The Final Countdown

Break out the cheesy 1980s synthesizer riffs, because it’s the final countdown to the SCG Season Two Invitational! Brennan DeCandio gives his last thoughts before he takes his swing at the $20,000 top prize!

This marks the last week before the SCG Season Two Invitational! While I’ve spent the better part of this season playing in various Standard events and doing little more than dipping my toe in the wide world that is Modern, this time there is an all-or-nothing approach for me to the format. While I’ve proven myself this past year on the SCG Tour in Standard, my Modern results have been lacking and I believe that’s primarily my fault, not because of potential play mistakes but primarily because of deck decisions. I love Standard, and while my method of choosing decks week in and week out for that format works for the most part there, doing it in Modern is like applying the rules of chemistry to the rules of money management; it just doesn’t make any sense.

My attempts in the past have largely revolved around things I’ve been familiar with playing in previous Standard formats, such as Birthing Pod variants and their less broken and banned counterpart, Counters Company.

While this deck was in its infancy when I first attempted to bring it to the Modern forefront, as a whole the deck is inherently lacking against one of the fundamental rules of the format, which is that you must interact with your opponent. While this deck tries to be faster than the other combo decks with the potential of a Turn 3 kill after a Turn 2 Devoted Druid, the other parts to the deck don’t hold up when trying to play that kind of gameplan all too well.

As recently as last weekend, however, we saw the first showing of what looked like the correct version of Counters Company emerge from the Classic at SCG Baltimore, taking a page right out of the Five-Color Humans notebook and playing a full four copies of Tidehallow Sculler to interact.

With only some minor changes, this deck can take on an entirely different form. Tidehallow Sculler joins the party here as a better ability than Kitesail Freebooter, though lacking the evasion the Pirate Human brings to the recently popularized Humans deck. Even though it can’t attack in the air, having the ability to snag a problematic creature like Snapcaster Mage, Goblin Electromancer, or even the ever-ironic Thought-Knot Seer can be a huge bonus for the little 2/2 that could.

One key thing for me is that I’ve never been sure the right time to pull the trigger on a deck like Counters Company, since it suffers from the same kind of hate that Humans does but has more staying power and a more robust gameplan than Humans does itself. The bane of a deck like this was always the Jund style of decks that are loading up on interaction, and while I was trying to fight the good fight against the numerous Death’s Shadow decks at the time, the amount of things they could play that would have me wondering why I chose not to register a 13/13 for one mana left me abandoning my post and ultimately giving up on it.

We’ve of course seen a huge shift in the metagame since then, with new decks such as Humans and U/G Merfolk showing that they have what it takes to do well, along with the massive uptick in U/R Gifts Storm decks finally finding the right recipe to convert them to the dominant force that they are.

With all that being said, Counters Company probably still hasn’t reached the level of perfection it needs to be a top-level deck in Modern, but it definitely is something to keep an eye on, and with another Classic win, it could grab the attention of more players willing to put in the time.

Team events are great, and this past weekend I had a fantastic weekend working with Todd Anderson and my partner in crime, The Tannon Grace. While we were a win away from a Top 8 birth, it was still a weekend to remember despite all that.

I bring this up because the attention was split between Standard, Modern, and Legacy, and with the nature of a team event, it doesn’t always quite showcase what decks are the best in each format. However, that doesn’t mean that we weren’t without some innovation in the respective formats. One deck list that caught my eye over the weekend was Ali Aintrazi’s Jeskai Control deck that looked a little different from what we’re used to.

Wait a minute, this is Modern, right? I’m seeing two copies of Torrential Gearhulk and only one copy of Snapcaster Mage? There’s Glimmer of Genius alongside Cryptic Command? Search for Azcanta in multiples? What in the world?

Now, I’m not sure what Ali’s individual record was, but I have to imagine he did fairly well with the deck, having made it all the way to the semifinals. His list makes me think about the format in an entirely different way. It’s definitely on the control side of the traditional “Jeskai Control” decks we’ve seen come into the spotlight from people like Jonathan Rosum, who also did well with a more customary version of the deck in the Classic. I ultimately saw Jonathan fall to what has continued to look like a horrendous matchup in Eldrazi Tron, but it made me wonder if the bigger, more controlling version is better in a matchup like that.

While you do get access to a card like Supreme Verdict, which is obviously very good at dealing with a bunch of midrange threats, there is always the issue of a Reality Smasher just coming down and ruining your day. Then it hit me: Torrential Gearhulk lines up exceedingly well against Reality Smasher! Never has a 5/6 body been as relevant as when it’s eating a 5/5 hasty and removal-resistant threat!

Another aspect of this deck I like quite a bit actually is the fact that it plays three copies of Search for Azcanta. While we’ve yet to see a card like that really make a splash in Modern with so many ways to freely deal with the card Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin (like Ghost Quarter), just having a Think Tank for two mana in a format with such powerful cards as Modern does might just be good enough! Search for Azcanta also just provides a functional Rampant Growth effect at some point in the game, making those six-mana Torriential Gearhulks not so daunting to cast.

Another deck I want to revisit from that event is one played by my teammate Todd Anderson.

It’s like seeing a blast from the past, as Jund has been around for nearly the entirety of Modern’s existence in one form or another. While little has changed in Todd’s list, there is one card that I think deserves more attention than it’s being given, and you might not catch it at first glance.

As if being one of the most aggressive four-drops Standard has ever seen wasn’t enough! Hazoret the Fervent seems like the next evolution for Jund. While of course it’s more vulnerable to a widely played card like Path to Exile, in any style of midrange mirror match, Hazoret does it all! Often you’ll see hands be emptied with cards of your own being cast in the early-game interacting with your opponent and sometimes a Liliana of the Veil helps clear out your own hand as well, but then slamming a 5/4 with haste on Turn 4 that can end the game quickly but also in some circumstances hold the fort better than Tarmogoyf can is a rare feat for a card.

Even though this card didn’t really impress me in gameplay all too much over the weekend, the card certainly is among the more powerful things you can be doing in the format and could find a home in the near future in other decks such as this one.

One interesting exclusion from Todd’s list is the absence of Abrupt Decay. It’s been a mainstay since the days of Splinter Twin as the final trump card in those matchups, but since Fatal Push has shown it’s more than capable of killing all that Abrupt Decay could creature-wise and more, Abrupt Decay has somewhat fallen by the wayside. That could mean it’s time for something like Threads of Disloyalty to rise again in the metagame, with Jund and Grixis having few ways other than hand disruption to deal with the powerful Control Magic effect.

While my foray into Modern has never really led to anything substantial, my recommitment to next year and the SCG Tour has me wondering where I’ll find my niche in the format since so much of the Tour in 2018 is focused on Modern. While I have my own reservations about that, I’m fully ready to dive in headfirst and see where I end up.

I’m still uncertain about what to do in Modern, but one thing is clear: if left to my own devices, I’d be casting either Utopia Sprawl or Devoted Druid. So I’ll leave my fate up to you, the readers, who have given me so much this past year and for whom I’m very thankful.

What deck should I play in Modern at the SCG Invitational this week and why? Make a compelling argument in the comments and convince me one way or another.