The cliffs notes version of my #SCGINVI experience is that both my decks were great, I started off great, and I squandered a great opportunity. I’m medium.
There’s a little thing surrounding me called the “X-0 Curse.” Of the four Grand Prix I’ve started X-0, I’ve made the Top 8 of exactly zero of them. Now, I realize the idea of a “curse” is rather silly, but it’s a constant. At some point, it likely perpetuates itself, because if I think there’s a curse and I’m doomed for failure, I will subconsciously make it so.
However, I’ve been trying to turn over a new leaf since my return to competitive Magic. There were several things that I wanted to fix in my game, such as deck selection at Pro Tours, getting more experience with aggro decks, and getting my Limited game back into shape. The other thing was X-0ing Day 1 of a tournament and actually converting that into a Top 8.
It’s funny. I used to lose in the quarterfinals of my Grand Prix Top 8s, at least up until I didn’t anymore. Before, I think the goal was to make the Top 8, and I would mentally check out after that. At some point (I’m guessing Grand Prix Denver), making Top 8 didn’t make me feel any sense of accomplishment since I had already been there enough times, and I kept playing Magic as I had during the tournament.
Being consciously aware of “The Curse” is an odd thing. After starting 8-0 in the #SCGINVI, I wanted to fight it, to prove it wrong, but the best way to do that was to continue to play at the level I already was. Unfortunately, that didn’t seem to work. Alex Smith outplayed me in the first round of Day 2 and I don’t think I played particularly well in the other Standard rounds either.
I didn’t sleep well, but clearly that’s a mistake I can and probably should fix. It’s a give and take between doing all I can to try and win the tournament and spending a night hanging out with my friends and having a good time. In the future, I’ll likely prioritize doing well, at least a little bit.
Anyway, I did play some actual Magic during the weekend, and as always, learned more than enough to fill an article.
The #SCGINVI was half Standard, half Modern, with the Top 8 being Standard and therefore the first format we played.
After playing Mardu Green at #SCGDEN, it became very clear that Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy outclassed Siege Rhino. I still wanted the Soulfire Grand Master + Painful Truths package, so Jeskai Black it was. I tried Mantis Riders all week and the explanation to not play them could be an article on its own. The short version is that you start each game on the backfoot and don’t have enough tempo plays to realistically play that game, nor do you have enough burn spells to finish what Mantis Rider starts. Jeskai Black is much better suited to playing a more controlling game with cheap removal and Painful Truths.
At #SCGINVI, I lost to some decks, but those matches were all winnable, and not really an indicator of anything. The real test would have been to see if I could get through the Top 8 or not. Unfortunately, we’ll never know.
The deck I played is mostly irrelevant. It had enough flaws and I learned plenty this weekend. This is what I would play going forward:
This is what I would start with. Thursday night, Todd brought up the idea of playing Monastery Mentor in our Jeskai decks, and I agreed it would be a good choice. Zach Mandelblatt used it maindeck en route to Top 4 at #SCGDEN and it seemed great. It’s a threat that can close games quickly, which the Jeskai Black decks with no Mantis Riders desperately need.
Thankfully, Monastery Mentor is quite good right now, so there’s basically no reason to not play it. If Mentor wasn’t good, I’d be looking for another win condition, but it’s also a clever way to sidestep certain fights that I might be trying to utilize anyway.
For example, against Atarka Red, Abzan Aggro, and weird things like ramp decks, Monastery Mentor is phenomenal. I was sold on playing them, at least in the sideboard, but Todd Anderson went a step further and played them maindeck. I should have done the same, but I’m rectifying that now. With #GPOak on the horizon, this is what I’m looking at.
Monastery Mentor and Painful Truths both want you to have cheap interaction, hence the Duresses. I would also heavily consider a fifth Shock, although whether they should be primarily Wild Slashes or Fiery Impulses is up in the air. Wild Slash does better against two toughness creatures and planeswalkers, plus with Monastery Mentor, it’s not unlikely that you get to burn them out.
Fiery Impulse is basically only better against Shambling Vent and Warden of the First Tree. I would consider Abzan Aggro to be a very favorable matchup, but that’s only because I’ve skewed so hard toward beating it, and Fiery Impulse is a big part of that.
The wonky cards like Dragonmaster Outcast are no longer necessary, as Monastery Mentor does that job far better. Even things like Ob Nixilis Reignited out of the sideboard are much stronger. They may not win the game outright or be rebought with both Commands, but by having a higher threat density (and higher impact cards overall), you don’t need the grindy win condition. The same goes for Mastery of the Unseen.
Dig Through Time over Treasure Cruise is an interesting point. I’ve been hesitant to play Dig Through Time, as the deck can’t cast it easily despite having eighteen or so blue sources. The funny thing is that despite all those sources, you actually have far less. Once you crack Polluted Delta for Swamp, it’s like you drew a blue source but don’t actually have one. Since your manabase is fetchland / Battle land-based, you have far fewer sources of each color on paper than during actual gameplay.
The issue is that with Painful Truths and Treasure Cruise, you end up with not enough action in some games. Part of that is due to flooding, but part of it is also due to not having enough relevant action. For example, Fiery Impulse is fine against Abzan Aggro, but sometimes their draw doesn’t line up against it. You can cast Painful Truths into Treasure Cruise and still have a hand that doesn’t beat Wingmate Roc or Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.
If you rely on Painful Truths to hit your land drops and Dig Through Time to find you what you actually need, the games are much easier. In the sideboard games, this matters less because theoretically you should have a configuration where all your spells are live. However, you do need to keep in Fiery Impulse against Abzan Aggro to respect Shambling Vent and Warden of the First Tree, so that issue is still present in that matchup. Against everything else, Treasure Cruise will likely be better in the sideboard games.
If you’re sideboarding the third or fourth Painful Truths (depending on how many you have maindeck), then Dig Through Time is still probably better than Treasure Cruise though. The only downside is the strain on the manabase, especially if you’re trying to force your card drawer through a counterspell with a Dispel or Negate of your own. Getting UUU is no easy task. The second Sunken Hollow helps, as it turns your second Bloodstained Mire into a blue source, as does playing more Mystic Monasteries over Shambling Vents, but it’s still not perfect.
I’m also intrigued by Adrian Sullivan’s Mardu Blue manabase, which cut Flooded Strand entirely. There is probably more tinkering to be done with it that than we originally thought. The deck always feels short a red and a white source, and that might help.
For Modern, I settled on Grixis Control after playing the Premier IQ at #SCGDEN. My Standard and Modern decks overlapped by fifteen cards or so, plus they were basically do-nothing control decks at heart. 2004 me would have been overjoyed. 2015 me was wondering if I had made a huge mistake. In the end, I think I had the best two decks for the tournament, which hasn’t happened in a very long time.
Originally, I was skeptical of Grixis because of “bad” matchups like Burn, G/R Tron, G/W Hexproof, Zoo, and various graveyard decks. After that Premier IQ, those fears went away. On the weekend of #SCGINVI, I went 2-0 against G/R Tron, 1-0 against Zoo, 1-0 against Burn, and 0-1 against G/W Hexproof. Of those, I felt that G/W Hexproof was the matchup I was most prepared for. Heh. Each of these matchups is winnable!
Corey Burkhart played Grixis Control at #GPPitt and steamrolled the Swiss, a weekend where I felt playing Grixis was metagame suicide. With cards like Mana Leak and Inquisition of Kozilek, it’s difficult to lose to any one strategy. The games against Burn was definitely close, but Zoo actually felt easy. Similarly, G/R Tron felt easy in the sideboard games. Much of that was due to Mana Leak.
Corey didn’t play any Mana Leaks, and I consider it to be a huge mistake. It’s often difficult to win if your deck is disrupting your opponent from only one angle because they should be able to insulate them from that. For example, if your opponent only has discard, you can draw first, keep land light hands, or sideboard into a bunch of powerful cards to topdeck in the midgame. If they are all counterspells, you can test spell them, fight wars on their turn, or play things like Thrun, the Last Troll.
With Inquisition of Kozilek, you can get punished by opponents with cards that cost four or more — cards that Mana Leak is conveniently well-positioned to fight. In a sense, Mana Leak is kind of the glue that holds the deck together, so I went up to a third copy and loved them.
You might sideboard it out against decks like Affinity and Infect where they are both fast and have cheap spells you might not be able to tag with it. Against Burn, having counterspells is basically your only saving grace. Similar to Jund, you will typically get into situations where you need to fade their top card, which Mana Leak can often stop.
The maindeck was basically great, although after playing the tournament I saw no reason not to play the fourth Kolaghan’s Command maindeck. For the Modern Classic on Sunday, I attempted to rectify that, but didn’t want to cut anything. Instead, I played it in the sideboard and brought it in against basically everything, although that situation is clearly not ideal.
Thought Scour is both the glue of the deck and possibly the most cuttable card. There are matchups where you don’t have time to mess around, and then there are matchups where the games are going to go long and you want a plethora of things to potentially Flashback. The funny thing is that drawing multiple Thought Scours in those long matches can lead you to having a bunch of air, which is exactly where you don’t want to be. Without Thought Scour, you may have some dead Snapcaster Mages though.
It’s a fine line.
Against those faster matchups, I don’t mind siding out Thought Scour, especially if it means bringing in a bunch of cheap interaction. At that point, turbo-ing out a Tasigur, the Golden Fang isn’t very difficult either way, so you don’t exactly need the boost of speed.
This is likely the correct land destruction spell, although I wouldn’t be surprised if a Crumble to Dust on top of them would be great. Resolving one against G/R Tron or Scapeshift is likely game over.
With four Kolaghan’s Commands, it’s easier to Stone Rain your opponents over and over again than with Molten Rain. Having them against Jund is also much better than Molten Rain, despite the fact that Molten Rain can finish off a Liliana of the Veil. Fulminator Mage is just fine against Liliana of the Veil anyway.
I used a pair of these in my sideboard for Modern Classic, and they were solid. Over the course of the game, they definitely take a significant chunk of life, but you can generally manage that. It just means the games look closer and you run the risk dying to something like double Lightning Bolt if you don’t have an answer for them.
The plus side is that you get to cast something on Turn 2 and sit back for the rest of the game while it kills them. Against decks like Splinter Twin, that is invaluable. My Infect matchup is already great, but it hammers them also.
In the future, I’ll likely do some more content on Grixis Control, including some videos. It’s been the source of my frequently asked questions as of late, and it’s a subject I’m happy to talk about. The deck is streamlined, tuned against most things, and has a bevy of sideboard options that I like. My win percentage in tournaments is around 75%, which is the best I’ve had in Modern in basically forever. If Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch were tomorrow, I wouldn’t consider registering anything else.
While the near miss stings, it’s actually great. Without these gut-wrenching moments, I wouldn’t have the drive to rectify my mistakes and see what I can improve upon for next time. The only thing I have to be disappointed in is myself, and I know I’m capable of being better. Winning is great, but learning is better.