Modern Times Heading To #GPCharlotte

CVM is hard at work studying the format that will define #SCGINDY and #GPCharlotte! What decks does he think will carry the most momentum going into the upcoming Modern marathon?

Join us at Grand Prix Charlotte May 20-22!

#SCGMKE is in the books, and between Modern no longer being a Pro Tour format and the bannings and unbannings, I have to say that it looks as diverse as ever. G/R Tron is coming back. Abzan Company is climbing the ranks again. Heck, Affinity was on the decline and we can all bask in the glory of that.

Joseph Presnell took the crown with his Abzan Company deck, but in order to do so he had to dispatch SCG Tour® stalwart Joe Lossett and his trusty G/R Tron deck.

When the Eldrazi were taking over the Modern format and everyone was calling for bans of cards, there were a lot of people who thought that Eldrazi Temple should be the one to take the fall so that Eye of Ugin could still be accessible for the Tron decks. They felt like the inevitability that Eye of Ugin gave the deck was too important and something that couldn’t be replaced.

Most of us knew what really had to be done. Eye of Ugin was much more guilty of being busted and making games degenerate than Eldrazi Temple was, and even with it gone, G/R Tron could still shine. Realistically, how many times do you need to activate it? Once? I’m sure there are other options for that slot, and we can even change the build around to be a little more threat-dense.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am not on the Cedric level of G/R Tron knowledge. I haven’t jammed it nearly as much as he or some of the other hearty Urza-land veterans have, but I have played my fair share, and I tend to know a little something about big mana.

Also, I’ve lost to the deck a whole lot.

I can appreciate Joe’s build of Tron, and think that it was quite a good call for #SCGMKE. Modern has been trending along this tension line of Infect threatening to take over the format with Abzan Company and Jund looking to keep it in line. That kind of tension seems like a perfect fit for G/R Tron to swoop in and Karn Liberated all over someone.

Eye of Ugin may be gone, Sword of the Meek may be legal, and jokers all around are waiting four turns to draw three cards, but what will never change is that look on your opponent’s face when you cast Karn Liberated on turn 3 and run away with the game.

That is my kind of Magic.

Looking to the rest, though, I love the threat diversity and am just ecstatic to see my (once failed) called shot from the Oath of the Gatewatch release finally come to fruition.

I may have missed the busted-ness of the Eldrazi on the first pass, but I was not glossing over the fact that World Breaker puts a mean hurting on a lot of different decks in Modern, and if they aren’t on Path to Exile, then it’s just going to keep rearing its otherworldly head over and over.

The other Zendikar 2.0 standout to make an appearance here is the fabled replacement for Eye of Ugin, Sanctum of Ugin. No sight, no sound, keep quiet in this Spirit Dragon’s sanctum.

Allowing us to not only continue the label of Colorless Tribal, Sanctum of Ugin basically plays the same role that Eye of Ugin did previously, while also tapping for colorless to help cast spells in the early-game. It triggers off basically everything: Ugin, the Spirit Dragon; Karn Liberated; World Breaker; Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger.

If we are able to chain any one of those spells into another, I think most opponents are going to be hard-pressed to come back from that. Even something as simple as chaining World Breakers together to be used as land destruction can completely shut an opponent out of the game. Plus, we actually get to play two copies of them without drawback.

I am really drawn to a deck like G/R Tron, and it’s not just because of the “big mana” aspect and going over the top. I like trying to figure out sweet things that we get to do with sequencing and pushing everything to the limit.

Things like Warping Wail out of the sideboard really excite me. Yes, it is a hard counter for any troublesome sorceries that we might run across. Yes, it is a removal spell for troublesome one-power or -toughness creatures like Young Pyromancer, Birds of Paradise, Noble Hierarch, Dark Confidant, and most other things in Affinity and Infect. It is also a ramp spell, though, one that can be cast off pure colorless mana. Imagine the the look on our opponent’s face as shock sets in when we use two different Urza lands to cast Warping Wail on our opponent’s end step, only to untap, assemble Tron, and then cast Ugin, the Spirit Dragon on turn 3. Karn Liberated is tough to beat on turn 3. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is almost impossible to beat on turn 3.

I love being able to hit our own cogs, Chromatic Sphere and Chromatic Star, with Nature’s Claim to draw a card and gain life against something like Burn. I love being able to just transform into a midrange deck that can go over the top with cards like Thragtusk and Lightning Bolt in the sideboard.

I am glad that I already have the pricey cards for the deck so that I can sleeve it up this weekend for some Modern action, but there is another deck that feels like it’s putting a stranglehold on the format, and it doesn’t hurt that I have it mostly foiled out.

Back before they decided to ban Birthing Pod (R.I.P. my friend), I had decided that it was the deck that I would play and just keep working with and getting better and better at. As such, I wanted to try to foil it out, not only because I thought it would be cool to have an all-foil deck, but because in some way it would help me avoid getting distracted by other Modern decks and just focus on mastering the one that I enjoyed playing the most.

Then Wizards went and ruined it all.

However, I do still have all of the foil pieces, and I just so happened to jump on some foil Chord of Calling and Collected Company when they were out of favor and quite inexpensive.

Joseph Presnell won the event, but there were two other Abzan Company pilots in the Top 8, and I want to look at Andrew Tenjum’s list. He has been playing with Abzan Company for some time, when he is taking a breather from breaking formats with U/W Eldrazi.

For the most part, all of the Abzan Company decks look the same. Start with 23 lands, with some Gavony Township to facilitate our non-infinite gameplan of just beating down with our accelerating creatures. Gavony Township also plays fantastically well with the Persist creatures, but that’s hardly a secret now.

Chord of Calling and Collected Company are generally the only non-creature spells in the deck, although you can find Thoughtseize, Abrupt Decay, and Path to Exile usually hanging around in the sideboard.

Seven seems to be the consensus on the number of one-cost mana creatures to use, most notably four Birds of Paradise and three Noble Hierarch, along with some number of Wall of Roots.

Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit; Melira, Sylvok Outcast; Kitchen Finks; Murderous Redcap; and Viscera Seer are always present as they make up the infinite combo portion of the deck. With a Melira on the battlefield, our creatures cannot get -1/-1 counters, so with a sacrifice outlet like Viscera Seer, we can just sacrifice our Kitchen Finks or Murderous Redcap over and over for their respective effects. Likewise, with Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit on the battlefield, the creatures will come back onto the battlefield with a -1/-1 counter, but since they will have one toughness and at least be tied for the lowest toughness that you control, you can bolster onto them and remove the -1/-1 counter. Rinse and repeat.

Eternal Witness is the grind machine that makes the non-infinite games a nightmare for our opponents, so she is always there.

Where the personal preference comes in is with the singletons. With Collected Company and Chord of Calling acting as toolboxes and card advantage all in one. As long as the creature has a converted mana cost of three or less, it’s fair game.

These are the ones that we generally see up to two copies of in the maindeck, but once we start to look at the sideboards, there are even more options, many of which are actually maindeck possibilities given the right metagame. This flexibility is one of the things that makes this deck so strong.

Even though Linvala, Keeper of Silence costs more than three, she is absolutely a beating in the mirror.

With so many options, it’s no wonder that this deck continues to do well with many different configurations. The power of Collected Company and Chord of Calling to let to find whatever tool you need for the current job is something that is unparalleled. It’s a grindy deck that is better at the “fair” game than the fair decks and can go toe-to-toe with the “unfair” decks by having multiple infinite combos that can be accessed at instant speed.

Now, at the start of the Abzan Company bit, I did point out that the deck was working on putting a stranglehold on the format. I will admit that was a bit of hyperbole, and really the format is still pretty wide open. With a full twenty different archetypes showing up in the Top 32 of #SCGMKE, it just goes to show that whatever you are comfortable with is the way to go.

In times when formats are wide open, like Modern is, there are a few things that I try to hold myself fast and true to.

Know Your Deck

Having a wrong plan is better than not having a plan. Similarly, playing a deck that you know is better than playing something that you think might be great but have zero or little experience with. If you’ve been Infecting people ever since Tom Ross was a little baby in a leather coat Groundswelling all the other tykes in MTG preschool, then by all means sleeve up those Blighted Agents. If you’ve been listening to “Everything That Junds Is Not Gold” by Reid and the Dukes since the glory days, then jam those Dark Confidants all day long.

Familiarity when the format is so open will go a long way towards having success.

Be Powerful and Proactive

For me, both Abzan Company and G/R Tron fit this bill perfectly. I mean, even the Thopter Gifts deck that Gerry played at the Season One Invitational is aiming to turn the corner and try to kill the opponent as quickly as possible.

Go over the top. Go infinite. Attack. These are all things that I want to be doing when formats are wide open. Karn Liberated, Melira Combo, Gifts Ungiven for Elesh Norn and Unburial Rites — these are all examples.

Ancestral Vision is not.

There are plenty of players who just enjoy doing the control thing. They love having the answers for everything. I just feel like Modern is in a place where the questions are too broad in scope for one deck to reliably have all the answers.

Have Options

This last one is exemplified by Abzan Company. Toolbox strategies with singletons will give you many options. The trick is making sure you bring the right ones to the fight and use them properly. Not over-sideboarding is important with decks like G/R Tron and Abzan Company, but having a plan and the cards to shift into those plans is very important.

I also like that these options tend to attack. Think Thragtusk, Sin Collector, Aven Mindcensor. These sideboard plans can also just rumble with the best (or worst) of them and get the job done.

#SCGINDY is next weekend, and while it is a bit far away from me here out in the sweltering Pacific Northwest, I do have some opportunities to battle Modern this week and it’s all going to come down to Abzan Company or G/R Tron. What about you?

Join us at Grand Prix Charlotte May 20-22!