What I Learned About Modern At #PTOGW

Mark Nestico played in the Pro Tour, but he wasn’t on the Eldrazi plan. Find out which deck he played why he played it, and what the deck looks like from the inside of a major Modern event!

Grand Prix Washington, DC: March 11-13!

I learned a lot this weekend.

I learned that an average finish at your second Pro Tour can be pretty rewarding.

I learned that having access to the best deck ahead of time isn’t something to be afraid of.

I learned that you can be killed by Brute Strength seven times in six rounds of Draft.

I learned that a lot of professional Magic players that I’ve looked up to for years like my writing a lot and think some of your reactions are hilarious, particularly Alexander Hayne, so keep up the good work.

I learned that you can play and beat Kai Budde without your hands shaking.

I learned about a few phenomenal places to eat in Atlanta that I’ve never been to before.

I learned that all of these Eldrazi Mimics I have sitting in a box are going to put my cats through college.

I learned a lot this weekend.

My testing for the Pro Tour was cut dramatically short by work denying me as much time off as I needed to commit to one of the teams I was talking to, so most of it was relegated to Magic Online drafts and Leagues. My old standby, Burn, was my first choice going into the event due to my success with the deck over the last few months as well as my familiarity with it.

This was the first mistake that I learned from.

The maindeck was pretty stock, but the sideboard warrants a bit of discussion.

Surgical Extraction was my hedge against decks like Grishoalbrand but also had cross-applications against Abzan Company as a way to turn off a potential infinite life combo with Kitchen Finks.

My companion for the trip, Logan Mize, recommended it as being very good against his deck. The shift wasn’t terribly difficult to accommodate as it felt better than Grafdigger’s Cage.

Deflecting Palm was easily the best card in the sideboard by a mile and won me multiple rounds. Platinum hits include:

1) A G/W Hexproof opponent with a Leyline of Sanctity on the battlefield attacking me for sixteen while at twelve life. I cast Deflecting Palm.

2) A G/U Infect opponent attacking me for ten poison on turn 4 while at eight life. I cast Deflecting Palm.

3) An Eldrazi opponent attacking me with an 8/8 Endless One while at six life. I cast Deflecting Palm.

I think you see where this is going.

The last inclusion I decided on was Reality Hemorrhage. While seeming like a moderately good draft pick, it allows your Burn deck to power through Kor Firewalker with less stress on your mana. In the mirror match I played, my opponent spent six total life between fetchlands and Sacred Foundry to my two life from fetching Mountains and casting an end-step Reality Hemorrhage on his Kor Firewalker to clear the way for my Monastery Swiftspear. This won me the match easily.

Aside from the mirror it also killed an Apostle’s Blessing -protected creature against Infect and is a great way to blow up an Etched Champion. Perhaps it is a bit too cute, but it was surprisingly good for me and I would recommend trying it out.

I went 6-4 with Burn, losing to flood against Abzan due to failing to draw a burn spell instead of five straight lands when my opponent was at three life. I was also defeated by Merfolk and a very pleasant pilot named John when I bricked on multiple draw steps when he was at two life, but I cannot hold that accountable because I improperly tapped my mana, causing me to take an extra two damage which, had I tapped correctly, would have given me the extra turn needed to draw the lethal Lightning Bolt on top of my library.

Neil Oliver dispatched me with Team CFB’s Colorless Eldrazi deck in two very fast games that I felt hopelessly outmatched during, and finally I fell against a Jeskai opponent who cast six Lightning Helixes in two games against me as well as activating two Ajani Vengeant -2 abilities. He didn’t want to lose to Burn.

The victories almost felt immaterial because of the sheer dominance of the various aggressive Eldrazi decks and just how miserable that matchup is for Burn. Their clock is, hilariously enough, as fast as yours in some cases, but they’re able to shore up their defenses with Spellskite and huge blockers. A bottleneck eventually occurs where a Reality Smasher or huge Endless One can remove chunks of your life faster than they can be burned out in relation to how much mana you have. Essentially it was the most helpless I’ve ever felt playing against another deck in Modern.

What makes it all the more sad is that I had access to the deck before the tournament and was too afraid to pull the trigger.

I was in a Facebook group with Frank Lepore discussing various Eldrazi strategies when he posted a list that would eventually aid him to the Top 8. I glanced it over, realized I had all the cards for it, and thought about it deeply.

By deeply, I mean I looked at the pile of Burn cards next to me longingly and thought about the lyrics to “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” before closing the tab.

At its core, Frank’s Eldrazi deck was probably the second-best deck of the tournament for mostly the same reasons that Jiachen Tao’s version was the actual best. Frank’s Eldrazi list was absolutely fantastic in the mirror match against other Eldrazi decks due to the emergence of Drowner of Hope. Drowner was an absolute monster in the matches he played and worked in perfect tandem with Eldrazi Mimic to close out games or control the battlefield. Everything about his deck was great, but I don’t think anyone was remotely prepared enough to defeat the U/R Eldrazi deck.

The downfall of my Pro Tour, however, was Brute Strength.

In Limited I was able to craft two very playable decks, one a Bant strategy employing double Roiling Waters, two copies of Reflector Mage, and some large green creatures to play offense and defense.

Brute Strength had different plans.

Round 1 saw me up a game before my opponent cast triple Brute Strength for exactly lethal and then followed that up in game 3 with double Brute Strength and Unnatural Endurance for the kill. Both games I felt extremely ahead until those sequences of events happened.

Round 2 was against Alexander Hayne, who drafted a beautiful R/G Landfall deck. I managed to hang in there and start turning the tide until he flashed me a, you guessed it, Brute Strength for the kill.

After winning my third round against a B/W Allies opponent who could not possibly play Brute Strength against me, I focused on making Day 2, which I did.

My second pod rewarded me heavily when I cut B/W Allies out of the gate, taking a first-pick Drana’s Chosen and never looking back. Pack 3 gave me multiple Kalastria Healers as well as Allies to supplement my strategy, so it was no surprise when I won my first round against World Magic Cup Top 8’er Grant Hislop and his gorgeous beard.

The next two rounds I was beaten by surprisingly effective R/B Devoid decks, showing that the table was well fed with the archtype. My third opponent, Thailand’s WMC runner-up Chom Pasidparchya, made a very interesting attack in our Game 3 that I thought was out of desperation due to my almost unlosable board position. After the best possible blocks that would kill him on the crackback, he tapped 1R and cast Brute Strength.

Brute Strength: seven.
Mark Nestico: zero.

It’s okay. I was able to extract revenge on Chom later in the tournament by beating him in the Burn mirror. He was a heck of a nice guy and a great opponent.

My 2-4 Draft performance left a lot to be desired and makes me feel like I need to worry more about getting on a solid Limited team for my next Pro Tour. 8-8 isn’t the finish you want, but I was told by a lot of people that it’s not bad for only your second appearance. I’ll take it, I guess. It’s only a reason to do better, play better and tighter, cut down on the mistakes that surely cost me this weekend, and become a better Magic player.

As for the tournament itself and the results the Eldrazi deck boasted, I am worried.

U/R Eldrazi, according to a Reddit thread, had a 95% win percentage en route to winning the entire tournament, and that is terrifying to say the least. That math could be fudged, and I wouldn’t be shocked if it was, but even if there’s a ten or fifteen percent deviation it’s still alarming.

Essentially, Eldrazi Temple is an Ancient Tomb that doesn’t deal damage.
Eldrazi Mimic is often a 2/1 creature for free that morphs into a Ball Lightning.
Thought-Knot Seer is a Vendilion Clique with a better power/toughness ratio that can be played consistently on turn 2.
Eye of Ugin combined with a Urborg is a better Mishra’s Workshop in that it lets your search up more threats.

While all this isn’t cause for alarm just yet, it’s worrisome to say the least. WotC’s litmus test, The SCG Tour®, will see a gross overpopulation of this deck during the next Tour weekend. There are cards that fight it on the ground, like Blood Moon or Worship, but is it too unlikely that these Eldrazi decks are able to easily adapt to those “hosers?” One response was, “What are you going to do when they cast a turn 2 Thought-Knot Seer and take your Blood Moon?”

At this rate, I wouldn’t be so quick to buy into these Eldrazi decks, lest you like seeing your cards get banned. This isn’t a knee-jerk reaction; I am simply telling you that this deck may be too powerful to exist in the Modern format that we’ve come to know. Unbannings, which players are calling for, will probably not be uber-effective. I don’t see a Bloodbraid Elf or Ancestral Visions competing very well against this deck, although I did ask on social media how interesting it would be to see a VS Series video of Eldrazi vs. Splinter Twin to see how effective the banning ended up being and if Twin really could stand up to our new Eldrazi overlords.

Regardless of how this weekend turned out, it was a blessing. I get to travel the world and play Magic and then write about it for you to read and (hopefully) enjoy. I get to grow with you and grow because of you. I might not be the best, but every day I’m learning something new and becoming better because of it. I can’t wait to get back to the Pro Tour.

I learned a lot this weekend.

I hope you learned a lot today.

Grand Prix Washington, DC: March 11-13!