Hey StarCityGames.com readers! It’s been a while, where did we leave off?
When we last checked in with our hero…
In the spring, I was fresh off a MOCS championship win and preparing to reenter the fray to make my mark in the paper scene. What’s happened since? Nationals was a bust. I had set a goal at the beginning of the year to qualify for Pro Tour Philadelphia, and I got to the finals of a PTQ and the LCQ before just falling short of making it to the show.
Worlds itself was a chance for redemption from my last year’s performance. For Standard, I played the G/W/R Wolf-Run Ramp/Birthing Pod deck I had worked on with Jarvis Yu, Reid Duke, and Love Janse, going 4-2 (losing to fellow Magic Online grinder papasouzas). In my first pod, I opened Garruk Relentless and never looked back for the 3-0, then salvaged a 2-1 with an awful G/B “good (enough) stuff” deck that needed my last opponent to mull to five to be good enough.
So I was going into day three at 9-3, needing two wins to money and four to make the top eight. I hadn’t tested the format much, so I looked towards the consensus default deck: Snapcaster Zoo. We figured without Green Sun’s Zenith, Zoo couldn’t ramp or get Knight of the Reliquary with regularity. Where before it was about attrition, we thought the key now was to go low, meaning Kird Apes and Tribal Flames over Noble Hierarch and Elspeth. The new hotness was obviously Snapcaster Mage (rebuy Tribal Flames, take ten!), but after a couple hours of testing, we moved two to the side and kept the two in the main. I’m sure if we played a few more games we might have cut them altogether.
I won my first match against newly minted Hall of Famer Anton Jonsson, then promptly went 0-5 with one very large punt (miscounting Tarmogoyf), one very small punt (not recognizing Melira over Doran based on his lands), and a few bricked draws (which might be a punt given deck choice). I finished out of the money at exactly 100th, good for four pro points. While the format was indeed wide-open, what I played ultimately was not a real deck and it is disappointing to end the event that way. Altogether, though, it was heartening to know some tighter play and a little more work could have put me into the top eight.
Where do we go from here?
MOCS year four, of course. The structure of the championship might have changed with sixteen slots and only two byes available a month, but the game is the same: mash throughout the month and win the season championship.
Season one was Modern (pre-Dark Ascension). I came into the format cold and cycled through decks, hating every one I played. I started with the early favorites. Twin was explosive but inconsistent. Affinity was also unfair at times, but there were always people who decided today wasn’t the day they would lose to Affinity and were willing to sacrifice half their board to do so. Jund was solid but ultimately was playing a fair game. It has the tools to win a PTQ, but so many of the matches you lose are ones where you never have a chance. I knew all of these decks were “real decks,” but none of them felt right. The first two Magic Online PTQs introduced two new archetypes, however: Marco Orsini Jones B/W Caw-blade and Tommy Ashton’s Mono-blue Faeries. I knew both of those were more up my alley. I could not win with Caw, but Faeries I started getting really comfortable with.
The list I ended up playing in the MOCS was:
This main deck is almost the same as what Tommy originally played. He mentioned Spellskite was probably not necessary given Splinter Twin went away. One of the first changes I made was swapping out the Spell Pierce for Dispel. While Spell Pierce is normally a great fit for an aggro-control list, you more often than not play control, and even when you do play aggro the games can go longer. Dispel hits many of the cards you care about and is a fine topdeck late.
The maindeck Relic of Progenitus was maybe a little loose, but it has applications against most of the decks in the field, providing a speed bump against Melira, trimming Tarmogoyf, and is pretty useful against Caw which has both Snapcaster Mage and Moorland Haunt.
The sideboard was a mish-mosh after fifteen minutes of talking with Tommy Ashton about the deck and what it needed. We decided on the 26th land for the sideboard and Tectonic Edge was the call, making the cut over Magosi, the Waterveil and Mikokoro, Center of the Sea. Wurmcoil Engine was for the Tarmogoyf matchups (which I never played), and our Affinity hate is secretly the Sowers of Temptation, which both steal a guy and also block a 1/1.
The MOCS itself went surprisingly well. After cashing in my two byes, I took advantage of some bad draws from my opponent in round 3, eked out a win against Tron where he cast Emrakul, swung with it, cast another one to gain another turn, cast Ulamog to kill another of my lands, then died two turns later to the Sower of Temptation that he apparently never saw coming. I lost a three-game set to Melira, beat Caw, then was on the verge of losing to traditional U/B except he ended up timing out. I then beat three Caws in a row, including Caw innovator Michael Hetrick (@theshipitholla) who had taken down the PTQ the day before, to make the top eight.
The two biggest forces shaping the deck going forward I think are the match-ups against Melira and Caw. Melira was the toughest one I faced that day. They have two spells that have to be stopped (Birthing Pod and Chord of Calling) but can also just go into Kitchen Finks beatdown. I did beat Gainsay (Andrew Cuneo) in the quarterfinals, but the games were very close and he played a little too conservatively in one of the games I won.
Caw appears to be the next big thing, and possibly the best deck. At the very least, a lot of people will play it so any potential deck has to consider playing against it. I played against it four times in the Swiss and eventually lost to it in the semifinals. The matchup is favored if they haven’t adopted the new tech of playing their own Vedalken Shackles, but I think it’ll eventually go to whoever has innovated the deck more recently. Squadron Hawk may end up being the trump, since there are no really good answers to it. The match I lost he Vendilion Cliqued his Squadron Hawk into another Squadron Hawk. I ended up dying a few turns later to the 1/1 horde.
Otherwise, the deck is generally very solid. Vedalken Shackles is a card that will win matches all by itself if you can protect it. Mistbind Clique and Vendilion Clique are both fast and large and Scion of Oona can also speed a clock to win a turn sooner than your opponent expects.
I have two tips for the deck. One is that the deck is a huge fancy-play syndrome trap. Creatures with flash give you a ton of options (and most of them are viable depending on the game state), but if you play for blowouts you will often get blown out. Often Spellstutter Sprite is a just a 1/1 flash creature and Mistbind is cast at sorcery speed. The deck can win by a mile, but it’s designed to win by inches consistently. Two is a variation on one, but it is just about Vendilion Clique. Besides the decision of whom to Clique and in which phase to cast it (your turn, their upkeep, their draw step, their combat, their end of turn), choosing which card to take is one of hardest decisions of the deck and usually involves mapping out plays several turns ahead. You gain two things from Cliquing: the ability to peek into their hand and the ability to cycle one of their cards. A problem is often that the latter can remove the former. If you have a checkmate-in-five scenario, you might be fine letting them keep good cards at the risk of more uncertainty. That being said, they will get additional draw steps that can muck up the best of plans. It’s a fine line and a decision point that is worth spending some extra time on.
After the MOCS, I went back to figure out what sweet sideboard cards the deck could play, brainstorming with the IRC crew and Tommy Ashton. The list of possibilities ended up being:
Plumeveil: Still stinging from losing to 1/1 fliers and trying to figure out how to beat Kitchen Finks, Plumeveil revealed itself. Getting it Pathed was actually fine and the biggest problem was hitting UUU consistently on turn three. I’m not sure if the mana is a deal-killer and not sure if it is worth a slot against Caw, but it is definitely better than Threads of Disloyalty.
Blue Sun’s Zenith: Modern is like Legacy in that there are no really good draw spells. You don’t have any disposable artifacts to make Thirst for Knowledge worthwhile, leading Hetrick to try Pulse of the Grid in his blue deck. In ours, Zenith was a possible play since the Caw matchup often becomes one of attrition and you can usually push one spell through late. If that spell draws you eight cards, it seems pretty hard to lose. I wasn’t sure if the benefit was big enough though.
Mortarpod: Here’s where we get to the good stuff. Mortarpod is the real answer to Squadron Hawk. It takes out the first one and then makes your fliers x/2s. It takes out Grim Lavamancer and Dark Confidant and is a combo with Vedalken Shackles, avoiding the ridiculous standstill that can happen if they have no answer except three large creatures, only one of which you can steal.
Thada Adel, Acquisitor: This is the card I expect to tilt the Caw matchup. It requires an immediate answer and can be a trump even if they’re packing their own set of Vedalken Shackles. It might be a problem that there’s nothing really stopping Caw from playing their own, but I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
Magosi, the Waterveil/Mikokoro, Center of the Sea: The impetus for these came from wanting to side in another land and looking for the biggest impact available. These are both good in the draw-go phases of blue mirrors, but ultimately I don’t think they’re as good as Tectonic Edge. It’s possible that going up to four is correct.
Fledgling Mawcor/Prodigal Sorcerer: This could be decent against Swarm decks. Mawcor has the upside of being able to block and the extra mana investment doesn’t always come with an opportunity cost. Caw down!
(For the record, there are two cards better than Storm Crow in Modern that both block 1/1 fliers and have additional abilities: Floodbringer and Tempest Owl. Tempest Owl on turn seven for the win would actually be amazing.)
I ran the deck again in Sunday’s MODO PTQ, going 5-3. I got knocked out of contention due to some loose play; by not throwing a Spellstutter Sprite into play to soak up three damage, I then lost to exacts three turns later after never finding another chance to play it. Tommy Ashton ended up winning the whole event with just a slightly different take on the sideboard
The State of Modern
Modern is still hugely wide open. In addition to Ashton’s Faeries, the rest of that PTQ’s top eight was RUG Delver, Boros, Twin, Melira, Jund, G/W Aggro, and Red Black Bump in the Night Burn. In addition, a number of people, including Luis Scott-Vargas, have been developing B/W Tron, which certainly looks like a contender. While I have been focusing a lot on the specific matchups against Caw and Melira, the format has any number of decks that are viable and can win on any given PTQ. Even if Faeries ends up remaining a slight dog to those two decks, it has a solid game plan against the field with highly disruptive flying creatures.
Overall, my advice for Modern is actually kind of boring: play what you feel comfortable with. For the PTQ season at least, no one is going to have broken the format, and the key to winning is going to be play the best deck that you can play well. The format changes fast, however, so be prepared to update your deck or deck choice as the format changes. In particular, Dark Ascension will provide a small jolt to the system, with one of the largest pieces being Grafdigger’s Cage that may remove Melira combo from contention.
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