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Melbourne Modern PPTQs

Tom

The upcoming PPTQ season is predominantly going to feature the Modern format. There will be a few Sealed PPTQs but if you plan to be grinding away for qualification to the RPTQ (held in Auckland) you’ll need to be familiar with Modern. This article contains a broad overview of what Modern looks like in Melbourne as well as some general principles for trying the format for the next two months.

This article assumes a certain degree of familiarity with the format – explaining the different archetypes that define the format is beyond it’s scope. If you’re looking for a more basic introduction, then you could do much worse than MTGCoverage, which catalogues major events and will allow you to see the decks in action. All the data that I reference is publicly available on Facebook, taken from the two groups that currently run Modern leagues. If you have a desire to get some experience with the format, then they’re an excellent starting point and are available in two different geographic locations. Find them here and here.

I evaluated the most recent two completed leagues for the different decks that were played. Leagues are a little different from a regular Swiss tournament, in that they allow decks to be changed between rounds, which made deciding how to interpret the data difficult. I ultimately included every initial deck submitted and each deck that was switched to during a league, for a total of 69 data points.

A player who played Abzan Midrange in every round would count as a single data point.
A player who switched from Abzan Midrange, to Splinter Twin and then to Burn would count as three data points (one for each respective deck).

Here’s a shiny graph. Melbourne Modern League decks are in blue and Melbourne Eastern Modern League decks are in red, in case you find the differentiation important.

Every deck that was played more than once is represented and the remainder have been compressed into generic categories. There is obviously a degree of subjectivity here, as I had to arbitrarily categorize decks between ‘Other Control’ and ‘Other Midrange’, but I feel it gives a reasonable overview of the Melbourne metagame. I provide the raw data at the end of the article, if you have an interest in examining it. Whilst examining the conversion-to-top-eight rate is normally relevant, the sample size is simply too small for it to be meaningful here.

When I look at this graph, I realise two things. First of all, Melbourne is in love with decks that are casting individually powerful cards in the midgame; be it Geist of Saint Traft and Restoration Angel or Tarmogoyf and Lingering Souls, there are a lot of people trying to fight on a very fair axis. The second is that there are very few fast aggro decks being played. This may be an overadjustment after recent bannings (bear in mind this data has been spread out over the last few months) but it looks like Burn is the deck of choice for those looking to close out games quickly. Affinity may be underrepresented due to the best-of-five nature of the Melbourne Modern League but its small metagame share is still surprising.

Is this a fair representation of what a PPTQ would look like?

PPTQs are aiming to distribute competitive magic events over a wider timeframe and provide the perception of more opportunities to qualify. The increased number of events has people coming out of the woodwork to play, just because their local store now gets to hold a competitive event every quarter. This effect will be significantly larger than usual, given the publicity generated by the new Modern Masters 2015 set. However, for a format like Modern, where card accessibility can be an issue, deck selection is skewed towards those that can be assembled relatively cheaply. I would expect the number of midrange decks to drop in popularity, as people struggle to assemble playsets of Tarmogoyf, Liliana of the Veil et al.

The best decks will still be played in large numbers, by players who either already own them or are able to buy/borrow the cards for a season. Melbourne is a big city and there are a lot of magic cards floating around! I would expect players to be metagaming against the midrange decks – this is evident in the graph above, with Burn and Tron being the second and third most popular archetypes. Given that Burn is a commonly chosen entry point to the format, I would tip its metagame share to rise.

What decks can be assembled cheaply and are competitive enough to play at a PPTQ?

Merfolk is perennially popular as a tribal deck and has a surprising amount of power behind it (Aether Vial is a fundamentally broken card!), being able to beat down efficiently whilst simultaneously disrupting opponents.

Burn is a very popular strategy that has benefited from some recently printed powerhouses, such as Eidolon of the Great Revel and Atarka’s Command. It also has a good matchup against a lot of midrange decks interested in exchanging resources, since it operates on a fundamentally different axis.

Affinity is the premier aggressive deck and is the cheapest entry point to the format for people looking to buy a top-tier deck. Given the reprint of Mox Opal in Modern Masters 2015, one of the larger barriers to entry is gone.

Amulet Bloom is relatively inexpensive and extremely powerful, but I suspect the nature of its gameplay will be a turnoff for many. Being able to identify lines other than “Cast Titan, give it haste, kill you” is necessary to do well.

Infect is a combo deck masquerading as an aggro deck and, whilst difficult to play optimally, can exploit people unfamiliar with how to play against it. If the new Melira/Collected Company deck takes root, Infect’s stock goes way down.

Delver strategies tend to always be just short of good enough in Modern (except for that one time with Treasure Cruise) but Grixis Delver has been putting up results online and seems to have found a way to overcome its traditional weakness of lower card quality.

Token strategies don’t have access to individually powerful cards, but a collection of flying spirits and an anthem trump a lot of other strategies. The deck struggles without that anthem on the table but often has enough bodies to get there.

My advice for picking a deck for a PPTQ?

1. Don’t play Burn, unless you think it is absolutely head and shoulders above the rest of the field. People are sideboarding entire playsets of Kor Firewalker or Timely Reinforcements right now; Burn has a big target on its back because of all its new toys and it’s not exactly hard to hate out.
2. Have a plan for breaking open a game/beating the midrange deck, since those decks will be out in numbers. It can be cute (Congregation at Dawn for three copies of Siege Rhino) or efficient (Gurmag Angler lines up well against 4/5s)
3. Be hateful. Affinity and Tron are two unassuming decks that can sneak under the radar and both are not interested in any semblance of fair interaction. Stony Silence. Sowing Salt. Cards like those are good friends.
4. Graveyard hosers are at an all-time low right now. Grafdigger’s Cage used to be in every sideboard, as a colourless answer to Birthing Pod, but is now conspicuously absent. Vengevine is a really scary card…
5. Do something powerful, something proactive and, if possible, something broken. I would like to avoid getting drawn into a battle of attrition in the current format.

Whilst I, unfortunately, don’t get to play as many PPTQs as I would like to, I do plan to attend at least some of the upcoming season. I’ve played Jund/Abzan for a while now but I’ve recently been toying with Tribal Zoo, which has some truly explosive starts. I gather that I’m contractually obligated to present a decklist and convince you that it beats the format, so here we go!

Tribal Zoo

Maindeck (60)
Wild Nacatl
Loam Lion
Steppe Lynx
Tarmogoyf
Lightning Bolt
Tribal Flames
Geist of Saint Traft
Ghor-clan Rampager
Atarka’s Command
Path to Exile
Loxodon Smiter
Qasali Pridemage
Arid Mesa
Wooded Foothills
Windswept Heath
Forest
Temple Garden
Sacred Foundry
Stomping Ground
Steam Vents
Breeding Pool
Hallowed Fountain
Godless Shrine
Blood Crypt
Sideboard (15)
Mirran Crusader
Destructive Revelry
Blood Moon
Stony Silence
Combust
Boil
Sowing Salt
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Molten Rain

This is the list I played most recently and there are some incorrect deckbuilding choices, mostly informed by poor metagame prediction. Having said that, I was very much impressed by it. You get to do some silly things with this one and the interactions enabled by Atarka’s Command are the worst offenders. The one I couldn’t get out of my head ran a bit like this:

Turn 1: Steppe Lynx (opponent at 20)
Turn 2: Use a fetchland and attack for 4. Cast any other creature. (16)
Turn 3: Kill them.

Seriously.
Use Atarka’s Command to put another fetch into play and deal three damage to your opponent (+3). Attack with the eight power Steppe Lynx (+11) and your other creature (+13). Cast any burn spell or bloodrush a Ghor-Clan Rampager. You don’t even need the last bit if they’ve taken damage from their mana base.

It’s not even that unlikely a scenario. It requires four lands (three of which must be fetchlands), a Steppe Lynx and an Atarka’s Command. There are lots of different permutations of cards that enable the remainder of the damage (two one-drops/no burn spell, any 2cmc creature/one burn spell, no creature/two burn spells).

Regardless, you get to cast Lava Axe for only two mana (Tribal Flames, Atarka’s Command) and dumping upwards of seven power on the board by turn two is usually good enough. Fair warning, you effectively start at fourteen life, but that just means you’ll need to win fast!

If you have any questions, feel free to drop me a line, otherwise enjoy trying out a new format! Lots of people will be playing in the PPTQs, so if you’re looking to borrow cards and try decks, ask!

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