This past week, I lost my win-and-in for top 8 at #GPAtlanta. Going into the weekend, I would have been thrilled with an x-3 finish, worth three Pro
Points, as historically Limited success is something that has never come easily.
Tournament Magic is a funny thing in that, at least for me, it is difficult to be pleased with a result unless I win the last match I get to play. I’ve had
multiple Grand Prix where I won several matches down the stretch to a mediocre finish and been ecstatic, yet it’s tough to swallow ending the tournament on
a low note even when it culminates in an objectively strong final standing.
I don’t mean to harp on this or sound negative, I just knew getting up from the last game I played at #GPAtlanta that I had a lot of work to do. In the
span of a few minutes I had a whirlwind of emotions from the horror that I completely punted away a Grand Prix top 8 to the more sobering reaffirmation
that I could have simply done things better. Strengthening my Limited game continues to be a long process that has a great deal of my attention.
Moving forward, #GPPitt will be the last line in professional events I’ll be playing before the New Year. While these nearly last two full months of
playing Magic have been exhausting in their own right, I’d certainly like to start the holiday season off with one last strong finish.
That means we’re back to playing Modern.
I’ve actually written about Modern a fair amount lately, covering a variety of strategies. If the world were
receptive to it, I would love to keep working on various Grixis decks for this upcoming Grand Prix. Unfortunately, with the huge increases in red
aggressive strategies and a lot of people talking about how they should “play *insert combo deck* before it’s banned” I’m not sure I want to be shuffling
up a deck that is fairly weak to both axes.
A card that I am interested in playing right now is Timely Reinforcements. This has led to me speaking and theorizing with a variety of folks about playing
W/B Tokens. The first list for reference:
Shambling Vent and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar are powerful new additions to this old fringe strategy. Tokens has always been excellent in grindy fair
matchups, as your cards are all so well-positioned against traditional removal like Lightning Bolt and Terminate. Decks like Grixis and Jund are poorly
poised to fight wide threat cards like Lingering Souls and Spectral Procession. Shambling Vent makes the deck’s mana even better, which helps to facilitate
the small land destruction package of Ghost Quarter/Flagstones of Trokair, and in conjunction with an Honor of the Pure or a Gideon emblem suddenly becomes
Bolt-proof, making it a resilient threat that goes a long way towards stabilizing any kind of game against an aggressive deck.
The deck also naturally has access to hand disruption and Path to Exile making it effective against Splinter Twin and Amulet Bloom. The former also has a
particularly difficult time fighting through Auriok Champion, a seemingly auspicious choice for the aggressive red matchups that also functions as an
effective foil to their combo potential.
This list in particular eschews Bitterblossom for Squadron Hawk with the desire to play Honor of the Pure, as the tribal enchantment can be a bit of a
liability against some opponents, and is also fairly slow.
The deck was reasonably effective at what it was intended to do – namely beat anything on the fair and aggressive side of the spectrum while still having a
reasonable shot against most combo decks.
Notably from the sideboard, Worship is one of the most criminally underplayed cards in the format, and it is fairly close to unbeatable in a variety of
matchups as it is nearly impossible for some opponents to remove all of B/W’s creatures from the battlefield, particularly if an Auriok Champion is
A major issue, however, is that the deck is likely to fall into two traps: one is that your clock is often incredibly anemic and you can’t close the game
properly before an opponent is able to rebuild an adequate amount of resources. Two is that your draws are often polarized between a small threat card, a
discard spell, and an outlier like Honor of the Pure that can be relatively low-impact.
Gideon, in particular, over-performed. His numbers simply work well in Modern as a 2/2 Knight Ally is a size that is relevant, his loyalty starts out of
Lightning Bolt range, and he is immune to Abrupt Decay. He establishes board position and closes the games quickly just like in Standard, and of course his
emblem is excellent in a deck interested in producing a large number of tokens.
Modern is a format where the average opponent isn’t going to be jamming up the battlefield with fairly large creatures like Standard, so protecting him is
also much easier, in particular when cards like Timely Reinforcements and Lingering Souls are put on that duty.
So in my quest to improve the overall individual card quality of my deck while pushing Gideon, Ally of Zendikar towards its ceiling and play more
disruption, I did the natural thing for a rock deck: add Liliana of the Veil.
One could argue that with no two mana enchantments in sight that create tokens or pump them that this isn’t even really a traditional token deck anymore,
which I suppose I would be inclined to agree with. Rather, I just want to play a variety of threats and defensive measures that are all difficult for the
average opponent to deal with.
As I’m sure most of you know, Liliana of the Veil is incredibly effective for putting an opponent quickly into the squeeze where they are forced to deploy
their resources that are then typically vulnerable to the planeswalker’s -2 ability or other forms of removal. The addition of another Thoughtseize in the
maindeck is a nod towards the fact that Liliana helps to remove a lot of the negative aspects of top decking discard spells later in the game, and it is
imperative to draw these effects against combo decks. Just by having Liliana of the Veil in our deck, we also have a drastically increased chance of
winning against decks like G/W Hexproof and Scapeshift.
The deck still plays a lot of lands because we have six “spell lands” and we are required to reach four mana to play planeswalkers. If every game goes
according to plan, our discard and sticky early threats will lead the way into and protect our multitude of planeswalkers before our opponent is forced
into being hellbent. From there, Gideon, Sorin, and Shambling Vents should be able to close out the game with any straggler tokens left over while the
majority of what our opponent has cobbled together has been largely ineffectual. Of course, we’re still more than capable of playing and flashing back a
Lingering Souls, producing a planeswalker-Anthem, and simply killing our opponent backed up by a removal spell or two.
Hangarback Walker is a card I haven’t talked about yet, but is quietly one of your best tools against decks like Jund and Grixis. It is incredibly unlikely
that any deck with Tarmogoyf can ignore it for the entire game, and it does a great job of buying time and being a road block for Liliana, Gideon, and
Sorin. It does suffer from being a slow and awkward threat against any non-attacking decks, but it is so effective against those that do while being great
insurance against Etched Champion that it has earned its slots, especially when so many specific nods have been made towards beating the unfair strategies.
I haven’t talked about Standard in a while, so I’ll give some thoughts for anyone attending #SCGKC this weekend.
Lately, Abzan Aggro has been absolutely dominant as far as winning Standard tournaments. Patrick Chapin and others have noted that the actual win
percentage of Abzan Aggro over Battle for Zendikar‘s Standard life is fairly tame, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is a matchup you need
to be prepared to beat, and that it was a whopping 30%+ of the #GPBrussels day 2 metagame. While there was also a surge of Rally the Ancestors success as
Team Eureka took several of the top 8 slots with their weapon of choice, I would argue that going back to good ole G/W Megamorph would be a great pick for
anyone looking to beat Abzan and Esper Dragons, as the format has shifted back towards Valorous Stance being a reasonable removal spell and Eldrazi Ramp is
beginning to fall off the map.
- 3 Wingmate Roc
- 4 Warden of the First Tree
- 1 Hidden Dragonslayer
- 4 Den Protector
- 4 Deathmist Raptor
- 3 Nissa, Vastwood Seer
- 3 Hangarback Walker
This list is basically retro no-frills. While Knight of the White Orchid started to become the mainstay in Bant Megamorph, I think it is too individually
weak of a card that affects your ability to curve properly and takes a great deal of punch out of Warden of the First Tree. Similarly, the movement towards
cutting Hangarback Walker only makes some sense to me.
While it is true that the card is weak to Silkwrap, a huge emphasis on G/W Megamorph is how powerful each individual card is, and Hangarback Walker is a
strong resilient threat that enables Dromoka’s Command and makes Evolutionary Leap an absolutely unfair card and one of your best tools against Esper
Dragons and other control decks. I’m still a bit hesitant to even shave a single copy for a Hidden Dragonslayer, but the white megamorph looks fairly
well-positioned to me and I needed to make room. For now, the fourth Hangarback is in the sideboard in conjunction with Evolutionary Leap.
Speaking of Silkwrap, I’m still playing two copies, just as I was when I wrote about the deck last, I’m just playing more removal now with the three
Valorous Stances. Removing Abzan’s early pressure is so important, and I still don’t want to skimp too badly on ways to manage Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy despite
Jeskai Black’s numbers going down.
Finally, a lot of folks started shaving Nissa, Vastwood Seer. I just don’t understand. Granted, I have a much higher opinion of her than most, but she is
one of the best things you can be doing when you are trading resources aggressively while also transitioning you into the lategame where she eventually
I know Brad and others have spoken about how they feel their Megamorph decks are starting to feel underpowered in the state of Standard, but I think that’s
just because they keep finding reasons to shave their good cards!
As for the sideboard, I’m still embracing a small blue splash. Having twelve blue sources is certainly on the lighter side of acceptable, and it is true
that not having Knight of the White Orchid makes being Bant more difficult, but for the most part in the matchups we want, it is not necessary to have a
blue source until turns 4 or 5. Further, I’ve tried to diversify my disruption with an actual white hate card in Hallowed Moonlight for Rally the Ancestors
should it stay in the metagame.
In reality I have only have three big targets: Control, Red, and Rally. Thankfully, there is a fair amount of overlap with Surge of Righteousness,
Silkwrap, and Negate being strong against Jeskai Black. The mirror match isn’t particularly present at this juncture, so we don’t have to worry about
playing cards like Tragic Arrogance and instead can play more general answers.
A rocky Rally the Ancestors matchup aside, I feel that G/W Megamorph is poised to be well-positioned against the Abzan menace until the metagame once again
What are you taking to #GPPitt and #SCGKC?