Lessons To Learn From Valencia

Find out what lessons Todd learned about the Modern format from Pro Tour Born of the Gods that he hopes to put into practice to have success at Grand Prix Richmond this weekend!

GP Richmond

With Grand Prix Richmond coming up this weekend, Modern is the topic on everyone’s mind. Pro Tour Born of the Gods spotlighted quite a few archetypes during coverage of the tournament, and the Top 8 did not fail to impress. Storm was the talk of the tournament as the archetype sliced through the competition, though only one copy managed to crack the elimination rounds. We also saw Jacob Wilson abandon the anemic Jund archetype in favor of Melira Pod, earning him a finals appearance. And lastly, Shaun McLaren’s U/W/R Control deck took the trophy home.

Throughout the Pro Tour, a couple things were made abundantly clear about Modern:

Bitterblossom and Wild Nacatl are definitely not cards to be afraid of in the format.

With that said, players came prepared for the Pro Tour with both of those cards in mind. Zoo definitely made an appearance, but the fact of the matter is that if you want to beat its cards enough, you can do it. This was one of the reasons I advocated unbanning Wild Nacatl and Bitterblossom many months ago, as neither Faeries nor Zoo is as strong as it once was.

Or perhaps the depth of the format has proven to be too much for either of them to handle.

Regardless, there is a lot of information to be gained by using the Pro Tour as a resource. For one, it is likely that most of the old-school veterans coming to Richmond are going to play McLaren’s U/W/R Control deck. It’s a strong archetype and has very few bad matchups due to the fact that most of its removal spells and counterspells are versatile answers. When a control deck is forced to play linear removal, you can build your deck to mitigate the effects of those removal spells. However, with Lightning Bolt and Lightning Helix as the heart of the removal suite, the U/W/R Control deck can often function like a Burn deck.

It’s no surprise to me that Shaun was able to defeat many a mage with his build of U/W/R Control simply because in actuality there were a ton of Zoo decks in Valencia. One of U/W/R Control’s better matchups is Zoo because it has access to the format’s most efficient removal as well as one of the best control cards ever printed.

While I don’t know if copying the same 75 from a deck at Pro Tour Born of the Gods is necessarily correct, as I think the metagame will shift significantly toward the Top 8 decks and further away from Zoo, they are definitely a great place to start. If you haven’t had a chance to play much Modern before Richmond, picking up one of the Top 8 decks is certainly acceptable, but I rarely recommend playing the same list for the next tournament. After all, the results from the Pro Tour will affect how people build their decks to a significant extent.

The Return Of Midrange

If you’re looking to beat up on the decks from the Top 8 of Valencia, I would start by trying to figure out a generic weakness that those decks have. In the past, Modern has been consistently attacked by discard spells like Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek followed up with efficient threats like Tarmogoyf. These decks were around before Deathrite Shaman, and I fully expect them to come back in full swing once people realize they are still viable. When preparing for Pro Tour Born of the Gods, I initially dismissed Jund, as I figured the banning of Deathrite Shaman would turn it into something much too slow to keep up with the current format. But I am honestly not sure if that is the actual truth.

What I do know is that in Valencia there were very few mages casting discard spells, which allowed combo decks to run rampant. Without a disruptive midrange deck in the format, it’s no wonder that Storm made waves in the tournament and so many other combo decks showed up in full force. Jund is traditionally favored (albeit only slightly) against most combo decks in Modern simply because they don’t have the tools to consistently dig for multiple iterations of their respective combos. The thing is that Serum Visions and Sleight of Hand are not nearly as powerful as Ponder and Preordain. Without access to powerful card selection, a single Thoughtseize or Inquisition of Kozilek can often steal a game out from under a combo deck with a weak hand.

On top of the pinpoint discard, Jund also has another strong card to fight against combo:

A staggeringly low number of Liliana of the Veil in the format means that combo decks have plenty of time and resources to dig for their combo pieces. An early discard spell followed by a Liliana usually spells lights out for any deck trying to build up its resources for one big turn. This cheap disruption combined with efficient threats like Dark Confidant (to keep the gas flowing) and Tarmogoyf (to end the game quickly) makes Jund decks quite scary for combo. But when Jund lost an all-star in Deathrite Shaman, it was safe to assume that people didn’t want to play the deck at the Pro Tour because they weren’t sure whether it was good enough against an open field.

The cold hard truth is that Jund might not actually be good enough in Modern anymore, but that could all change in an instant. Once people figure out what creature to use to replace Deathrite Shaman, the deck could thrive, much like it did in the format before the banned list changes. The addition of Wild Nacatl could only make Jund decks a better choice because they can easily be built to beat an early creature rush.

Much like the U/W/R Control decks, cards like Lightning Bolt go a long way in curbing the aggression out of Wild Nacatl and friends, and even something like Inquisition of Kozilek can be backbreaking if their hand is rather weak. Taking away their prime spot removal spell generally means their early threats aren’t beating a Tarmogoyf.

If you’re looking for a card to "replace" Deathrite Shaman, I have a suggestion:

I honestly don’t think this guy is very good in Standard, much like Deathrite Shaman, but I think there are a lot of reasons why it could be good in Modern. For one, decks like Jund love lands like Raging Ravine, so having a way to continually churn through your deck and hitting land drops is welcome. Flooding for Jund isn’t usually a problem, as having these powerful lands to use when you don’t have much else to do is just fine. Raging Ravine has been a staple in Jund for quite some time, and Courser of Kruphix just makes it better.

The four toughness actually means a lot in any Lightning Bolt matchup since you want to try to blank that card as much as possible. Four toughness also means you can play one of the premier sweepers without much liability:

While I’m not implying Anger of the Gods should be in the maindeck of Jund, I do think it’s a major consideration. When most of your threats can survive the fallout, it’s a potential blowout for any opponent trying to flood the board and "go under" your spot removal. It’s a fantastic weapon against so many archetypes in Modern and is only mediocre against decks you’re traditionally favored against. When the rest of your deck can pick apart a combo deck, having a few cards that dagger aggro and midrange decks is awesome.

I assume most Jund players will put Anger of the Gods in their sideboard and call it a day, but I can assure you that Birthing Pod decks, Zoo decks, and a number of other strategies will simply fold to the card. Alongside your other removal spells, you should be able to take the wind out of their sails quite easily. This is one of the reasons I would consider one or two copies in the maindeck despite the fact that it is quite embarrassing against Splinter Twin and the like.

If I were to play Jund in Richmond, this is pretty close to what I would sleeve up:

This list is pretty similar to the Willy Edel’s deck as played by Michael Jacob in a Magic Online video on Tuesday. If you’re interested in this strategy, I recommend taking a look at his videos here.

Not Interacting, Or How To Make Your Opponent Die Inside

If you aren’t in the mood for your opponents to play any actual games of Magic, you can always opt for a combo deck that tries to do the most unfair thing possible. In Modern, this is a common strategy, though many of these decks feel inconsistent and are prone to awkward draws. This is due to the fact that Modern does not have the same kind of card selection as Legacy.

There are some decks that can mitigate this problem by playing a massive number of cantrip spells. Storm is one of those decks.

If you are the type of player who enjoys casting Infernal Tutor in Legacy, then you should probably take this deck for a spin. Pyromancer Ascension is a powerful card that is often your main route to victory. While gaining you massive card advantage, an active Pyromancer Ascension allows you to steamroll spells until you hit a high floating mana count, ultimately using Grapeshot as a finisher. If you have a lot of experience with this style of deck, I think that this build is probably best for Richmond, and you should play it.

Personally, I don’t enjoy playing with (or against) this type of deck. I have a hard time with the dexterity issues required to play Storm, as you need to keep track of storm count and floating mana as well as a number of other things all while trying to formulate a plan to kill your opponent. Decks like Storm tend to "spin their wheels" much more than I would like from a combo deck since having so many draw spells means keeping a wider range of hands, often leaving you without an actual way to win the game by turn 4 or 5.

Since Storm did well in Valencia, I fully expect it to do well in Richmond too. There aren’t too many actual bad matchups for Storm in Modern, and the deck’s losses generally come from itself. If you can pilot it perfectly, Storm is a very powerful strategy that I highly recommend giving a shot.

If you want to go a bit further on the turbo combo scale, you can try out the sweet Ad Nauseam brew by Michael Bonde that Jared Boettcher used to finish in ninth place in Valencia. Take a look:

Now this deck is something else. If you don’t know exactly how it works, let me break it down for you a bit.

First off, Angel’s Grace and Phyrexian Unlife both keep you from dying when you cast Ad Nauseam, allowing you to draw your whole deck. Then you pitch three Simian Spirit Guide to create enough mana to cast Lightning Storm. If you don’t know what Lightning Storm does, don’t be discouraged. Very few people drafted Coldsnap, and even then it wasn’t exactly a first pick.

If you end up testing this deck on Magic Online, just know that you have to hold priority when casting Lightning Storm (hold ctrl), pitching your lands to put charge counters on it before it actually resolves. You have to do this in real life too, but that shouldn’t be too hard and can usually be solved by just discarding a large number of lands in addition to casting it.

The coolest thing about this deck is that it can kill the opponent at instant speed, giving you the flexibility to play around counterspells quite easily. Since they can never tap out, it gives you plenty of time to set up your combo or eventually find Pact of Negation or Boseiju, Who Shelters All to make your Ad Nauseam uncounterable. Since Angel’s Grace has split second, Ad Nauseam is the only spell you need to make uncounterable in the combo. After board you even have access to Tolaria West to act as an additional copy of Boseiju.

This deck is reasonably strong against control decks since they’re incredibly reactive in nature. Few versions play any quick threats other than Snapcaster Mage, but they’ll generally tend to milk value out of it by getting a rebuy on Mana Leak or the like.

Some of the numbers may look a little strange, such as the three copies of Leyline of Sanctity in the board. Personally, I’m an advocate of four or zero copies of Leyline. Maximize your chance to have it in your opener, I say. In matchups where you desperately need Leyline, you’re not going to want to have to cast it naturally, as they tend to use their discard spells quite aggressively in the early turns of the game before they begin deploying threats.

In general, this type of non-interactive deck is a little soft to Splinter Twin because it’s not quite as fast on the kill, though you do have some resiliency with both Angel’s Grace and Phyrexian Unlife to buy you time. Twin decks often play cheap counterspells to interact with you early on while also helping to assemble their combo ala Remand. The fact that they can also use their Deceiver Exarch or Pestermite to tap an early land, causing you to occasionally stumble, means you might have a little trouble along the way.

Speaking of Splinter Twin . . .

Patrick Dickmann’s list looks phenomenal. If you’ve been playing the Splinter Twin archetype for a while in Modern, I highly recommend giving this list a shot. With the Tarmogoyf and Scavenging Ooze backup plan alongside a host of cheap removal spells, this deck can attack from multiple angles, making it much harder for traditional Splinter Twin hate to keep the deck down. Torpor Orb looks downright terrible against an opponent who just casts Tarmogoyf into counterspells and removal spells.

The problem with this style of combo deck is that you can often have draws featuring Tarmogoyf or Scavenging Ooze alongside some combo piece that don’t do a whole lot. This is one of the reasons why Dickmann chose to play three copies of Pestermite and Deceiver Exarch as opposed to playing four copies of Exarch and only two copies of Pestermite. In a pinch, Pestermite can actually make a pretty good race of it alongside Tarmogoyf against a number of strategies and even prevent the opponent from blocking (or attacking) in the meanwhile. The fact that Pestermite also has flying is definitely a plus when you’re trying to race, though it is susceptible to Lightning Bolt.

The option to sideboard out your combo in some matchups is also appealing, as Splinter Twin is vulnerable on numerous levels. Enchantment hate, creature hate, and counterspells can make it difficult to assemble the combo, and often your best bet will be to just play some creatures and turn them sideways. The additional Scavenging Ooze and Batterskull to the board make this a realistic possibility, though Pestermite can always be of service in these scenarios.

The fact that this deck is so flexible means that it will be nearly impossible for your opponent to sideboard correctly against you. Imagine if they never see a Pestermite or Deceiver Exarch in game 1. They’ll probably think you’re just a RUG Control strategy and board differently as a result. This can lead to a lot of free wins in games 2 and 3, assuming you are adept enough at keep your opponent guessing incorrectly as to your overall game plan.

While I feel as if I’ve barely scratched the surface on the Modern format, I’ve put in a ton of games already, and I feel quite confident about my chances at Grand Prix Richmond. With what is shaping up to be an enormous (and incredibly fun) event, I am excited to be a part of something wonderful. While I desperately need a Top 16 in order to hit Silver and qualify for Pro Tour Journey into Nyx, a certain quote comes to mind:

"You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling."

GP Richmond