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Modern Thoughts and Report

Tom

With the new PPTQ season underway, a lot of eyes will be on the Modern format over the next two months. I wrote a brief commentary on what to expect from a local PPTQ and I’ll be revisiting that in the context of a recent Modern 1k.

The 50-player event, hosted by Games Laboratory in Melbourne, was roughly the size of a PPTQ and provides some talking points to inform the decisions for a prospective PPTQ player. I made a fairly sweeping statement in my previous article that I’d like to reiterate here (paraphrased):

People want to play magic and will attend any event that they reasonably can

Possibly not the valuable insight you were looking for, but the tournament metagame made it very clear to me the accuracy of that statement. The local Melbourne community contains a large number of people who are keen to participate in events and play Modern, which is great!

Some of them are competitive players who play all the formats regardless. Many others are interested in trying out the larger card pool and broader strategies that older formats offer. I met a significant amount of people who had borrowed decks, made budget card choices or were playing Modern for the first time.

None of these things are a barrier to success, with multiple players putting up good records despite playing non-tier decks or being unfamiliar with the format. It is, however, an important message for those choosing a deck:

You need to be able to beat the unexpected decks; they’ll be out in numbers

My first round, I sat next to a player who was curving Norin the Wary into Impact Tremors and Genesis Chamber. My next round I was next to an Alesha, Who Smiles At Death brew. Whilst walking around the tournament, I saw Stormbreath Dragon attacking alongside Goblin Rabblemaster. There was a Qarsi Sadist exploit deck and somebody even brought Battle of Wits.

You should keep this in mind and make sure your deck has angles of attack that are robust and resilient. The first few rounds of a PPTQ will not necessarily resemble the latest GP top-8 and having flexible cards is very important. If you have a choice in the matter, try to play something that has a powerful primary gameplan. This could be an aggressive deck (Zoo, Affinity etc.) but also includes other strategies that place the onus on your opponent to come up with a solution:

1. Casting Gifts Ungiven, getting Unburial Rites and Iona, Shield of Emeria
2. Putting a half dozen Elves into play by turn 3
3. Blood Moon
4. An unfair Goryo’s Vengeance / Vengevine graveyard strategy

Tournament Summary

Here are the Top 8 decks from this tournament:

Zhengjia Liu – UWR Control
Ben Zeng – Affinity
Leo Byron – Collected Company Elves
Kemble Song – Scapeshift
Nicholas Smith – Jund
Michael Billinghurst – Esper Control
Mo Liang – Grixis Control
Chris Xia – Affinity

full lists can be found here

In terms of the upcoming PPTQ season, I think that this is an excellent representation of the diversity to expect. There were significantly less Burn decks than I expected, but otherwise there are representatives of essentially every strategy. I think that the sheer number of people interested in playing Modern will sustain this diversity over the next few months. Standard traditionally hits a lull prior to rotation and many will be turning to Modern as an alternative, trying to trade and buy their way into a playable deck. For example: this explosive Utopia Sprawl fueled combo deck is similar in price to Standard and has an appealing finish involving a hasty Emrakul, The Aeons Torn.

Preparing for a field that is as wide open as this, places an even greater significance on your sideboard. You can commit to hating out Twin by packing a few copies of Torpor Orb and Rending Volley, but those cards are fairly narrow. They’re certainly not going to do much against someone who bought the Modern Event Deck and is playing it unaltered. At the local store level, I think it’s more correct to bring cards for archetypes rather than specific decks. Spellskite is easier to remove than Torpor Orb, but you can board it in against so many more decks (Bogles, Burn, Infect etc.).

My Deck

I tried to apply these ideas and ended up sticking with Jund for this tournament, managing to scrape my way to a 4-2 record. I lost a match against Scapeshift that felt very winnable, as a result of my sloppy play. I also lost to another Jund deck, which was better positioned for the mirror thanks to Kitchen Finks and Huntmaster of the Fells. Overall I was happy with how the deck played – it certainly outperformed what I was expecting, something I suspect is down to the more open field.

Jund

Lands: (24)
Verdant Catacombs
Blackcleave Cliffs
Raging Ravine
Swamp
Wooded Foothills
Bloodstained Mire
Blood Crypt
Overgrown Tomb
Stomping Ground
Forest
Ghost Quarter
Twilight Mire

Creatures: (13)
Tarmogoyf
Dark Confidant
Scavenging Ooze
Grim Lavamancer
Tasigur, the Golden Fang
Olivia Voldaren

Spells: (23)
Lightning Bolt
Liliana of the Veil
Inquisition of Kozilek
Thoughtseize
Terminate
Abrupt Decay
Kolaghan's Command
Maelstrom Pulse
Slaughter Pact
Chandra, Pyromaster
Sideboard: (15)
Leyline of the Void
Feed the Clan
Anger of the Gods
Ancient Grudge
Spellskite
Unravel the AEther

I made a few choices that were informed by my belief that players would be playing the deck they already owned. I cut all my copies of Fulminator Mage and crossed my fingers that I didn’t play Tron. I added a Grim Lavamancer for the newly popular Collected Company decks and as a trump card against fair decks. I played the very clunky Olivia Voldaren, in an attempt to get an edge in the attrition match.

The Jund style of play is one I quite enjoy; even though I don’t like the idea of playing the long game in the format, this is probably the best shell to do so in. The amount of redundancy in the deck is extremely high and I typically find that almost any spell in the deck is a good draw. There are few ‘free’ wins, especially now that Deathrite Shaman and Bloodbraid Elf are gone, but there is an unparalleled ability to grind out games against any opposition.

I built the sideboard to shut down the two decks I was expecting the most; Grixis variants and Burn. Leyline of the Void makes the post-board games against Twin much more favourable. They side out most (if not all) of the combo and lean heavily on their graveyard as a resource, trying to beat you at the efficiency/value game, with cards like Tasigur, the Golden Fang, Kolaghan’s Command and Snapcaster Mage. My copy of Unravel the AEther is solely for the Keranos, God of Storms that these decks play.

Feed the Clan is the trendy new midrange hate for Burn decks. I never got to cast it, but the ability to gain life at instant speed is a big deal. Triggering the Ferocious mode is obviously putting you way ahead, but just gaining five life when they tap out can be enough.

The remainder of my sideboard emphasizes the flexibility that I was espousing earlier. Anger of the Gods has applications against so many decks – I brought it in against Elves, Jund and B/W Tokens, which all function differently. Ancient Grudge is mostly for Affinity, which had two copies in the top 8 of the event, but functions very well against any deck leaning on artifacts.

My Tournament

In terms of my individual rounds, here is a short summary of the matches I played, the cards that mattered and the thoughts I had.

R1 – Garry Yeoh – Grixis Twin – Win
Lost a very slow G1, where we went back and forth for 30 minutes but he leveraged his cards better. He elected to go for the combo finish, rather than just kill me with the onboard lethal, which told me it was in his deck. Watch out for giving your opponent bonus information.
I started with Leyline of the Void in play for G2 and G3 and suddenly his cards didn’t do anything anymore.

R2 – Joman Zhou – U/W Gifts Tron – Win
He had some unfortunate hands, having to keep fairly slow hands and drawing Unburial Rites in both games. I curved out G1 and the disruption + pressure was too much for a deck that tries to durdle indefinitely. G2 I won off the back of a Chandra, Pyromaster that drew all the cards.

R3 – Leo Byron – Elves – Win
I think this matchup is much closer than it seemed. G1 I had Grim Lavamancer and multiple removal spells. G2 was much the same. Elves is a critical mass deck and drawing the half of my deck that disrupted it was lucky for me. Against this deck, being able to hit the key pieces of Elvish Archdruid or Nettle Sentinel is critical.

R4 – Kemble Song – Scapeshift – Loss
I made some poor choices, such as casting cards precombat into Cryptic Command and let a winnable G1 get away. Scapeshift can only be cast at seven mana, since they need Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle + 6 mountains. I forgot this, assumed I was dead when I wasn’t and played incorrectly because of it.

R5 – Nicholas Smith – Jund – Loss
Olivia Voldaren did her thing and won G1 for me and G2 for him. G3 I kept six cards with one land (on the draw) and ended up too far behind to really get back into it. I have a huge bias against mulliganing, but I think the negative effect of five cards is amplified even more in the Jund mirror.

R6 – Nicholas Chow – B/W Tokens – Win
I remember getting very greedy and electing to not wipe the board with Anger of the Gods, in an attempt to snare the flashback of a Lingering Souls as well. His topdecked Duress made me very sad; don’t get greedy. Grim Lavamancer overperformed and I got lucky to rip removal for Hero of Bladehold to win the final game.

Conclusion

Modern is a deeper and more complex format than Standard/Limited. If you plan to play it for any length of time, you could do worse than brushing up on your technical knowledge – it’ll make you a better player, I promise! I saw several unfortunate decisions made at this tournament, based on unfamiliarity with more niche interactions;

When Leyline of the Void is in play, you can kill a 2/3 Tarmogoyf with Lightning Bolt
Naming Splinter Twin with Pithing Needle doesn’t work the way you want it to
Searing Blaze has two targets; unlike standard-equivalent Searing Blood, you can’t fizzle it by killing your own creature
Regeneration still saves creatures from dying to the Anger of the Gods
Spellskite is legally allowed to target anything on the stack but only redirects those that can target it

Finally – don’t ever ask your opponent anything involving a rules interaction. Your opponent can’t lie, but they absolutely can mislead you and you’re not going to be happy when their factual statement turns out to be unhelpful.

If you’re interested in playing Modern during the PPTQ season, I would encourage you to do so! There are so many strategies that I’m sure you can find one that suits your playstyle. It doesn’t have to be a top tier deck – lots of stores are now running regular Modern nights, so feel free to dip your toes into the water with a brew or a crazy combo deck. The worst you can do is to have fun!

Thanks for reading!

Tom

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