start, and we are already planning improvements for the next event.

It’s taken a year to plan and build a stable infrastructure, but we are finally there. We have a group that works well with each other and enjoys doing so.

Most importantly, we are all extremely focused on a single common goal:

We. Want. To. Win.