Valencia In The Rearview, Richmond On My Mind

Gear up for Grand Prix Richmond in a couple weeks as you read Glenn Jones’ thoughts about Modern in the wake of Pro Tour Born of the Gods in Valencia.

It’s over.

I guess Bitterblossom does suck? Felt good to get that one right.

Pro Tour Born of the Gods has come and gone, and we have Shaun McLaren’s U/W/R Control list on top of the heap. If you’d told me on Thursday that U/W/R Control would win the Pro Tour, I would have been a little surprised; if you’d asked me on Sunday, however, I’d have considered Shaun the favorite!

His bracket saw him likely pitted against two Twin decks, and Twin has always been a solid matchup for U/W/R in my experience. Even if Christian had made it by Patrick Dickmann with Affinity, that matchup is perfectly reasonable. Shaun’s build is slightly more vulnerable to the robots than most as a result of his card choices, but those are the cards that got him first place in the first place.

The final match was interesting, as I’ve had a couple of Pod pilots chime in on recent articles’ assertion that U/W/R is the favorite in the matchup. What we saw play out was a very tight match, and despite having been proven “right,” I’m actually more willing to cede that it’s closer than I perhaps previously thought. I think the influence of Anger of the Gods from this Pro Tour will be determining the course of the matchup for the foreseeable future.

Personally, I was elated to see this Top 8. I have massive respect for Jacob Wilson’s strength as a player, having watched him absolutely slaughter a few SCG Legacy Opens with tight technical play for hours on end. Patrick Dickmann, a Magic Online grinder and Grand Prix champion, might actually be the best Modern player on the planet, and his presence in the Top 8 is a testament to that skill.

Plus I got to cheer for three friends! Chris Fennell has been a good friend of mine dating back to our drafting days in Florida while I was at UF, and both Tim Rivera and Anssi Alkio were household names for anyone who played the WoW TCG competitively. It was very exciting to see Chris post the finish he’d been working toward for so many years, and the transition of two of WoW’s top players to Magic was incredible television for yours truly. Tim has been especially impressive since coming out of retirement, winning a PTQ and a Standard Open and making Top 8 of a Pro Tour all in the span of a few months!

Enough congratulating—this article could hit 3,000 words before I’m done talking about the stories of the standings. Let’s get back to the Modern metagame and start breaking down results!

As anyone who regularly follows Pro Tours should know, the Top 8 doesn’t tell the whole story. Pro Tours consist of two formats, which means that Top 8 players could’ve leaned more heavily on an undefeated Draft record than a strong Modern performance in the process of making the elimination rounds. For example, Anssi and Tim actually stand out here; Tim had the worst Modern record in the Top 8 at 7-3, while Anssi had the best Modern record by going 9-0-1 in the Swiss.

Let’s take a closer look at the field.

On the first day, Zoo and Twin were the only decks to break 10% of the field, with about 5% between them and another few points between Twin and the nearest competitor in Melira Pod. From there, the metagame shares are pretty tight! At any rate, going into the Pro Tour with those three decks in your sights was a very sound plan. Any U/W/R strategy—Control or Twin—would have a good shot against that metagame wedge, with Twin being slightly better against the wedge but significantly worse against other U/W/R decks. Of course, we watched that play out on the camera in Tim’s loss to Shaun.

So in some ways the tournament may have actually proved the Top 8—that’s a nice feeling. It’s crazy to see Zoo occupy about a sixth of the field and fail to post a single Top 8 berth. These players came prepared for Cats!

Moving from the first day to the second, Zoo and Melira Pod converted about two-thirds of their players into day 2—not bad—while Twin barely batted 50%. In fairness, I’m not sure how Wizards categorized Twin decks; the variants are so different that lumping them all together actually denies us a lot of info, but I assume that’s what happened here. It would be very interesting to know which Twin decks actually won the most matches against the field, as I don’t think it’s fair to label the deck a metagame dud when three very different lists made it to the Top 8. It’s my bias, and I’m sticking to it.

The big day 1 successes among the decks with ten or more pilots were Scapeshift, Living End, Storm, and U/R Control—Storm lost three of twelve players, Living End lost two of fourteen, and the other archetypes each lost just one player! The worst performing decks were Burn and Jund, which is no surprise to yours truly. Those decks aren’t good, and their 50% day 2 rate just proves it. I can visualize a world where Jund might once more tango in Modern, but that’s not the world we’re living in right now.

A quick scroll through the list of Modern decks that accrued eighteen or more points continues to tell a story of diversity. Virtually every Modern deck you could think of (and a few that I never would have) appears on that list

I think the real winners on the weekend were mostly the powerful linear strategies. We saw this proven on the first day with big starts from Michael Hetrick and Matthias Hunt, each playing very different strategies that for the most part ignore the opponent and jam a powerful interaction. Storm, one of my recommendations from articles over the last two weeks, had the predicted strong showing—in fact, I’m pretty sure it had the best showing in Modern. With one in the Top 8 and a handful in the Top 25, that’s a ringing endorsement for the archetype.

If you’d told Chris Fennell he was going to Top 8 a Pro Tour in which he went 4-2 in Limited, he’d probably have laughed in your face. Here’s his weapon of choice:

While it’s easy to overlook “another Storm deck,” I want to point out some of the significant adjustments made to this list. The addition of a Lightning Bolt to the maindeck is a nod both toward buying time against the overly popular Zoo deck and to having access to another burn kill via Pyromancer Ascension and Past in FlamesLightning Bolt is a cheap way to add to the storm count while drastically decreasing the number of spells you need to make a lethal Grapeshot. Ari Lax, one of Chris’ teammates, only ran one, which I prefer, but clearly things worked out well for Chris.

The biggest switch was from Desperate Ravings to Faithless Looting. This was a very wise move—with Deathrite Shaman’s disappearance slicing a huge number of Thoughtseize and Liliana of the Veil from the environment, there isn’t as much need for the raw card advantage that Ravings provides. Its primary role was digging through the deck and creating resiliency against discard. Looting is way better at the former because it’s cheaper and it also lets you choose what goes to the graveyard—very important when you’re trying to quickly turn on Pyromancer Ascension!

Kudos to the team 13 Angry Men on their addition of Simian Spirit Guide to my beloved Amulet deck, but the swap to Faithless Looting in Storm wins this Pro Tour’s “Best Tweak to an Existing Archetype” award. I’m sure you’ll hear all about the testing Chris Fennell’s team did from Ari Lax on the Premium side, so look forward to that.

As if Storm’s success wasn’t reason enough to make me very glad that I own all the Scalding Tarns I’ll ever need, let’s look at the talk of the tournament on the first day and by far the most innovative list in the event.

Wizards provided a text interview and a deck tech, so I’ll let the designers speak for themselves.

This deck posted an incredible win percentage on the first day (about 65%) but came back down to Earth on the second day. According to Chris Mascioli’s calculations posted via Twitter, the day 2 players went about 40% in matches played, bringing their records to slightly better than 50%. No doubt a significant contributor to this decrease was the loss of the element of surprise—Blood Moon is much easier to play around when you know the opponent has it, and a number of game 1 wins likely came on the back of that information advantage. In turn, a number of day 2 losses likely resulted from its absence.

This does bring up an interesting thought exercise. Should the deck mulligan Blood Moon dependent hands later in the event more often given that the opponent is less likely to leave themselves vulnerable? I’m curious if the players considered this and accounted for it in their numbers and day 2 play.

For example, Spreading Seas becomes much better when you can expect players to fetch aggressively for basics early—perhaps the deck should have played more of them for its first Pro Tour in order to compensate on day 2? Note that I’m not advocating adding them now, as the information advantage is equal for the world at large. It would be difficult for anyone to know your deck a hundred percent at Grand Prix Richmond, for example, even during the second day. However, Pro Tours are much smaller, and team shirts tend to give away more than free advertising.

Last but not least, I’ll give a shout out to this little deck.

This archetype first originated on Magic Online in Extended prior to Pro Tour Amsterdam, and I put a ton of work into it before electing to go Doran, the Siege Tower at the Pro Tour. Since then it’s had some big gains, namely Phyrexian Unlife, which is an additional way to abuse Ad Nauseam and buy time against aggressive strategies. The latest change however is much more subtle: the addition of scry lands. Ad Nauseam is exactly the correct kind of combo deck for scry lands, as it can often wind up with a turn of dead mana but benefits in a big way from the additional card selection. Compare it to Storm, which would never play one.

Truthfully, I haven’t given the deck much of a thought in recent memory—it’s a minor player on the Modern scene, showing up from time to time on Magic Online but never in a way to really be concerned about. It kept that status at the Pro Tour, with (I believe) only two players playing the deck . . . but finishing in 9th and 49th.

Not too shabby!

A shout out to Michael Bonde, both for being a vocal advocate of the strategy and for hammering out the list in the Magic Online Daily Events.

Mostly for the second thing.

I kid, I kid!

We’ve got Grand Prix Richmond to look forward to now, and all three of the decklists in this article are excellent starting points for decks I’d want to play. Sadly, while I’d planned to make it out to this Grand Prix and see all of my East Coast buddies, I’m going to be wrapped up in West Coast work and unable to attend. Seeing so many friends spiking at the Pro Tour was awesome—I hope someone does me proud at the Grand Prix as well!