This weekend is #GPPitt, and like most Modern Grand Prix, I expect it to be massive in attendance. Modern is incredibly popular, and there’s no denying
just how many people will come in droves for a format that continuously gets new cards and changes drastically every season.
What’s more awesome about these Grand Prix, and to a lesser extent, Opens, is that the players who play Modern will generally pick a deck and jam it
forever, adjusting accordingly with the times, and still remain competitive. Jund has always been great, as has Splinter Twin and various forms of
Snapcaster Mage decks. The notion that you have to adjust week to week in Modern is greatly overstated, as is the notion that it’s necessary to play a
“tier one” deck. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve seen players throw away entire tournaments before said tournaments even begin because of how much
they overcompensate for the buzz of last week. Modern is not a format that you can just break every week and expect to do well. It’s also not a format
where you should dismiss powerful things that are happening just because they aren’t what everyone else is doing. Part of the reason why shifts happen so
slowly is because many aren’t very willing to adjust, calling a deck or strategy bad then chalking it up to a bad matchup when they get beat by it. Being
stubborn is the easiest way to be whisked into the nosebleed section, where other dwellers go to talk about getting turn 2’d by Amulet Bloom but reminisce
about how great getting turn 2’d by Sneak and Show or Painted Stone is.
This brings me to the Grand Prix in general, and what I expect from an overall tournament perspective.
We are currently in a big shift. Aggressive decks have popped up left and right, with various Zoo decks taking the helm. Other linear decks, such as
Merfolk and Burn, are also making their presence known and have still been doing well. Because of this, Splinter Twin decks have taken a big hit and are
being forced to adjust. The elephants in the room, Amulet Bloom and Grishoalbrand, have been relegated to very fringe, their existence being to enable
blanket complaints about the entire format by players who only play it when they feel they have to. The Rock style decks like Jund, Abzan, and Grixis
Control, are still very strong, mostly because of how general their answers are as a whole, which lessens the strain on your sideboard–a huge plus. Having
very fast ways of turning the corner or establishing a complete lockdown somehow (much tougher to do) is more important than ever, so even if a card may
wind up weaker or more expensive in the earlier portions of a game, it may be worth it if it means cutting said game shorter.
What makes the aggressive decks so powerful is that they have so much built-in hate and defense against the most prominent combos. They can apply pressure
while also preventing themselves from just dying on the spot. Simple two-for-ones are simply not enough now unless you’re doing it every single turn or
have a planeswalker to back you up. Unfortunately, there are only two planeswalkers in the discussion that fit this bill: Liliana of the Veil and Jace,
Vryn’s Prodigy. Even so, getting them up and running has been more difficult than ever, and having ways of mitigating the overreliance on them is crucial
If you’re playing control or combo, stop ignoring the aggressive decks
It’s time to adjust. Now.
Splinter Twin’s numbers have been on a decline, directly because of how good Zoo is against it. Your declaration of Zoo being real or not has no bearing on
the deck being powerful against your Twin deck. We need more Damnations in these sideboards (and maybe even maindecks). More actual removal instead of
these garbage placeholders like Path to Exile. Lazy deckbuilding is going to be punished very hard this weekend, and even more so now that the tools that
do it are much more abundantly clear. People figured out that Tarmogoyf and fast clocks in general were the best tools against Burn, so it’s time to adopt
some Self-Inflicted Wound. If you’re jamming U/R Twin and Zoo is giving you headaches, maybe adding a third color for a hard sweeper would help. If you’re
on Amulet Bloom, those Pyroclasms aren’t enough anymore. Either you need to figure out a way to sidestep Zoo’s most popular forms of built-in hate, or
figure out a way to go even faster than you already are.
If you’re being aggressive, figure out how to be more resilient, rather than faster.
Currently, Modern is incredibly fast, and trying to outrace each other isn’t really going to help much. If you’re comfortable being where you’re at, then
it’s time to figure out what you aren’t strong against and identify which pieces are worth keeping and which you should move on from. Cards like Qasali
Pridemage and Loxodon Smiter are great hate pieces to have, but if you don’t feel that Knight of the Reliquary is worth keeping because of another deck
you’re worried about, then maybe it’s time to swap it out for something else. If those Dispels aren’t working out for you in Merfolk in your sideboard and
if people are starting to bring in sorcery-speed sweepers, maybe Spell Pierce is worth the swap for overlapping purposes. Really look at whatever deck you
decide to play and be real with yourself. Talk to people who are open-minded and actually care about not only the format (because I would never trust
someone who puts no work into it and finds the first opportunity to complain or bash it) but about your success. If people have experience with your deck,
talk to them. If you can’t find anyone, then read up. Check Magic Online results and deduce from there. You aren’t going to get it perfect, but trying to
make things perfect is asking for failure in the first place.
Respect the fringe.
Elves. Ad Nauseam. G/R Tron. All of these decks are much more powerful than their numbers let in. If you are someone that is looking to spread their hate
cards, do not hesitate to have overlap for decks like these. This isn’t something you should work too hard on, however, as there are simply too many good
decks in Modern to worry about. Now is a good time to be as wide as possible, especially with your sideboard, and have general catch-alls as opposed to
specific answers or specific hate.
With all of that said, here are rough sketches of decks I would consider for #GPPitt.
- 4 Snapcaster Mage
- 1 Gurmag Angler
- 1 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
- 3 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
- 2 Pia and Kiran Nalaar
- 1 Hangarback Walker
The deck nearest to my heart right now. I don’t think Grixis is as good as the week I top 8’d SCG State Championships with it, but it’s still fine. It’ll
likely be the deck I always wind up playing no matter what, but it’s more of a showcase of adjustments you should be making for how much faster things have
become (though not every card choice is set in stone, of course). The deck still has a very rough time with enchantments, and it’s very difficult to be
able to deal with both Amulet Bloom, Zoo, and Splinter Twin, but I’d much rather lean on the brute force of my deck to deal with one of the three,
then prepare accordingly to the other two–to which the one is Splinter Twin if the tournament were today. Jace is still great, but having more
countermagic means he’s less effective, so shaving one, probably two, is okay. Lessening the delve creatures is important now too, as against aggressive
decks that can more than likely hit your graveyard, you don’t just want vanilla 4/5s and 5/5s for six and seven mana. Additionally, against other
black-based midrange decks, be it Jund, Abzan, or Grixis, dealing with opposing graveyard hate is a headache, so transitioning one or more of them into
actual cards, say, Keranos, God of Storms or Olivia Voldaren, can be worthwhile. Spell Pierce is a nod toward coverage over effectiveness, as you can hit
not only Boros Charm and instant speed burn but Hive Mind, Splinter Twin, or even discard and Liliana of the Veil. It’s not the best option, but it’s
This deck isn’t really a tournament-ready deck as much as it showcases a card that I think is pretty powerful in Modern
Now, it’s pretty easy to dismiss it as just a worse Cryptic Command, but there are a few ways to make Ojutai’s Command the choice over Cryptic Command.
First, it’s much easier to cast, which is huge in a format as painful and unforgiving as Modern. You don’t want to have to take multiple instances of pain
just to maybe get back some traction with your counterspell. Second, it’s much more of a build-around-me card, which this deck does. Young Pyromancer,
Jace, and Snapcaster Mage are all very powerful, and even cards like Augur of Bolas, Soulfire Grand Master, Grim Lavamancer, and Meddling Mage become much
more handy tools. Outside of that, you can have it perform like a generic midrange deck or a dedicated Young Pyromancer deck. If you go with the former,
then maybe you can get away with less Gitaxian Probes, which allow for more actual spells. If you go with the latter, then you gain a ridiculously
powerful earlygame engine, and Augurs can be swapped for something like Abbot of Keral Keep, which keeps the momentum going and is pretty insane off of an
Ojutai’s Command. Lastly, because you’re building around it, a lot of the major things you want to counter in fair matchups are fair decks, and you can
have tools to answer other major problems outside of that. It isn’t out of the question to play both Ojutai’s Command and Cryptic Command in the same deck,
but your manabase would need retooling, as well as your curve. Having a bunch of four-mana spells may come back to bite you, especially when a bunch of
decks are trying to get under all of that, but it’s up to you to decide how to approach it.
I talked about different variations of this deck before, including the weekend I played it at the Season Two Invitational with Andrew Shrout and company.
Basically, we’re taking the great parts of the deck, which are Bump in the Night and Self-Inflicted Wound, and maximizing those while getting rid of the
bad parts, which were the Tasigurs and some other fluff that didn’t need inclusion. You’re going to take a lot more pain with this version, so your
percentages in the mirror will suffer, but the lack of dedicated Burn hate, like Dragon’s Claw or Kor Firewalker, would probably be the real culprit. That
said, I’m perfectly fine with cutting out the mirror hate if it means I can beat the real problem card: Tarmogoyf. Being able to cleanly deal with ‘goyf,
as well as most of the Zoo deck (therefore not relying as much on Searing Blaze) is a huge boon for the deck, as you’ve always had problems with those.
Against unfair decks, Deflecting Palm is your go-to. Rakdos Charm is another option that covers both Affinity and Splinter Twin, and Molten Rain is yet
another way to set slower decks back on the play. Always be ready to beat this deck, and don’t get caught off guard if you see that black source.
With that, here are my predictions for #GPPitt:
– There will be no Jund or Abzan in the top 8.
– There will be no copies of Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy in the top 8.
– If Ad Nauseam makes the top 8, it will win the event.
– We will see a Battle for Zendikar card make a strong showing.
I am really excited to see what #GPPitt has in store. If I were going, I’d be about 50/50 on Grixis Control or Burn, but this is going to be the most open
Modern event we’ve ever seen, which is saying a lot, because almost every Modern event this past year or so has been open.
What do you think will happen at #GPPitt?