Redwindling Phoenix

Company decks, Humans decks, Mardu…how much field research did GerryT do for you this weekend at the Grand Prix? Tons! Get the expert’s take on the Modern you’ll find for yourself at SCG Cincinnati!

Grand Prix Phoenix was one of the wilder rides I’ve been on lately. It was
a rollercoaster from start to finish. As is typically the case, I walked
away from the event feeling stronger and more knowledgeable. I’m eager to
put what I learned to good use.

The Preparation

A good friend of mine, Steve Locke, played a great version of a great deck
as a great metagame call, and he won the tournament. If you want to hear
all about a bad version of that deck, well…

That’s where I come in.

My journey to find a deck wasn’t easy, but I finally thought I had it all
figured out. After jamming several decks through Modern leagues on Magic
Online, I sent Josh Cho a screenshot of my 2-0, 2-0, 2-0 in a Modern
league, declaring I had found my deck for the Grand Prix. Beating a pair of
Jund decks soundly certainly helped ease my mind.

The theory was that Humans is still great and people are sleeping on it
because of the supposedly poor Jund matchup. Playing something similar to
what Carlos Romao played at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan would yield
a stronger Jund matchup, and potentially be the perfect deck. Humans with
Collected Company is weaker against Collective Brutality, but if they miss
while escalating, it’s often lights-out for them.

Tron was an issue, and basically always will be, but I (wrongly) assumed
the metagame would be hostile toward it. Bring on the combo and Jund decks!

The Travel

Just like that, I had a rough list of what I wanted to play. I hadn’t
played in a Magic tournament for a while and was itching to get back out
there, but there were some snags along the way.

For starters, I didn’t have a hotel room because none of my usual travel
buddies were going. Obviously not having a hotel is my fault, but I knew I
could eventually fix it by buying my own, so I wasn’t very concerned about
it. The sad part of the whole affair was when I realized I didn’t know who
I’d be hanging out with over the course of the weekend. Magic, Modern, and
competition in general, are all great, but if I don’t have friends around,
it’s sad times.

Secondly, while I own a large portion of Modern cards in real life, the
Humans stuff is in my blind spot. Again, normally I don’t have an issue
picking up the odds and ends I’ll need for a deck, but in this case, the
Humans cards are very expensive! Going through the hassle of borrowing
cards wasn’t something I had the mental energy to do.

None of that really bothered me at any point since I was very hyped to play
Magic again. On Thursday night, my roommate Andrew Veen started asking me
some questions, such as, “Who are you staying with?” and “What deck are you
playing?” After I told him the situation for both, he wondered why I was
even going.

Truth be told, I never even considered it, which was perplexing. I was so
amped up to get out and play some Modern that the thought never crossed my
mind. Veen went to bed and I was left pondering my existence.

“Maybe I should just cancel.”

“Nah, I need the pro points.”

“I’ll try messaging Josh Cho and see if he wants to come at the last

In the midst of this crisis, my shining beacon of hope, Steve Rubin, posted
something on social media about attending Grand Prix Phoenix. It was too
perfect! Steve has been part of Team Fun for the last couple of Pro Tours
and I love him to death. I messaged him, asking if I could crash in his
room. He gave me a firm maybe, since he had to check with his roommates
first. Those folks ended up being Matt Costa and Chase Kovac, two more
people I adore.

Truthfully, I don’t think there was any way I was going to back out, but
either way, I was back to being pumped!

Being able to pack light makes me incredibly happy, and while I was tempted
to bring Mardu Pyromancer as a backup plan, I wanted to cast Collected
Company. Leaving all of my other Modern cards at home was potentially
dangerous, but locking it in made me feel great. It certainly helped that
my bags weren’t as heavy too.

After a quick, direct flight from Seattle to Phoenix, I met up with Costa
and Chase, who were at the hotel discussing their Grixis Death’s Shadow
deck. Steve Rubin, who wasn’t getting in until later, was also playing
Grixis Death’s Shadow, albeit a slightly different version.

Having three smart people in my hotel room all playing Stubborn Denial
while I played 35 creatures was amusing.

We did the usual stuff, like go out for dinner, stop by the event site so I
could stress about not being able to find an uncommon that none of the
vendors knew existed despite being a widely played sideboard card (Vithian
Renegades), say hi to some friends, and eventually retire to our room for
the night.

Typically, I stay up until I’m dead tired, so maybe napping on my flight to
Phoenix was a bad idea. Friday night, I laid in bed for a bit, unable to
asleep, so I started tinkering with my decklist.

The Friday decklist dump had some rad stuff, including a Collected Company
Humans deck with black instead of red. That angle gives the deck more
resilience against Jund, but I was honestly more excited for the haste
angle of Mantis Rider and Bloodbraid Elf. Going forward, it’s plenty of
food for thought.

I changed a few cards, noted that my manabase was probably pretty bad and
was going to have to suffer through it, and finally fell asleep. Reflecting
Pool and Mana Confluence were a couple different things I considered, and
in hindsight, I would try them. The fetchlands plus basics helped me a
couple times, but not being able to cast my spells hurt me far more often.

The Tournament

After a nice 7-1 start to Day 1, I fell apart with a 3-4 record on Day 2.

In hindsight, I was right about my take on the metagame and what types of
decks would be successful. However, there were still some issues.

Firstly, I went 0-3 against Tron. The Tron matchup is basically abysmal.
With real cards in my deck, like Knight of the Reliquary and Tireless
Tracker, I could have had a shot.

Secondly, Jund defeated me the only time I got paired against it. My
matchup was arguably stronger than Steve Locke’s, but I ran afoul of mana
issues. I knew this going in, but basic Forest plus Mantis Rider isn’t a
combo. I had more lands that cast Mantis Rider than normal Humans, and our
Avacyn’s Pilgrims and Aether Vials basically cancel out. Still, this was
one of the least functional manabases I’ve had in a Modern deck, and it
cost me.

Also, the Burn matchup was closer than I would have liked.

I might be the king of “great idea, poor execution.”

Bloodbraid Elf and Collected Company are both great cards, but neither is
particularly easy to cast in this deck. Avacyn’s Pilgrim might as well tap
for colorless. I don’t know if y’all know this, but Meddling Mage is kind
of a bad card (sorry, not sorry, Pikula). In many matchups, it’s a 2/2 that
can’t attack or block, hoping you’ve named a card that is somehow
disrupting your opponent’s game plan. Obviously Kitesail Freebooter helped
Meddling Mage to some degree in Vial Humans, but that’s a rather lackluster
one-two punch.

While the tournament didn’t go exactly as planned, it did affirm what I
already knew: Collected Company is one of the best cards in the format.
Next time, I’ll try to put powerful creatures into my deck instead of mopey

I should also note that Collected Company only fully missed for me one
time. Every other time, I got two creatures. In case it wasn’t clear, I am
very lucky.

The Future

My big realization came toward the end of the tournament, where I figured
out how much worse the Human synergies in my deck were than in the Aether
Vial versions. Once you add more lands, more low impact Humans (looking at
you Avacyn’s Pilgrim), and cards you can’t cast until Turn 4, things like
Champion of the Parish and Thalia’s Lieutenant become much weaker. Those
cards need synergy with additional resources to be powerful, and Aether
Vial Humans has that synergy come online much sooner.

One of the reasons I got off Death and Taxes was that the creatures were so
individually weak in some matchups. My version of Humans basically had the
same issue. I’m sick of playing weak cards in my disruptive aggro decks.

So, where does that leave us?

I’m not a particularly big fan of Spell Queller or the Devoted Druid /
Vizier of Remedies combo. It’s very possible that the Retreat to Coralhelm
combo is also unnecessary. If that’s the case, you could potentially cut
the red altogether and play some amount of Path to Exiles or Jace, the Mind
Sculptors maindeck. Maybe then we can get some Jace, Vryn’s Prodigys up in
the mix.

Tireless Tracker was the best card in my Humans deck, and it was only a
one-of in the sideboard! I also had an absurdly low land count and very few
fetchlands. Despite that, it was the all-star and I look forward to casting
it more often.

Maybe Lotus Cobra is something I should be trying too. It was always nice
with Bloodbraid Elf, Knight of the Reliquary, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

Izzet Staticaster is at one of its weakest points unfortunately, as that’s
a card I love wrecking people with. Given that, the red splash doesn’t seem
entirely necessary, especially since Retreat to Coralhelm might be complete

Let’s kick it old school.

This version looks pretty good against any non-Storm deck, and I think I’m
fine with that. I could see some Blessed Alliances to help against Burn and
G/W Hexproof, but I would expect those matchups to be reasonable already.
Without the red, we do gain some sideboard slots to tinker with.

As blue becomes a lighter portion of the deck, you have to question why
we’re even playing blue in the first place. Reflector Mage is the best
all-purpose creature “removal” to hit with Collected Company and Unified
Will is the best sideboard card against your worst matchups. Even if I end
up being G/W splashing for those two cards, I think it’s worth it.

Mardu Pyromancer is a deck I obviously get asked about a lot, so I want to
share my updated list for that as well.

The maindeck could have Blood Moon, Hazoret the Fervent, or additional
copies of Fatal Push and Collective Brutality. I could also see a world
where two Field of Ruins find their way into the manabase also. With
Lantern and G/W Hexproof on the decline, I wouldn’t mind Anger of the Gods
making a comeback in the Engineered Explosives spot. Tune the deck to fight
whatever you expect.

Mardu Pyromancer is still very, very good.


Good times were had at Grand Prix Phoenix, even if the density of besties
was lower than average. I met some rad people (sup Ophir!) and got to spend
time with folks who I genuinely enjoy, such as the Kiefers, Flip, JVL, TBS,
Marc, and even Cedric. My roommates were also phenomenal.

Case in point: Steve Rubin had a great idea of buying a blank playmat and
whenever someone asks him to sign something, he’ll ask them to sign his
playmat as well. Getting to play with a card or playmat signed by one of
your favorite players is awesome, but the idea that they might use your
signature too is incredible. It’s one of the best ideas I’ve heard in a
while and one that I will blatantly steal.

While the Grand Prix itself was mostly a bust, I did acquire a singleton
pro point for my efforts, and I’m not complaining in the slightest. That
pro point did cost me $1500 and a weekend of my time, but it could be worth
$20,000 or more. I can’t wait to find out which!