The State Of Standard And The Modern Months Ahead

Brennan bids 2017 Standard farewell and talks all things Modern in his quest to gain format mastery!

It’s no secret: I’m not nearly as well-versed in Modern as I am in Standard. This past weekend was the SCG Season Two Invitational, and while I was firmly ready for the first four rounds of the tournament, the second half of Day 1 couldn’t have possibly gone worse. While I surely could have done more to prepare for Modern, I did feel like my technical play involved was about as good as it could have gotten for those rounds.

Before anyone says anything about me potentially spending another article voicing how my overall disdain for the format’s variance and matchup coin flips causes me to do poorly in the format, I’m going to take this time to reflect and learn from my past mistakes to hopefully have a better season next year in 2018! There is always room to improve and I’m going to take a page out of my own book and do whatever I can to gain a better understanding of my own unbecoming and be the best version of myself I can be.

First, let’s do a quick recap on Standard at the Invitational. Briefly glancing at the metagame breakdown of Day 2, you’ll see the horror that we’ve all been experiencing the past few months where Attune with Aether and Aether Hub continue to produce Caw-Blade levels of dominance, taking 74 out of the 101 slots of decks being played.

Now, I’m no number scientist, but I do recall writing about the overall health of the format as far as diversity goes just a few weeks ago. While the Attune/Hub decks vary in flavors and some would argue that is a sign of diversity, to me it’s like asking what type of chocolate ice cream you prefer: dark chocolate, mint chocolate, classic chocolate, or Dutch chocolate. While none of those are bad options, some people don’t like chocolate all too much, and when those are the only real options, it can get boring rather quickly.

The issue in Standard is really just the Energy mechanic. While it’s a beloved idea that originated from Mark Rosewater during the dark days of Ice Age that finally saw the light of day only this past year, having an ability in Magic that is completely without interaction is just a bad idea. The fact that there is no card, playable or not, that can punish someone for having or gaining energy is just bizarre and not something I hope we ever replicate again in Magic’s design.

Sure, there are cards such as Solemnity, but as it currently stands, a card like that is just too over-costed and only functions as a preemptive answer rather than one that can be drawn later in the game, much like we saw Lost Legacy being played as an answer to Emrakul, the Promised End or Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. Lost Legacy was never an auto include and sometimes didn’t do what you needed it to do if drawn too late.

We can all agree that Standard isn’t really where we’d like for it to have been with Magic getting two tribes I know I was certainly excited for when Ixalan was first announced. Maybe come Rivals of Ixalan we see the remaining tools for those decks have enough of an impact that we have an actual balance in the format, or at least a compelling reason not to play all the Energy cards from this past year.

Harkening back to the Invitational, these are the decks I decided to register.

This deck has been my baby since the Team Open in Baltimore and I’ve been hard at work on it since then. With the rise in popularity of decks like G/U Pummeler and other various control decks, Glint-Sleeve Siphoner has certainly proven it can do a lot more damage than Longtusk Cub, even if it doesn’t attack for nearly as much. Unchecke,d I’m not sure there’s a more run card in the format, since it demands an answer and has often been a better Dark Confidant. Yes, a better Dark Confidant. I wouldn’t be surprised if we continue to see an uptick in amount of play this card sees over the next year, since casting this card on Turn 2 can take over a game all by itself.

At the Invitational I went 3-1 in the Standard rounds with this deck and could easily have been 4-0, losing only a close Game 3 when on the mulligan. If little changes with Standard over the next few months, I’d highly suggest giving this deck a try, since it plays all parts of the game well and has answers to nearly everything an opponent can throw at you.

My hope is that something does change in Standard, and maybe it will take the first week we have access to the new cards on Magic Online to gather information to see if something needs to be done or not. I’ll hold my breath until we see the end of preview season to pass judgment, but I hope we don’t find ourselves asking why we would play anything other than an Attune with Aether deck, much like we did prior to the release of Aether Revolt with Emrakul, the Promised End.

You might recognize the maindeck because it’s the exact configuration that Kazu Negri used only a few weeks back to win the Modern Classic in Baltimore. I’d given up finding the best version of this deck a long time ago, since I kept running into Death’s Shadow with multiple copies of Anger of the Gods, which was the bane of my existence. However, with the decline of Dredge, which I believe was the primary reason for Grixis Death’s Shadow to run copies of Anger of the Gods, I’d felt that this deck might have a chance again.

The idea to take a page out of the Humans deck’s playbook and run the full four maindeck copies of Tidehollow Sculler seemed brilliant with the increased number of decks like U/R Storm having a hold on the format.

The changes I made were to combat many of the different decks I expected to see, including Linvala, Keeper of Silence for any potential mirror matches. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is one of the most underplayed cards in the format, only being held back by the various Tron decks in the format going so far over the top of what this planeswalker can do. In a matchup such as Grixis Death’s Shadow or Jeskai, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar really packs a punch that few decks can deflect.

While I did think the deck I played was quite good for the weekend, my G/B Tron opponents had other plans for the weekend. I eventually found myself ending the tournament with a 3-5 record, not having won a single match in Modern. Needless to say, I was disappointed with how it went, but I didn’t regret my decision or play. I just resigned myself to trying to win a match the next day in the Modern Open.

One thing I did learn about Modern from this weekend is the importance of practice. I don’t meant getting the reps in with a specific deck in order to see all the lines of play, since taking your time and having a good aptitude for Magic in general can allow you to see how to properly play the cards in front of you, but rather specific card choices based on a week-to-week metagame. While Fatal Push will be the best removal spell you could possibly have in your deck some weeks, in others it could be Path to Exile or even, as many Jeskai mages have shown us, Electrolyze. None other than the Daddy himself showcased one deck I want to pay specific attention to.

This goes way back to the early days of Modern when Splinter Twin still reigned supreme as the deck to beat, having the ability to play the most dangerous game in Magic as the Combo/Control deck. Kevin Jones and Harlan Firer both have a knack for casting Snapcaster Mage, Serum Visions, and Lightning Bolt in basically every Modern deck they ever play, and their results certainly speak for themselves. Harlan did a full deck tech here and goes into great length as to why he felt the time was right for this forgotten archetype to make its resurgence.

A notable card choice here is the maindeck inclusion of three copies of Blood Moon. Long heralded as one of the banes of the format as the “fun police,” Blood Moon does a great job at not only being a disruptive element against many players’ greedy manabases but also a protection spell to help enable your own combo, giving your opponent the hard choice of using their few available sources of basic mana to either progress their battlefield or leave up interaction, which can buy this deck a ton of time.

While this deck might not be the best going forward with it being more of a known quantity, the point I want to make here is that Modern is more about evolution and knowing when it’s time to strike with the right pieces. With Tron on the rise, Blood Moon and the Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker aspect of the deck certainly seem like the right calls for the weekend. Going forward, I fully expect to see something like this take on different win conditions or just adapt to whatever people are doing, since your deck core of Snapcaster and friends can stay intact, but who knows what the format will call for.

One card I fully expect people to eventually gravitate toward in this style of deck is Torrential Gearhulk. I’ve mentioned before that a win condition is something these decks often struggle to land, but when it’s a giant 5/6 creature that can combat even some of the biggest Eldrazi in the format, along with dreaded Zombie Fish Gurmag Angler, while flashing back a Cryptic Command or the like, there’s got to be something to it.

Despite my poor performance in the Modern Open following the Invitational, where I decided to join to dark side and play G/B Tron, I learned more about the format in losing. While it’s fine to play a deck that has a great number of “free wins” like that version of Tron can give you, it’s also a big hindrance not playing a deck that can allow you to leverage play skill against your opponent who isn’t going to be taken by surprise by anything your deck is doing.

As much as I enjoy Standard and being able to leverage my skill there playing slightly off-the-beaten-path decks, I should apply that skill tenfold in a format like Modern and hone my ability to have my finger on the pulse of its metagame. There is always room to improve, and in 2018 I’m dedicating myself to Modern!

Outside of upcoming Grand Prix, which I’ll be taking a break from, the next event for me is the Open in Columbus, where I’ll be looking to reclaim my title there from last year. I have a lot of work to do, but I plan on spending all of my time between now and then finding a deck I enjoy in Modern and mastering it such that I can shed my stigma of only being able to do well in Standard.