Richmond, Glint Hawk, & Fanatic Of Xenagos

Three-time Grand Prix Top 8 competitor Tom Ross talks about the Infect deck he played in Richmond, his Modern W/U Quest deck, and a R/G Blitz deck for Standard.

Grand Prix Richmond was awesome. I got to see a lot friends, some of which I hadn’t seen in years, and I got to feel the impact of my writing firsthand as many people came up to me with praise for my articles and deck designs. It genuinely means a lot to me, and I thank again each and every one of you who supports what I do.

I really like Courser of Kruphix in Standard and wanted to incorporate it in a midrange shell for Modern. I saw some Jund and B/G Midrange lists featuring Phyrexian Obliterator having reasonable success, which led me to believe that Mono-Black Vampires would be a viable deck. Although the cards in Vampires are different from Jund and B/G, the underlying archetype is very similar, with a suite of discard, Liliana of the Veil, and solid creatures.

For Grand Prix Richmond I was torn between playing Mono-Back Vampires and playing Infect. Following a Facebook poll and general consensus among fellow gamers, I ended up at this 75:

This is the tried and true version I’ve been playing for a while. I didn’t sprawl out too far with any untested innovations since a 4,300-person Grand Prix isn’t exactly the place for experimentation. What I did know was that there would be more than a fair number of annoying artifacts to get through. In the wake of combo performing so well and U/W/R Control winning at Pro Tour Born of the Gods, the perfect opportunity for Affinity had come, as many players were shaving dedicated anti-Affinity sideboard slots in favor of anti-combo and anti-control cards.

Zoo also expectedly had a low showing. It’s pretty obvious to see how a deck full of 1/1s plays against a deck full of 2/3s and 3/3s. It’s manageable, but it’s not my favorite kind of Magic to play. Infect is a turn 3 combo deck that plays well into a format of turn 4 combo decks.

After seeing five Birthing Pod decks and two Affinity decks in the Top 8 of GP Richmond, this is what I’d play moving forward:

This version fixes a lot of problems that the old list had. Ichorclaw Myr was often pumping opposing Tarmogoyf for an extra +1/+1 since it’s an artifact. The one maindeck Viridian Corrupter was good all day, and I’m anxious to see how four of them play out in a metagame dependent on artifacts. The single Birds of Paradise is taking a page out of the Big Zoo lists that wanted an extra mana-producing one-drop, and I feel like it’s a welcome addition here. Without Ichorclaw Myr, Rancor becomes less powerful, and we’ve moved to two copies of Distortion Strike instead.

This version has the highest nut draw potential with the full four copies of both Mutagenic Growth and Groundswell. With Glistener Elf, the turn 2 poison kill typically occurs about once per tournament. To go with Groundswell, we have the full eight fetch lands to further ensure landfall.

Those fetch lands also pull out Dryad Arbor, a card that I wanted all day in Richmond. Dryad Arbor does everything, from saving life points by blocking a big Tarmogoyf and ambushing an attacking Dark Confidant (sometimes surviving with Pendelhaven) to being a creature to sacrifice to Liliana of the Veil. It’s not out of the realm of possibility to kill someone with Dryad Arbor either. Sometimes they kill all of your infect creatures, and you’re left with a hand full of pump spells. If they think they can freeroll their shock lands and Dismember, you can close the game, especially if you have a Wild Defiance in play.

With the increased number of green creatures in the deck, Hunt the Hunter becomes a nice option out of the sideboard. Its main use is against Birthing Pod decks as sort of a one-mana Searing Blaze for their mana creatures and Melira, Sylvok Outcast. Alongside other pump spells (which there is no shortage of), Hunt the Hunter can take down Kitchen Finks or even Tarmogoyf. There’s nothing like making good forward progress toward killing them while favorably interacting with their board.

Pact of Negation is something I’ve wanted to try for a while now. It’s completely unexpected from Infect, especially in the maindeck. One seems to be the right number because any more could be clunky. With the addition of Birds of Paradise and an extra land, it’s entirely possible to use it for value if needed and pay the upkeep cost.

The final changes are to the mana base—going up to three copies of Pendelhaven, cutting the Cathedral of War, and fitting in an Island out of respect for the popularity of Blood Moon. Two copies of Pendelhaven has been the norm in Modern Infect for a long time, even before the legendary rules change. Affinity is fine playing four copies of Mox Opal, and drawing multiple Pendelhaven isn’t as much of a hindrance as I first thought. With Dryad Arbor now being a toolbox blocker that can be pumped with Pendelhaven, I can see an extra copy being good.

I had the pleasure of attending Patrick Chapin’s seminar on Friday at GP Richmond. At one point he asked the audience if anyone was playing a combo deck that wasn’t listed on his slide. On the car ride to Richmond (a long 16-hour one from Louisiana,) I’d brewed up a Quest for the Holy Relic / Erayo, Soratami Ascendant deck that seemed really awesome. So when Patrick asked, I raised my hand and revealed the tech, which got a good chuckle from the crowd. Although I didn’t end up pulling the trigger on it for the Grand Prix, I absolutely love it for its potential. We all know now that Modern is a turn 4 combo format, and this deck is capable of going off as early as turn 1.

For old-school players this is nothing exceptionally new. Quest for the Holy Relic was a Standard deck for a while. While strong, it likely had the highest variance among Standard decks at the time, being an unfair powerhouse when everything fell into place and a laughably bad beatdown deck when it didn’t. With Erayo, Soratami Ascendant being another plan, the deck has more chances to do what it does best. At worst it ends up beating down with two-power flyers and Signal Pest. That all said, I believe this deck has some of the best opening hands possible in the Modern format, a quality that simply can’t be ignored.

As far as Standard goes, I’ve still been working on Boss Sligh and its variants. Once Mono-Black Devotion adopted Pharika’s Cure, it became much harder to push through the final points of damage. With Bile Blight and Drown in Sorrow, things haven’t exactly gotten easier. But in the right metagame Boss Sligh can rip decks apart quickly and mercilessly. This is an update on the R/G Blitz list I used at the SCG Invitational in Las Vegas a few months ago:

Fanatic of Xenagos is exactly what this deck wanted. I would run it in the deck if it was just a 3/3 trample creature for 1GR. Armed // Dangerous is just begging for more ways to push through potential blockers, and while Skylasher, Ghor-Clan Rampager, and Legion Loyalist’s battalion ability were doing the job before, Fanatic of Xenagos makes it easier. The real strength of the deck lies in Skylasher itself being a big threat against Mono-Blue Devotion and U/W Control decks that rely on Azorius Charm and Detention Sphere. The deck still gets under Mono-Black Devotion to a degree as well, but not quite as well as it once did. Against G/R Monsters it’s okay but not great. This is a deck that I’d sit on, awaiting a resurgence of blue-based strategies.

Sadly, there aren’t really any big Modern tournaments to play in soon. The next PTQ season is Limited, which is good for me since I’ve had more success in Sealed and Draft than Constructed, but it unfortunately leaves less room for brewing. That said, the SCG Open Series goes on almost every weekend, and the Invitational in Charlotte is at the end of the month. Even for those not qualified, it’s a great event to attend, as the usual Standard Open and Legacy Open will be firing. If the latest Grand Prix attests to the future of Magic events, I’m looking forward to this Invitational weekend being run as smoothly as Richmond was.

I bet this time I won’t be the only person in the room playing Infect in Legacy.